by David Lindoff, This Cant Be Happening:
From Aug. 7, 1789 when it was created, to September 18, 1947, the American people knew that their government had a Department of War, and that it had an Army and a Navy for that purpose, both to defend the country against attack, as it did in 1812, and to make war, as it did in the Barbary War of 1801-1805. Since then the US military has engaged in wars overe 80 times including in the Civil War. Most of those wars, whether against Native peoples as the expanding US sought their lands, or against Middleastern or Asian countries to gain access to their resources.
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But all tha time, the American people knew that their government was at war and that their tax money, whether they liked it or now, was being spent on efforts to kill or be killed, for defense and for offense.
That changed in 1947, when a nation, exhausted by brutal world war that cost the US the lives of over 400,000 military personnel and left over 600.000 seriously injured, wanted peace. The problem was the Truman administration, which had a monopoly on the atomic bomb, wanted to use it to enhance the US’s pre-eminent power coming out of that global conflict that had battered and weakened all the other world powers. So even as the US began in 1946 cranking out more atomic bombs as rapidly as it could, creating close to 400 Nagasaki-sized bombs by 1950, and with the intent to use them, in 1947 President Truman had the Department of War name changed to the Department of Defense.
Housed in the world’s largest building, the Pentagon, constructed during World War II to house the giant bureaucracy of war that was contemplated even as the war was being fought, the Department of Defense was never about “defense,” for since the surrender of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, no nation has had the capacity to attack the US with any chance of surviving such an action.
The US in fact, with the end of World War II, became an Empire supported by the most powerful military the world had ever known, and it remains so. To hide that reality from the American people, who of course have to pay for that Empire, the name of the military entity runniing the war machine had to be disguised as the Department of Defense.
It’s not easy to comprehend how enormous the US military is, whether simply as the war-making force that it is, or as the largest government organization in this country, or compared to the military forces of the rest of the world’s nations.
But the latest budget proposal by President Biden, for the 2024 fiscal year budget that, once passed by Congress next fall, will in some formtake effect this coming October 1, offers a good opportunity to try and do that.
President Biden’s proposed federal budget, which covers all federal spending for the coming fiscal year will be debated in House and Senate and eventually passed, with cuts here and increases there, but if history offers any perspective, after all the posturing and the sturm-und-drang rhetoric and media tut-tutting about its size, the final approved budget will be pretty similar to what the White House proposes. This is because so much of the total US budget is deemed mandated or untouchable. The three big “untouchable” portions, accounting for over seven-eighths or 87.5% of the total budget, consists of mandated outlays for Social Security benefits and Medicare, interest payments on the national debt, and military spending. That last category of spendint, while not mandated, in fact rarely has gotten cut but instead typically gets raised by Congress — especially by Republicans backed by Democrats afraid to be accused of being “soft on defense” or of “not supporting our troops.” That makes significantly reducing the overall federal budget almost impossible since most of the non-military part of it goes for things that most of the public in both parties actually wants fully funded, like educational funding, police funding, infrastructure funding, national parks and environmental protection, health and human services like food stamp and rental assistance for low-income families, etc.
Now for some numbers.
The FY 2024 budget proposed by the White House is for a record $6.9 trillion in federal spending. $1.8 trillion of that spending to be funded by new borrowing by the federal government because government revenues over the period are estimated to only be $5.1 trillion.
Of that total proposed spending, $4.2 trillion would be for mandated spending much of which is funded by payroll taxes levied on workers and their employers to pay for Social Security and Medicare. Interest on the debt , which is costing the federal government $261 billion this year but will be significantly higher in 2024 next year because of significantly higher interest rates. (For those who wonder why only the interest payments are counted, not the repayment of principal, that’s because the government doesn’t repay its mounting debt but just rolls it over using new borrowing — in this case at a higher borrowing rate.)
` That brings us to the so-called “discretionary” portion of the federal budget — the part that has to be approved each year by Congress, and each budget line of which which at least in theory can be raised or cut by a majority vote, either approved by the president, air vetoed in its entirety (no line item vetoes allowed) or if vetoed, passed by a two-thirds majority over-ride vote of both houses.
The total so-called “discretionary “ total in Biden’a proposed 2024 budget is $1.7 trillion. Of that, a staggering $888 billion is for the military. That, for the record, is the first time since World War II (when the US was fully mobilized for a few years funding its role in a global hot war), that the Pentagon’s share of “discretionary” spending — 52% — has exceeded the budget for all other discretionary budget lines combined.
And actually, broadly speaking, the US is spending a lot more on its military and its militarist foreign policy. Included in the real total but currently falsely classified as “other discretionary spending,” are the CIA, NSA, Veterans Affairs and parts of the State Department as well as other agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. And to make matters worse, of all the items in the federal budget, the military portion is the only one that in recent years has been raised beyond what the Pentagon and White House have requested. Last year, for example, Republicans with some Democratic support, pushed successfully for an extra $45 billion to the. Pentagon, much of it for weapons systems the Pentagon no longer wanted. This year, Republicans who control the House are talking about pushing for an across-the-board 8% increase in the Pentagon budget instead of the 3.2% increase proposed Biden. That would push the US military spending well over the $1 trillion mark meaning it would dwarf spending on the needs of Americans for better roads and bridges, education funding for schools in low income states and communities, Action on climate change and the damage caused by it, a Postal System that actually works like it used to, more funding for medical research, food and housing assistance for the nation’s unconscionably huge population living on the edge.
The reason the House and Senate Armed Services Committees opt for an across-the-board increase instead of focused identifying specific lines in the Pentagon budget that they think need to be raised is that nobody knows what the Pentagon spends because its budget is so deliberately obscrure and indecipherable it has not been audited successfully in decades. Aa I wrote in a Nation cover story in 2019, it is the only federal government agency operating without an annual audit, making every budget submitted to Congress each year with its accompanying financial statement on the prior year’s spending gigantic frauds.
How big is the US military and the military budget? Well, with 1.3 million active duty troops in the US (171,000 or 12% of them based overseas), and over two million reservists and National Guard troops, this country has one of the largest and the best equipped military forces in the world. That massive force doesn’t have a great record at defeating vastly smaller and dramatically less well-equipped fighting forces, whether in Korea in the early ‘50s, Vietnam in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Iraq in the ‘90s and Afghanistan’s Taliban in this new century. Meanwhile, the country doesn’t seem to be any more secure for all that spending, given that we’re now being told military spending has to be boosted because of supposed threats from China, Russia and Iran among others. For decades, the Pentagon and its cheerleaders in Congress and the media have always called for more funding anyhow, in times of war and times of peace, warning always about new and greater “threats.”
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