Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Let's Just Go Back to Calling it the War Department

Robert J. Samuelson, Monday's Washington Post ("ThePentagon Vs. The Welfare State"), tries to make the case that now is the right time to spend even MORE on the Pentagon.
We shouldn't gut defense. A central question of our budget debates is how much we allow growing spending on social programs to crowd out the military and, in effect, force the United States into a dangerous, slow-motion disarmament.

America’s military advantage stems from advanced technology and intensive troop training. Obama repeatedly pledges to maintain America’s strength, but the existing cuts may do otherwise. Even before these, defense spending was headed below 3percent of national income, the lowest level since 1940. The need to maintain an adequate military is another reason why spending on social programs needs to be cut and taxes need to be raised.

You should read the entire loathesome article.  This piece reminds me of a couple seminal events in my life, when I was in college, about what was real and what wasn't.

As a biology major, of course we dissected frogs.  These frogs had been helpfully injected (immediately before death, I presume) with red and blue dye into their major arteries and veins, respectively.  That way, during the dissection the circulatory system would stand out and be easily identifiable.

I remember cutting open up my frog and thinking, "This frog looks just like the picture!"  In reality, injected vessels notwithstanding, it was the picture that looked like the frog, not the other way around.  The natural order had been reversed and I almost forgot which came first.

Along these very same lines, sitting in a planetarium, looking up at a projection of the night sky, and thinking, "Man, the sky looks just like this!"  Then realizing that, no, the planetarium projection looks just like the sky.  As with the frog example, the natural order had been reversed and we were dealing with a substitution.

With respect to this article, it presumes that the natural state of affairs is that defense spending is the default, the norm.  Social spending can only take away from that priority. 

I, on the other hand, would postulate that taking care of people's basic needs should be job one, followed by defense.  I suppose you could make the case that without security, questions of social programs are moot, but in the case of the United States of America 2011, our nation-state is safe, many times over.  While we may have some terrorist attacks directed against us, nobody seriously thinks that the U.S. can be successfully invaded. 

Our level of "defense"--at the level that we spend as much as the rest of the world put together--goes far beyond that needed for basic security.  In essence, Samuelson knows that we always must opt for the gold standard level of insurance.  Not against the 50- or 100- or 1000-year flood, but at defense spending levels which would cover any and all catastrophes whatsoever.

Shorter Samuelson: We gotta have power and the means to project it.  Or, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  

Perhaps we should go back to calling the Pentagon the War Department, not the Department of Defense.



  1. My Stepfather has maintained that the DoD should go back to the moniker War Department since Ronald was president.

    Another great read. Thanks.

  2. So did my mother, rest her soul. She used to say that Ronald Reagan was the last time we had a REAL MAN in the White House.

    I kinda disagreed....