President Dwight Eisenhower gave his first major presidential speech, “The Cross of Iron,” on April 16, 1953. He laid out several important precepts guiding U.S. conduct in world affairs as well pointing out the cost of military spending in concrete terms.
“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.
“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”
In 1957, Gen. Douglas MacArthur also warned about military spending when he said:
“Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”
Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address warned about the military-industrial complex. He said:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
The military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned about has certainly gained unwarranted influence.
For many years, the military has received about half the discretionary budget at the expense of the domestic programs and public well-being. The latest budget proposal shows Congress allocating about $840 billion for the military, an increase of around $40 billion over President Biden’s already huge increase.
Note that the current U.S. military spending of $738 billion is more than the next nine leading military-spending nations combined, most of whom are U.S. allies. A competitor, China, spends slightly more than one-third of the U.S. $738 billion amount and Russia spends less than 9% of the U.S. total.
A legitimate question is: What have these huge expenditures done for our safety and well-being? Has the world become a safer place? Was this spending for our defense and security or for some other purpose? It is hard to accept the idea that, for example, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and Iraq were such threats to our national security that they warranted our criminal attacks on them. In addition, how did the U.S.-aided coups against democratically elected governments in, for example, Iran, Guatemala, Chile and Ukraine make us more secure?
Unfortunately, it appears as if little has changed regarding the U.S. approach to foreign policy and selling wars to the U.S. public since Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler explained things in his excellent 1935 book “War is a Racket.”
This most highly decorated U.S. Marine said: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
Butler added: “Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the ‘war to end all wars.’ This was the ‘war to make the world safe for democracy.’ No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits.”
Has the U.S. public been shortchanged by all this spending for making war? Our crumbling physical and social infrastructure, the lack of affordable housing, homelessness, the lack of mental health support for many, unaffordable health care for tens of millions, the high cost of college education and the lack of training support for skilled trade workers are examples that together indicate the sacrifice of public well-being and our real security for unnecessary and criminal war-making.
As the words of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Butler suggest, it’s past time to reconsider our nation’s priorities.