Chapter 3 — America’s Military
During this season for honoring our military, you may be interested in a more comprehensive look at America’s national defense efforts. What follows is the first of a few posts from the book.
Chapter 3 — America’s Military
The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. I proudly served in the Navy and contributed my small part to protecting the security of our country. As I have grown older, I have realized that the country is very secure, but many of its citizens are not. Anyone living in poverty is not feeling secure. It’s time to redefine National Security to include personal security. If people cannot safely walk through their neighborhood, then they are not feeling secure.
The US spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined — and most of them are our allies. President Trump is proposing adding $75B to the existing defense spending next year. Our economic and military strengths are the foundations of our way of life. All Americans support a strong and flexible military, ready to protect and defend us anytime and anywhere we need them. It is a proven fact that we have the biggest, best trained, and best-equipped military in the world. We have some ‘hawks and doves’ at the fringes who want more or less, but for the most part, Americans are proud of our military and want to support it. Having said that, surveys also show that most Americans want to reduce defense spending. We want a world leading military, but not a wasteful one. In fact, many of us are angry about the lack of support of the military personnel and veterans while we spend money on unneeded hardware systems and expensive military contractors.
Just how much do we spend on our military defense? Here is a look at the US Budget.
Federal Spending in Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017 in Billions:
In his 2018 9/11 column, ‘Anonymous’ Is Hiding in Plain Sight, NYTimes OpEd columnist Thomas Friedman said,
“And don’t get me started on the recently signed $716 billion defense budget for the 2019 fiscal year — a spending hike so dramatic, as defense analyst Lawrence Korb pointed out, that it means since Trump took office under two years ago, “the defense budget will have grown by $133 billion, or 23 percent.” And there’s no major war going on.”
Every year we celebrate Pearl Harbor Day, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day and other patriotic occasions; and pay tribute to the members of the military and their families who suffered and died as a result of military service. In all cases, the recognition is richly deserved. I am proud to be a veteran who served during the Vietnam War. Many of my friends and classmates names are displayed on that shining black granite wall memorial on the National Mall. We can all be proud of the patriotism, bravery, and commitment that the members of our armed forces demonstrate every day. At the same time, we can be dismayed that most of the casualties from the current engagements are not gaining us anything. “Why Can’t The World’s Best Military Win Its Wars?” provides a thorough analysis of our military ‘failures’ since WWII. In case you haven’t heard, we haven’t ‘won’ a war since 1945.
We have been in Afghanistan for over fifteen years. According to Wikipedia,
“As of October 1, 2015, there have been 2,326 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,083 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,173 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.”
That is only part of the human cost of the war. We also have to count the months that parents are separated from their children, husbands and wives separated, and employees not available to employers. Extending those costs, you get children with behavioral problems, marriages broken up, and no jobs to return to. For the returning veterans, their lives will never be the same. Almost every veteran who has been in a battle zone has either killed someone or watched someone be killed, sometimes an enemy, and sometimes a friend. That changes you — and not for the better. I know a Vietnam vet who still experiences an anxiety attack at the sound of a helicopter — more than 50 years later! At the recent republican debate, far too many of the candidates voiced support for putting boots on the ground in trouble spots all over the world. America has to stop being so cavalier about sending our troops into harm’s way.
Many military and civilian leaders agree that there is no reasonable military solution to the situation in Afghanistan or other countries in the region. After all of the human and economic costs from over ten years of fighting, if we left tomorrow, within a year the only evidence we had been there would be whatever survived from the infrastructure we built. Politically, economically, culturally, and educationally, they would have fallen back to their old ways.
Now, consider an alternate universe. Instead of invading them militarily, we could have formed an international police force and gone after the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11. Treat them like the organized criminals they are. They are not an army. They are a bunch of thugs and gangsters. At the same time, we could have saved about 80% of the money we spent on a military invasion and occupation (and thousands of civilian lives) and used a portion of it to send in people to assist the Afghani people in creating a modern economy with the complete infrastructure to support it.
You do not start with trying to convince them to give up several millennia of cultural and religious beliefs. If we do a good job of improving living conditions and providing a quality education system, gradually they will increase their level of interaction with more developed countries and realize that there may be room for modifying some of their traditional practices. During this program of activities, the boots on the ground are not military. They are truly civilian advisers from all over the world. At first, there will be some danger, but nothing like an armed invasion force faces. A small international police force will protect both the locals and the advisers. Over time, the local people will learn to value the presence and investment that the advisers are bringing and will actively protect them. As the local economy grows, the advisers will be able to leave. Unlike the previously described military pullout, when the advisers leave there will be a lasting difference for the better in the lives of the Afghan people. Meanwhile, the international police force will benefit because of the civilian economic advisers efforts. The locals will recognize that the police force is on their side and the terrorists are their enemies. The locals will make it easier to bring the terrorists to justice.
