Defense Spending

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By the end of World War II , however, our political and geographic isolation was at an end, changed forever by nuclear and rocket technology and altered by the profound shifts in the balance of power the war had produced. The martial legacy of the Revolution was, by itself, no longer enough to defend the nation from attack. For the first time in our history we continued military conscription in peacetime and maintained armed forces at levels upward of 1.4 million men and women a year. We abandoned the tradition of unpreparedness and took as our first principle the necessity to be ready for any eventuality. As our second principle we adopted the primary lessons of World War II : that modern wars were won by logistics and supply, that hardware as much as manpower carried the battlefield, and that research and development of ever more powerful weapons systems was the key to victory. In short, we resolved to apply the elements of American industrial and scientific technology to the conduct of war.

In addition, we joined these new principles of warfare to a sharply altered foreign policy. The two-ocean concept that had been so long the controlling feature of our diplomacy was dead; and where we had once worked strenuously to avoid entanglement with other nations, we now actively sought to lead what we called the free world. Beginning with the Marshall Plan for economic recovery in war-devastated Europe and the Truman Doctrine for military assistance in Greece and Turkey, we constructed a network of alliances, signed mutual-assistance pacts, and spread ourselves through the world until, by 1974, we were joined to nearly fifty other nations in defense commitments.

The result, of course, has been a steadily rising military budget. But there have been other, more subtle changes as well. For the first time in our history a significant number of industrial complexes, wholly dependent on the military for contracts and survival, have come into existence. At the present time between 4 and 6 per cent of our civilian work force is employed in defense industries. Since 1960 more than half of all scientific research and roughly 60 per cent of all scientists employed in the private sector have been financed, entirely or in part, by Defense Department funds. Adding in the members of the armed forces and the civilian employees assigned to Defense (who constitute, by the way, 39 per cent of the federal bureaucracy), this means that slightly more than 10 per cent of all persons employed in the United States currently owe their jobs to the military. Equally significant, some twenty-five states receive between 8 and 12 per cent of their gross income from defense-related industries or from the presence of large defense installations.

In 1975 the greater part of federal aid to education at the primary and secondary levels will go to 4,600 school districts in federally “impacted” areas, that is, districts where some two million children—the bulk of them in service families—live on federally owned and hence untaxed property. Not part of the military budget, the $340 million thus expended by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare is nonetheless in large part a hidden cost of our current military establishment. And as Jack Raymond of the New York Times has pointed out, the economic penetration of the military extends even to the nation’s florists: the American Battle Monuments Commission, which maintains twenty-three military cemeteries on foreign soil and three memorials in the United States (at a cost in 1975 of $5.4 million), spends some $10,000 a year from trust funds to decorate graves and monuments.

Direct military spending since World War II exceeds 11.3 trillion. In the last fifteen years this translates to an average 8.9 per cent of the gross national product and, linked to veterans’ benefits, to an average 40 per cent of all federal outlays. In the same fifteen-year period the United States alone accounted for between 36 and 42 per cent of the world’s total military expenditures. (The best guess is that the Soviet Union annually spends upward of 10 per cent of its G.N.P. on the military and that it accounts for more than 25 per cent of the world’s expenditures for defense. Comparisons are difficult, however, and often misleading, because the economies of the United States and Russia are not directly comparable; the Russian budget practices are different from our own, and many military expenditures we report—notably in research and development—go unreported in the U.S.S.R.)