Big question answered: The state of military spending

Published: 5/2/2019 12:15:24 AM

(Last week, we asked readers this question: “Do you think the U.S. is spending too much, too little or just the right amount on the military, and why?” Here are some of the responses we received.)

More funding needed

Our military needs help big time. The Navy needs at least one aircraft carrier in order to properly be a presence in all of today’s danger zones. With one or two more carriers there would be a need for additional support ships to fill out the group and aircraft to meet deployment schedules.

Our air groups in all services are so short of aircraft we are unable to fill out squadrons with 100% quality parts.

These are long-range problems that need a long-range plan and guaranteed funding to solve these serious problems and give the United States the fighting forces we require to ensure our safety and democracy.



Money poorly spent

Are we spending too much on the military? Indeed, the United States outspends the rest of the world on arms, and is the arms salesman to the world.

More than half a century ago President Dwight Eisenhower warned us to beware of the dangers presented by the military-industrial complex. We have ignored his warning at our peril. While the country spends three-quarters of a trillion annually on the military, we have allowed our infrastructure to crumble, education to deteriorate, climate change to threaten our children and grandchildren’s future, and mounting deficits to bankrupt them.

Further, the military we so exorbitantly support is designed to fight the last war. Bombs and nuclear weapons will not win the next contest – indeed may destroy the human race and even life on the planet. We need to use our resources wisely to support the future, not to decimate it.



Permanent arms race

We now have a military budget that has run amok. It is larger than the military budgets of the next seven nations combined. It amounts to three-eighths of the world’s military spending, is more than half of federal discretionary spending, effectively puts us on a war footing and drains resources badly needed to meet human needs. This past year, New Hampshire received just under $12 million in federal aid to treat opioid addiction. Meanwhile, our state struggles to find enough money to fund its public schools and colleges, and the state’s taxpayers spend $275 million a year to build a new generation of nuclear weapons. Concord’s share of federal opioid treatment aid is about $380,000. Its yearly share of the nuclear weapons modernization budget is $8,686,000. The nuclear weapons modernization program is currently scheduled to continue until the mid-2040s, at a projected cost of $1.2 trillion.

For all practical and moral purposes, it looks like we’re headed to a permanent arms race and a situation where ignorant and addled armies clash by night.


New London

The wrong investment

Our Pentagon budget is way too high and growing at an alarming rate.

New Hampshire faces crises in many areas, including health care, education, housing, climate, racism, environmental cleanup and infrastructure. Our inability to fund solutions can be traced to two sources. First, we are unwilling to adopt a state income tax. Second, a huge portion of our federal tax dollars is spent on the Pentagon. While New Hampshire military contractors tout the jobs they provide, it’s important to remember that these same tax dollars could pay for workers who could address our real problems. In fact, civilian spending creates more jobs per dollar than Pentagon spending.

Figures from the National Priorities Project show that in 2017, New Hampshire taxpayers sent $3.14 billion to the Pentagon through federal taxes. For 25% of this amount, we could have funded all of the following: 2,015 elementary teaching jobs, 4,944 energy and infrastructure jobs, full scholarships for 8,905 college students and health care for 15,691 veterans. If we want to be secure, we need to redirect funding from the Pentagon to meet our real needs.



Penny Poll results

Every year Seacoast Peace Response conducts the Penny Poll to assess the opinions of people on the street. This year, as in every year for a decade, there was a huge discrepancy between what the people wanted and the actual budget request before the U.S. Congress.

On April 14 in Market Square, Portsmouth, participants were given 10 pennies to distribute into 10 tubes labeled with categories for how our tax dollars are spent. Results of the poll were: environment 21%, education and child care 19%, health care 18%, veterans affairs 12%, housing 7%, arts and humanities 6%, transportation 6%, military 5%, agriculture 5% and nuclear weapons, .04%.

After voting, participants discussed their choices and received information about the size and distribution of the administration’s 2019 budget. Most people were dismayed at the 61% to be spent on the military and the small percentages to be spent on the categories that they had selected. A paltry 5% would educate our youth, 5% protect our health, and a mere 2% safeguard our energy resources and environment. By impoverishing domestic programs, the 2019 budget weakens the social fabric of our own nation. It produces massive military expenditures that undermine our economic security.

Every year the environment, health care and education are in the top three Penny Poll categories. Looking at the budgets approved over the years by Congress and presidents, it is discouraging to see how out of touch they are with what citizens prioritize. It is time for the will of the people rather than the power of the military-industrial complex to decide how our tax dollars are spent.



Starved programs

America has become a highly militarized state whose “war department” has received almost 60% of congressional discretionary spending. In the bipartisan vote for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, which authorized a staggering $717 billion for the military, only 10 U.S. senators voted against this bill. Both N.H. U.S. senators supported the $717 billion figure. Astonishingly, the Pentagon currently spends more on “defense” than the next seven nations combined and three of the seven are U.S. allies.

The current president has submitted a proposed 2020 budget that would increase the Pentagon budget to $750 billon. By supporting such a mammoth “defense” budget, many essential and worthwhile agencies and programs will be starved for funds. Among such agencies are the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and foreign aid and diplomacy.

A fellow Veteran for Peace, Ed Flaherty of Iowa, recently wrote a letter that is germane to the question posed by the Monitor on the appropriateness of the military budget. Here is a brief excerpt: “We have become a welfare state for the military-industrial complex. We must not silently entrust our financial and moral capital to the tools of war, and we must not ignore our better angels’ call for personal and societal investment in peace.”