The next obvious questions are, “What are we getting for our current investment of money and lives? What nation or city-state is a realistic threat to the US?” No country is going to attack us militarily. We do have threats, but they are not the traditional military version. We have economic, cyber, and religious fanatic threats. Spending over $150B on foreign bases has very little effect in defending us from these threats. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that our military presence in some Middle Eastern countries serves as a recruiting tool for our religious fanatic enemies. However, the problem is worse than that. While we are spending over $600B on military defense, we are neglecting to maintain or upgrade our national infrastructure, cutting back on research and development, and enduring a long-term decline in the prosperity of the average American family.
War Is Not the Solution!
I was driving home recently and Liam Clancy came on my i-Pod singing “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. It is not the jolly Waltzing Matilda that you may remember. As I listened to the deeply moving lyrics, they reminded me of the cavalier attitude many of the world’s leaders have about sending our young soldiers off to fight and die. The lyrics are as follows:
Better yet, listen for yourself on YouTube.
When I was a young man, I carried my pack.
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray’s green basin
To the dusty outback,
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in nineteen fifteen, my country said son
It’s time to stop rambling,
There’s work to be done.
So they gave me a tin hat,
And they gave me a gun,
And they sent me away to the war.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As we sailed away from the Quay
And amidst all the cheers,
Flag-waving and tears
We sailed off for Gallipoli
When I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was ready
Oh he primed himself well.
He rained us with bullets,
And he showered us with shells.
And in five minutes flat,
We were all blown to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As we stopped to bury our slain.
And we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs,
And it started all over again.
Those who were living,
Just tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for seven long weeks,
I kept myself alive,
While around us the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell,
Knocked me ass over head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed,
And saw what it had done,
Christ I wished I was dead.
Never knew there were worse things than dying.
And no more I’ll go Waltzing Matilda,
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs
A man needs both legs
No more Waltzing Matilda for me.
So they collected the wounded
The crippled, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless
the blind the insane.
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be.
And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As they carried us down the gangway.
But nobody cheered,
They just stood and stared,
And turned all their faces away
And now every April,
I sit on my porch,
And I watch the parades pass before me.
I see my old comrades,
How proudly they march.
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men, all tired stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask,
What are they marching for?
And I ask myself the same question.
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year,
Their numbers grow fewer
Someday no one will march there at all.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard
As you pass by that billabong
Who’ll come a’waltzin’ Matilda with me?
There has to be a better way… Why is it that whenever two countries go to war, the leaders, who make the policies that create the situation that leads to war, get to sit back in relative safety while the soldiers and civilians have to fight and die? When all is said and done, what have we really gained?
Let’s consider some data from our recent wars.
· How many people attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11? — 12
· How many people died in the attacks? — 2,996
· Where were the attackers from? — Mostly from Saudi Arabia, trained in Afghanistan.
· Who did the US attack in retaliation for the 9/11 attack? — Afghanistan.
· How many US troops died in the Afghan war? — According to Wikipedia, “1,850 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,026 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,173 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.”
· How many people have died in Afghanistan as a part of US retaliation? — Current estimates place the number around 100,000 people — mostly innocent civilians.
· Who else did the US attack — ostensibly because of their role in 9/11 and their potential as a future threat? — Iraq
· How many US troops died in the Iraqi war? [From Wikipedia] — As of May 29, 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, there were 4,425 total deaths (including both killed in action and non-hostile) and 32,223 wounded in action (WIA) as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom
· How many people have died in Iraq as a part of US retaliation? — Classified US military documents released by WikiLeaks in October 2010, record Iraqi and Coalition military deaths between January 2004 and December 2009.The documents record 109,032 deaths broken down into “Civilian” (66,081 deaths), “Host Nation” (15,196 deaths),”Enemy” (23,984 deaths), and “Friendly” (3,771 deaths).
You can do the math if you want to, but you do not need to add up the totals to appreciate that an outrageously large number of people have given their lives because of the US military response to the acts of 12 religious fanatics on 9/11/2001.
[My next post will lead to some changes we need to make to fix this problem.]