Why We Fight

Before I finish my “three part series” on refugees, I thought I would share some thoughts on the joyful subject of American military spending.

For an in-depth look at the American military-industrial complex, watch this documentary entitled “Why We Fight” (E. Jarecki, 2005). If you’re not in the mood to watch a full length feature about a pretty dry topic (I recognize that not everyone is into nerdy things like military spending), you should at least watch President Eisenhower’s farewell address, which is the first 3 minutes of the movie. Like him or not, he was definitely a visionary, and his words of warning ring so true today…

Facts about military spending


(Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

This graph shows the proportion of our military spending that is earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

Why is the US spending so much on its military? Besides the fact that the military-industrial complex continues to have a huge influence on how much of the federal budget is allocated to military spending, it feels like the United States is construing its domination of the world as a matter of hard power – we are the strongest, mightiest nation on Earth because of our military. We used to dominate the global scene through our economic, political and military influence, but the former two have decreased sharply in recent times.

In terms of economic power, the United States is now contending for top dog with emerging market economies (China… India…. ), and economic interdependence makes it very difficult to truly dominate the world through that channel (thank god).
In terms of political influence, apart from Africa which apparently loves the United States and George W Bush, the US is confronted with the fact that its voice is not as powerful as it used to be.
I recognize that these are all debatable points – the point is that we really need to ask ourselves why the US is spending over half a trillion dollars/year on its own military, and if the reasons for doing so are valid.

Note: the US spends about $70 billion on education annually…. wonder why 63% of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel. Nine in ten couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. And 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa“(2006, National Geographic.)

“Why We Fight” offers an interesting perspective on the relationship between the US government, and the military and its industries. It should fuel further examination of the reasoning behind astronomical spending on conventional military activities in a world where the threats that loom the largest are no longer conventional…. Our failure to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan are testament to this.

5 thoughts on “Why We Fight

  1. Penelope, great post and great blog: this might sound banal but many of us young Americans are pretty unenlightened about world affairs…and if more Americans (of all ages) knew of the incredible US defense budget, and the influence of the military industrial complex, most of us would probably re-evaluate that which we’re spending our vast (though perhaps dwindling) economic resources on, and how changing our priorities could in fact bring about a more peaceful, prosperous world. Kudos!

  2. … Try comparing what percentage of the budget was spent on the military over the last 100 years, and try again. It doesnt seem like you looked at what that money is being spent on (insane things, like providing for soldier’s disability, providing for families that lose a father/brother/son/husband, armor and living expenses…).

    You can argue that the military might be getting too much money, but try to consider the fact that it takes money to stay on top of technology, it takes money to run a huge industry like the military, and it takes money to train competent soldiers and leaders, and it also takes money to go to war and it takes money to take care of the disabled and the ones who lose a family member.

  3. Respectfully, I am not sure that you can make our nation’s educational prowess of 18 to 24 year olds a function of our educational spending. There too many other factors that need to be taken into consideration for you to make a fair argument.

  4. tin ma’am:

    well surely the DOD wouldn’t have to spend so much money on supporting veterans if the US wasn’t sending so many young men abroad in harm’s way…
    Also, the US has consistently had the highest military budget in the world since WW2 – mostly a consequence of the Cold War and the arms race with the USSR. While there may have been a rationale for such spending back then, it seems that today spending HALF A TRILLION a year on military spending, is misguided.
    Of course it takes money to run the military industry, and to stay “on top of technology”, but we are WAY beyond what any other country in the world does. And my main point is that we’re not going to be able to deal with the main global threats today just because we have a strong conventional military – terrorism won’t be defeated that way, it’s a fallacy.
    I believe we need a fundamental shift in the way the US construes the role of its military, and make some changes accordingly.

  5. hope:

    well, it was just a case in point – as you see, this is not a research paper and i merely wanted to point out that young Americans have some serious gaps in their knowledge.

    I think most Americans will agree that their public education system is lacking in funds, and that the quality of education suffers.

    Having said that, relatively speaking, the US still has one of the most enlightened populations in the world, with some of the greatest researchers, thinkers, scientists….

    I didnt try to really dig deeper with this argument – that wasn’t the point of this blog entry. For me, though, it seems that if we want to remain the “beacon of the free world”, we will need to invest more in educating our youth.

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