During the introduction track to his 2011 Friend of the People mixtape, hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco samples a bit of A People’s History of the United States’ author Howard Zinn:
We have to get out the habit of war. It’s more than a habit, it's an addiction
We have to get out of thinking that we must be a military superpower
We must get out of thinking that we must have military bases, as we have in a hundred countries
Is it possible that having military bases in a hundred countries arouses a lot of antagonism?
Is it possible that it promotes terrorism when your soldiers and your sailors are all over the world, occupying this country and that? Is it possible?
Why do we have to be a military superpower?
Why can't we be a humanitarian superpower?
Instead of sending planes for bombs
Why don't we send planes for food and medicine?
It may sound overly simple, and it’s definitely not original thinking, but for some reason it’s stuck with me over the past few years.
I am 27, and I have never been given a real reason as to why our military budget is $682 billion, a number higher than the combined spending of the next 10 countries on the list.
I’ve always just assumed we needed it. I mean, since I can remember, America has been at war. It’s part of what I assume our national identity is. We like guns, fast food, shitty television, and being at war.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I read the news that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, announced that he will be proposing a new budget plan that would cut billions of dollars in military spending and reduce our armed forces to troop levels unseen since before WWII.
Under the proposal, the military will focus on things like emerging cyberthreats from China and increasing challenges from al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Africa as opposed to ground-battles with individualized nations like Afghanistan and Iraq. It will also scrap things the A-10 "Warthog", the distinctive ground-attack aircraft that devastated Saddam Hussein's tank fleet during the Gulf War, and the Cold War-era U2 spy plane, once tasked with aerial reconnaissance of the Soviet Union (which will be replaced with the Global Hawk spy drone). The Telegraphreports that the budget "reflects the growing move away from the 'two-war doctrine' – the once dominant theory in US defence planning that America must be able to fight two simultaneous major ground wars."
Being a peace-loving, non-expert liberal, this makes tons of sense to me.
And Retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, a former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, told CNN that he thought the changes were necessary: "Whether it's smart or not is yet to be seen. But I think it's necessary to do, given the constraints that we face fiscally within the United States.”
Hagel, on the other hand, decided to spin this a bit more optimistically.
When introducing the proposal, he claimed, "This is a budget that recognizes the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges, the dangerous world we live in, and the American military's unique and indispensable role in the security of this country and in today's volatile world.”
And politicking aside, that sounds reasonable.
Unfortunately, though, any and every story reporting on this new budget mentions that it will undoubtedly face staunch opposition from a Congress that is already starting to feel the heat from the midterm elections right around the bend. CNN reports that "legislators from states or districts with major military bases or a heavy presence of contractors are expected to rail against it.”
Which makes sense, until you realize it doesn’t. Until you realize that none of this makes sense.
What kind of coherent, defensible argument can be made when it intrinsically comes from a selfish, state/district-first mindset?
Isn’t this, by definition, un-American?
And I’m not asking this rhetorically, or even as a journalist.
I’m asking this as a 27 year old who doesn’t understand why the answers to the question “Why do we spend so much on our military?” have more to do with job growth and religion than they do with political ethics and a global obligation to take care of our fellow man, who doesn’t understand why we haven't kicked the bad habit of using our military as a manifestation of our national pride and influence.
But maybe it’s more than a habit than can be instantly kicked.
Maybe it’s an addiction that has to be willfully, forcefully broken; one measly budget cut at a time.