By Jacob G. Hornberger
Consider this excerpt from The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman that appeared in the Washington Post:
Gorbachev had concluded that the sprawling Soviet defense establishment â€” the army, navy, air force, strategic rocket forces, air defense forces, and all the institutes, design bureaus and factories that supported them â€” was a monumental burden on the country. â€œDefense spending was bleeding the other branches of the economy dry,â€ he recalled. The extent of the bleeding was concealed by such deep secrecy that even Gorbachev said he had trouble obtaining accurate information.
Why canâ€™t the American people recognize that thatâ€™s precisely what is happening in the United States today? The U.S. military â€” euphemistically called the â€œdefenseâ€ establishment â€” or as President Eisenhower described it, the â€œmilitary-industrial complexâ€ â€” is a monumental burden that is bankrupting our country, especially in combination with the ever-increasing burden of the domestic welfare state.
First, it takes tax dollars to support soldiers. Thatâ€™s a burden â€” a drain â€” on the private sector. With the dismantling of the wartime military machine, the taxes necessary to support the machine can be ended, leaving all that money in the hands of the private sector. That means more savings, investment, and consumption and increasing wage rates and profits.
The basic idea is more taxes mean more poverty. Lower taxes mean more prosperity and higher standards of living. Thatâ€™s what Gorbechev was alluding to when he referred to the enormous burden that the military-industrial complex was placing on the Soviet Union.
Second, by being discharged the soldiers themselves cease being non-productive members of society and become productive members of society. As soldiers, theyâ€™re not producing anything. Theyâ€™re a burden, a drain on the private sector. Itâ€™s only the private sector that is productive.
Thus, the dismantling of an enormous military-industrial complex would have the doubly positive effect of ending an enormous tax burden on the citizenry and adding productive people to the marketplace.
After every U.S. war, the custom had been to dismantle the military and discharge the soldiers into the private sector, which would cause economic prosperity to soar. After World War II, however, the U.S. military and military-industrial complex convinced policymakers not to dismantle the wartime machine. The Soviet communist threat, the militarists claimed, required the permanent and ever-growing existence of the military and military-industrial complex in American life.
Ironically, the new enemy that the U.S. militarists claimed justified this enormous and ever-growing military burden was the U.S. governmentâ€™s very own ally in World War II, an ally into whose control the U.S. had just delivered East Germany and Eastern Europe, including Poland, a country to whom Great Britain had promised freedom at the outset of the war.
What happened when the Soviet communist threat ended in 1989? The Pentagon went desperately searching for a new mission to prevent the dismantling of its permanent wartime machine. After poking hornetâ€™s nests in the Middle East throughout the 1990s, it came up with a new enemy after 9/11 â€” a permanent one â€” to justify its existence, an enemy that its very own poking had helped to produce â€” terrorism.
Today, weâ€™ve got the Pentagon telling President Obama that it needs an increase of 40,000 troops in Afghanistan to succeed against â€œthe terroristsâ€ in Afghanistan. But if 9 years of bombing and killing â€œterroristsâ€ hasnâ€™t been enough to achieve â€œsuccessâ€ by now, thatâ€™s failure itself. The problem, of course, is that the permanent bombing and killing have only served to generate a perpetual terrorist-producing machine.
Why in the world do we need this enormous permanent military burden on America? Why not bring all the troops home, from Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, Korea, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and everywhere else and discharge them? Why not dismantle the military and military-industrial complex, thereby relieving the private sector of this tremendous burden? Why not restore a constitutional republic to our land, as the Founding Fathers intended? Why not restore peace, prosperity, and harmony to the United States?
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.