Let me take us back to the 1950’s and 1960’s and think about two Presidents, one from each Party. In the 50’s we had climbed out of the Great Depression, World War II, and was finishing out of the Korean War. Eisenhower in the 50’s objected to the expansion and endless warfare of the military industrial complex even though he led the way into the Viet Nam War. In the 60’s we were in a Cold War arms race and getting more involved in the Viet Nam War. Johnson in the 60’s preferred to continue New Deal programs and expand welfare.
In Eisenhower’s “Chance For Peace” speech in 1953, he referred to this very trade-off, giving specific examples:
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. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty 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.
This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. … Is there no other way the world may live?
The United States spends more on national defense than the next ten countries (China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil) combined. The United States has also historically devoted a larger share of its economy to defense than many of its key allies.
The United States needs a great military, a modern military. Technology is not unique to the United States and future wars and battles will be fought with modern technology. Maybe technologies will allow us to spend less or maybe we just spend less on guns and more on butter. Defense spending is 15% of the Federal budget and is the third highest behind Social Security and Medicare.
If I said we spent $500 billion on defense would that be too much? I ask because many of us express opinions about whether we should spend more or less on defense. Actually in 2019 the United States spent $676 Billion on defense, with 40% of it spent on compensation and medical care.
In 2016, the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, a group of former senior government officials led by Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a call to action on the national debt. The coalition wrote:
“Today, to be pro-defense must mean being pro-reform. America’s national security budget requires updating and rebalancing in order to sustain our strong military posture and global leadership role.”
Conservatives crave protection and want to spend more on guns and are willing to cut social programs like social security and health care to do so to help us slow down our accumulation of national debt.
Liberals want to spend more on butter and want to modernize the military in an effort to slow down the accumulation of national debt.
Conservatives want to remove regulations from businesses and liberals want to hold them accountable for the well being of the environment and their workers.
As I have been repeatedly saying, we need balance. Together we can get this right.