No Defense for Defense Spending

We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending…but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.
– Will McAvoy, The Newsroom

In late July of this year, the Senate approved a defense spending bill for fiscal year 2014 that will add $4.5 billion to cover any post-budget cut impacts on equipment maintenance programs and military training. In total, the bill will provide over $594 billion in spending for the military. Clearly those senators must be paying a whole lot of attention to those impending budget cuts. Meanwhile, the House recently passed a bill for defense spending totaling $598.3 billion, although the White House responded with a veto threat. That much money, how could we not be forced to cut back on education, health research, and other domestic programs?

So where do these other domestic programs factor in in terms of hierarchical importance? I’ve read, heard, and seen countless stories and “reasons” as to why we should continue to increase our defense spending. From the potential to be attacked by North Korea any day now to the need for newer, better, and faster technologies to the simple reason that humanity is evil, we just need to keep funneling money into this nation’s defense systems. Earlier this month, Pentagon leaders argued for Congress to do something, anything to stop the automatic spending cuts that would be coming to the military thanks to the sequestration. Maybe they weren’t that whiny about it, but those leaders on the House Armed Services Committee fretting about the reductions are also some of the very ones that voted for the budget law two years ago that would eventually (aka now) cause said reductions to occur. You remember, the 2011 Budget Control Act, the one that would cut defense spending by $1 trillion over the next decade? Two years came up quick, didn’t it? Ladies and gents, I’m sad to have to tell you that this whole situation is entirely self-inflicted.

Yet this is where another one of my frustrations comes out. I truly believe that I come from an uninformed generation and sadly, a somewhat uninformed society. I hear how our President is completely against our military, he’s coming to take away our guns, he’s a socialist, he’s this, he’s that. But I’ll just remind those of you that believe these things – President Obama does not comprise our entire government, and he sure as hell is not against our military. He just values other agenda items such as education. But who needs that so long as we remain the world’s most dominant power?

It should be an obvious realization that our nation’s defense spending is completed bloated. This year, the Department of Defense has a base budget of $526.6 billion. It was at $287 billion in 2001 – and these figures are made as a base, so they don’t account for the added costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (although thankfully those are winding down now). To tie the ribbon around this lovely gift we’ve so graciously given ourselves, this means we have seen an 83% increase in defense spending over the last twelve years. That’s great, that’s juuuussst great.

Let me paint – or in this case, paste – a sobering picture for everyone. People say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll just let this one speak for itself (and yes, I will note that this picture is from 2011):

2011 Budget

And just in case this needs further explanation, what the picture is trying to communicate is that twenty percent of the federal budget in 2011 went towards defense spending. Holy fucking shit. We aren’t in the midst of The Cold War anymore, for Christ’s sake.

And yet on a global scale, the United States spends more on defense spending than the next twelve countries combined – and 11 of those countries happen to be allies. In terms of the world’s military expenditures, we make up a whopping 39% of the total. One. Single. Country. Makes. Up. 39%. Does this make anyone else want to question why we need to invest so much in defense?

Global Distribution of Defense Spending

Let me be clear, however. I am not against the military. I completely and wholeheartedly value the freedom we as Americans have, and I know it’s a privilege. All I’m saying is that the amount of money that goes into defense spending in this country is a tad overboard. And I’m simply using “a tad” there to compensate – I really do think it’s way too much. We only spend 2% of our federal budget on science and health research and another 2% on education. No wonder our nation ranks as #17 in education among developed countries (Finland and South Korea rank the highest in terms of education, just in case you were curious. And side note, Finland also ranks #43 in terms of defense spending amongst our world’s countries, and they happen to fall in the top ten of the world’s happiest countries. And amongst all their joy and happiness, the Finns are not necessarily worried about another country invading and attacking them – unlike us as some Americans believe we must constantly invest more money into defense so that we do not leave ourselves open and vulnerable to attacks). So fine, we’ll be overly protected, but our future generations run the risk of, well, suffering from dumbness. At least in comparison to the 16 countries that come before us.

Essentially, my point is this: we can still keep our freedoms intact without spending hundreds of billions of dollars on defense. We can take some of those funds and invest it in other programs and areas that will benefit our country even further. Yes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has presented a worst-case scenario impact of the cuts, which includes a reduction in Navy carrier strike groups, the Army cutting 100,000 soldiers, the loss of up to five Air Force combat air squadrons, and an over 20,000 reduction in the size of the Marine Corps (205,000 Marines to 182,000 Marines), but my belief is that we will be just fine in terms of defense even if that scenario were to take place. We can still be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and we don’t need to pay over $526 billion to do it.

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