Evaluate War’s True Costs, Including Massive Debt

Have we become a welfare state for the military-industrial complex? In August, 2018, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with overwhelming bi-partisan support. It authorized a whopping $717 BILLION in military expenditures, a $98 Billion increase over the 2017 NDAA. Only ten senators voted against this bill, and neither of Iowa’s two senators was among the ten.

Why is this important?

First, and most easily understood, is that the FY 2019 military budget translates into about $2,200 per person in the United States. Repeat, $2,200 per person. Of course, that is not proportionally reflected in the taxes that we pay. This gargantuan expenditure is mostly funded by new Federal debt. The deficit for FY 2018 was $782 billion, and is projected to be over $1 trillion in FY 2019. So, we will let our grandchildren carry that burden.

Second, with funding for the military consuming 58% of total Federal discretionary spending, all other programs are suffocated. For example, military funding is 81.5 times more than the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Funding for transportation, mental health, food safety, education, and many other programs are cut, while the Pentagon goes unaudited and military contractors get rich. (Most generals, when they retire, go to work for military contractors or consultants and get richer.)

Third, the only possible legal and moral justification for our huge military establishment would be that it is defending our country from enemies outside our borders. However, we have not fought a war of defense since World War II. In the past 18 years we have spent six trillion dollars on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous other conflicts. All of those were wars of intervention in the affairs of other countries, where the safety of this country was not under threat. Rather than a defender of freedom, the United States has become the bully of the world. That is immoral and un-American.
All of the above is history. We can’t undo unnecessary wars, we can’t get the six trillion dollars back, and we can’t take back the $717 Billion military budget for FY 2019. So, what shall we do about the Trump administration’s proposal for a $750 Billion military budget for FY 2020?

First of all, we must become informed. As Thomas Jefferson said, “an informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Next, we ought to become angry — very angry– and we must focus our anger on change rather than let it fester. We in Iowa have the unique opportunity to influence whether our country takes the direction of peace or war. Presidential candidates are streaming through Iowa, and each should be confronted with the hard questions we have raised here. With only a couple exceptions, they will avoid the issue, unless pressed. In addition, each of our two senators in Washington, D.C., has a powerful voice and unique background in military waste. We must tell them that NOW is the time to rein in military spending and to begin encouraging peaceful solutions.

We have become a welfare state for the military-industrial complex. We must not silently entrust our financial and moral capital to the tools of war, and we must not ignore our better angels’ calls for personal and societal investment in peace.

Ed Flaherty is a member of Veterans for Peace in Iowa City. This op-ed was written for, and first published in, the Cedar Rapids Post Gazette. It is distributed by Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

5 thoughts on “Evaluate War’s True Costs, Including Massive Debt”

  1. Two comments.

    WW2 was not a war of defense for the US. Not at all. Why do you think so, because Japan fired the first shot?
    I don’t think the US has ever fought a war of defense. You also have to know what defense means.
    it means reducing the military budget to 10% of the existing one.It is dramatically different from the current situation.

    Also. the financial side is the key . One can fight for reducing the harm done to US soldiers but it is already very low from a historical and comparative point of view.
    The answer to demands for more soldier safety is buying it with automation, remote control and outsourcing, privatization. The result is war becomes even more invisible to theamerican public

  2. Military budget for FY 2020 (Oct 1, 2019 to Sept 30, 2020):
    DoD base budget: $576B
    DoD OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) budget: $174B
    DoD Support* base budget: $213B
    DoD Support* OCO budget: $26B
    Total: $989B

    *Support is the VA (treating PTSD and associated problems in vets), NNSE (nuclear weapons), State Dept. (regime change operations abroad), Homeland Security (harassing airport travelers)


    Plus, CIA, NSA and other national (NIP) and military (MIP) inteligence agencies: $70B (estimated 2016 data, more recent data is classified)

    Total Interest on debt in FY 2020: $479B per annum
    Total amount spent on military over FY 1990-2018: $20.3T, which represents 92.2% of the total debt of $22T
    Estimated portion due to past military expenditures: $479B x 0.8 = $442B per annum

    Grand total cost of past and present military expenditures for FY 2020: $1.491T
    Population of US in 2019: 327M
    Per capita cost of above past and present wars: $4,560
    Cost for a family of 4: $18,240
    Median household income in 2019: $63,688
    Proportion of household income for family of 4 spent on war: 28.6%
    Days in 2019: 365
    365 x .286 = 104.5

    Peace Day in 2019 in the U.S. is therefore the 105th day, which is April 15th, around noon.
    Up until that day in 2019, you are working only for war.

    1. by the way, this amount of $18,240 (or 28.6%) represent roughly double what a family of 4 earning $63,688 would pay in federal tax in 2019, which would be $9,254 (14.5%), at least in Florida or Texas where there is no state income tax. So, basically, every dollar of federal tax you pay goes to the military, PLUS an equal amount as debt for your kids to pay one day.

Comments are closed.