After fighting the Clinton Administration's efforts to cut the military's budget for 8 years, I have supported increased funding for national defense under President Bush's leadership. This is increasingly important with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Who, I asked myself, do we need so much defending from? So I set about the task of finding out what threat was so great that we need to increase a $400 billion dollar defense budget. I decided that the World Factbook (http://www.bartleby.com/151/) which is touted as "The U.S. government's complete geographical handbook" was a good place to start. After sifting through several sets of figures, I arrived at the conclusion that unless the CIA has developed intelligence suggesting a visit from the mothership in Independence Day there's no conceivable reason to buy the military any more toys.
The obvious culprits must be those "Axis of Evil" countries we hear so much about, right? Or maybe not. In 2002 North Korea spent about $5.2 billion on its military. The free-spending Iranians coughed up about $9.7 billion. And the Iraqis? A mere $1.3 billion. So a round total for the Axis of Evil comes to just over $16.2 billion. The Joint Chiefs must have been quaking in their very boots when confronted with such a massive engine of destruction.
But wait, it gets better. That $400 billion comes to more than the entire gross domestic product of over 90% of the world's countries. In 2002 only 21 nations had GDP's above the $400 billion mark. Their total military expenditures? $408 billion and change. The entire rest of the world including those 21 nations only racked up a tab of $588 billion. In other words, better than one of every three dollars spent on every military budget in the world is spent by the U.S.
So the question remains: "who do we need defending against so badly that we need to increase the budget for the military?" We already have the ordinance available to kill everybody in the world several times over. That might be a more merciful end when you consider the number of people dying by degrees from starvation and disease. Not in some third-world backwater, but right here in the richest nation in the world.
On one wall at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction you'll find a small cross-stitched banner that reads: "It will be a good day when our schools have everything they need, but the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber". We can fly a Tomahawk cruise missile through the front door of an enemy stronghold and not even scratch the paint, but everywhere in the country school libraries are forced to get by with 20-year-old encyclopedias. The price tag of a single Los Angeles class attack sub is slightly higher than the entire operating budget for the 59 schools of the North Carolina Community College System, plus the System's central office in Raleigh. How many of the disenfranchised could be re-educated and trained for productive work with the $38 million it costs to buy a just one F-14 fighter?
But how can our troops defend us if we don't give them the funding they need? The answer is simple. We do give them the funding they need. But like most things run by a bloated bureaucracy, a dizzying amount of that funding is wasted. And I'm not talking about $300 hammers, or $500 toilet seats (though I'm sure that happens). I spent three years (1983-1986) as an Aircraft Hydraulics Systems Mechanic in the US Army. Shortly after arriving at my first and only duty station another mechanic and I were assigned the task of taking a complete inventory of the shop - including pricing and extension. I was surprised to learn that most of the common hardware wasn't overpriced. If something looked like it should cost about a nickel, it usually cost about a nickel. That wasn't the waste. The waste was that the two of us were even doing an inventory in the first place.
We were told that it cost roughly $70,000 to train each of us for this job. My unit was authorized three people (one NCO and two enlisted) to man the hydraulics shop. Somehow we wound up with eight people with that particular specialty. That's $560,000 worth of training alone. Since there are very few things that can go wrong with a hydraulic system, actual work was at a premium. Most of us wound up being sent off to do other jobs: driving for the battalion commander, working at the "correctional confinement facility", or clerking in the supply room. But here's the punch line. One of the chief reasons we had so much time on our hands was that a large percentage of the work we'd been trained to do was being outsourced to a civilian contractor. Now there's no way I know how much they were paying this contractor, but I'd wager a month's pay that it was much more than they were paying me.
When I think back on that experience, it's not difficult to see where the price tag for the current defense budget comes from. It's also not difficult to understand why the Pentagon admits that it cannot account for more than a trillion dollars. So whoever takes control of the White House and the Capitol next month needs to be put on notice. Before you decide you need more money for the mighty U.S. war machine, take a hard look at your stewardship of the money you already have.
Mr. President, Congressman, there's a single mother working two jobs to feed her kids. When you can look her in the eye and honestly tell her you have done all you can do with what you have and it still isn't enough, ask her for more. There's a father whose son is dying because he can't afford health insurance. When you can convince him that the threat of annihilation by a foreign power is too great to be turned aside with the resources at your disposal, ask him for more. There's an elderly couple living in a mold encrusted house that is crumbling around them because FEMA mismanaged the money that was supposed to fix it, and there is no more. When you can make them believe that they need to sacrifice their home and their health to curb the invaders who are battering down our door, ask them for more.
Or when the mothership is hovering over the White House... no... on second thought, they can have you.