The National Priorities Project says the average American in 2018 paid about $14,400 in federal income taxes (about $3,500 went to the military). From that $3,500, $1,700 was given to military contractors and only $695 went to the troops. The NPP reports: “The average tax bill for military contractors, $1,734, is more than the average for Medicare ($1,639), veterans’ benefits ($848) or food stamps/SNAP ($326), and way, way more than the average taxpayer contributed to K-12 education ($101), the EPA ($37.50) or public housing ($9.79).”

That proposed $750 billion budget says that the U.S. values militarism and war. Those of us who object, say enough is enough. Stop wasting our tax dollars. Save our economy, cut military spending.



Better path to safety

The United States spends far too much on the military. Much of this spending does not make us safer.

For instance, the administration plans to spend more than $1.2 trillion – yes, trillion – to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal, including new weapons designed for battlefield use.

We know that a large scale nuclear war would kill hundreds of millions of people and cause such environmental catastrophe that billions of people could die as harvests fail and diseases spread.

Previous administrations, beginning with President Reagan, had the wisdom to rein in the nuclear arms race with treaties such as START. But U.S. and Russian leaders have now chosen to pull out of a longstanding agreement on intermediate nuclear forces, and the new START treaty may not be renewed in 2020.

We would do better to invest some of those tens of billions going into nuclear weapons in diplomatic work to reduce the risk of nuclear war – and in efforts to build a just and green economy not only here but around the world. Addressing climate change, poverty and injustice will make us safer than pouring money into weapons that we do not need.



Misplaced priorities

In my opinion we are spending too much on the military. Why is our military getting involved in the politics of so many countries? Why haven’t we learned from the Vietnam War and our inability to resolve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that sending our military into conflicts all around the world does not make anybody safer or quality of lives better? We should focus our priorities on education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment here at home, and we should let our State Department, not the military, do the work of assisting other countries.

According to a study conducted by the National Priorities Project in 2017, more than half of the federal discretionary budget is being spent on the military, over $600 billion. In 2019, the military cost is still rising to $716 billion. Why are we continually spending our hard-earned tax dollars on fighting battles for other countries when we haven’t won the war within our own? By decreasing the unnecessary amount that is spent on military funding, programs that need an increase can thrive and benefit every individual. Only 1% of the budget goes toward food and agriculture. Shouldn’t food production be an important staple in our society as a whole? I think we need to reconsider what is most important.



War-making mindset

On April 15, a small group of peace activists made our annual Tax Day visit to our senators’ offices in Manchester to talk about the disproportionate bite taken from our tax dollars by military programs.

According to the National Priorities Project, 24 cents of every income tax dollar went to the Pentagon in 2018. Of that amount, half went to contractors, many of which spend lavishly on lobbyists and political campaigns. Only 4 of the 24 cents went to the actual members of the armed forces as pay and benefits.

The Office of Management and Budget has issued fact sheets and historical tables to back up President Trump’s FY 2020 budget proposal, released March 11. The president requested $750 billion in military spending, up 5% from 2019, and constituting nearly 55% of discretionary spending. (That amount does not include an additional 8% of the budget devoted to Veterans Affairs.) OMB projects the amount allocated to the Pentagon will go up to 58% by 2024.

That’s a tremendous amount of money, which could instead be used for health, education, transportation and clean energy. Or, as President Eisenhower said in a 1953 speech, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

On Tax Day, staffers for our senators received us cordially and listened attentively to our views. They accepted our fact sheets documenting the excessive amounts spent on military programs, including a plan to spend upward of $1.2 trillion on a new generation of nuclear weapons.

In conversation about their jobs, one aide described those who work on constituent services as the “infantry” of the Senate staff. A half hour later, the aide in the other office spoke in a similar fashion, characterizing the constituent services staff as the senator’s “boots on the ground.” Listening to the military metaphors, it struck me that perhaps the war-making mindset has not just taken over our budget, but also our language.

“Military language is widely used to soften the harsh realities of war,” says Dr. Thomas Lee, retired professor from Saint Anselm College and author of Battlebabble: Selling War in America. “These words have become part of our familiar daily discourse.”

If so, shifting our national spending priorities will require shifting our thinking in a profound way.

According to Dr. Lee, when we unwittingly use military rhetoric to describe what is far removed from an actual battlefield, we trivialize war. That makes it easier for the government to wage war on whomever it declares the enemy of the moment. Likewise, when we spend so much of the national treasury on the potential for war-making, it becomes easier for members of Congress and whoever occupies the White House to put the weapons to work.

As we left one of the offices, I took a look at a photo on the wall. It showed our senator at the dedication of a warship.



Same old, same old

It can’t be a coincidence that the day you are asking for our opinion on defense spending that you show Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream using Oreo cookies to illustrate military spending (Monitor Forum, April 25). This was in 1999, and I do not think anything has changed for the better.

Military spending has been and continues to be out of control and out of proportion to the rest of government spending. I have written to the Monitor previously about being a pacifist. We should address conflicts through negotiation rather than through military engagement. We should be bringing up a generation of peace-makers, teaching them to love as apposed to forcing our will on others.

Military billions would be better spent on education, education and education.




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