The Richmond Observer – OPINION: When our politicians buy endless war, we get what they charge us


In 1954, Congress passed and President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill transforming Armistice Day – November 11, a celebration of peace after World War I – into Veterans Day, a celebration of warriors.

Personally, I stick to the original name and original purpose in my vacation observation. Looking at the numbers involved, however, it’s no wonder I find myself swimming against the tide.

In 1860, the American armed forces consisted of 27,958 soldiers, sailors and Marines. That number jumped six digits each year throughout the Civil War to peak at 1,000,692 in 1865 – after which it fell to less than 40,000 a decade after that conflagration ended.

Likewise, after reaching a strength of nearly 3 million during World War I (1917-18), the armed forces were found to be less than a tenth of that size by 1928.

The post-war establishment did not uphold this tradition. While there was indeed a decrease from a wartime peak of 12 million, the number has never fallen below 1.3 million since, with a third still as much as a half-continent having done so. secession, while simultaneously conquering the far west, 80 years earlier.

US military spending has followed the same path. Before World War II, outside of wartime or preparations for a clearly imminent war, US “defense” spending rarely exceeded 2% of gross domestic product, and only once (in 1936) exceeded 3%. Since World War II it has never gone below 3% – since the second year of this century it has never gone below 4%.

For some, however, too much is never enough. The Heritage Foundation warns that “[a]In its current position, the US military continues to be only marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests. “

What are these “vital national interests? Heritage defines them in terms of “a return to long-term competition with the great powers, explicitly designating China and Russia as the main competitors” and “[s]sufficient military capacity to deter or defeat the major conventional powers in geographically remote regions. “

This is a far cry from Thomas Jefferson’s “Fundamental Principles of Our Government”: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations: entangled alliances with none.”

It is also a repudiation of John Quincy Adams’ 1821 description of an America that “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy”.

As the US Senate reviews the latest “national defense” authorization law, Congress clearly intends to give more money, not less, to the military. And this despite the end of America’s ruinous 20-year misadventure in Afghanistan.

This is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is physically dangerous for the very people that “Veterans Day” claims to honor and the peace that Armistice Day was meant to celebrate.

As Abraham Maslow wrote: “I guess it’s tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything like it’s a nail.

The maintenance of armed forces several times larger and more expensive than any plausible claim of “national defense” could justify results in the use of these armed forces for anything but their supposed purpose.

It is time to deeply cut the US military budget. It is not enough to achieve lasting peace, but it is the necessary first step.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is Director and Senior News Analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in North Central Florida.

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