Expensively Defensive

We spend a lot of money to maintain our massive military machine, because it's the largest on the planet by a factor of five. We spend $700 billion every year, not because we actually need to; we spend that much the same way a junkie will overspend to maintain an addiction.

We currently spend more on national defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom – combined. That should make us pretty safe here at home, but American soil is not where most of that money is being spent.

Across the globe, 156 countries have some kind of US troop presence within their borders. Only 46 don't. The Pentagon maintains more than 700 overseas military sites that we know of.

The Defense Department employs more than 3 million people overall. In 2009, the department's PR section had a staff of 27,000 people and spent $4.7 billion by itself on a wide variety of activities.

In 2010 the US military had 963 generals and admirals receiving an average salary of $180,000. There's $170 million a year right there, but that doesn't include their pensions or health-care plans.

A 2010 investigative series published in The Washington Post stated, "The top-secret world ... has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."

Estimates of the cost of caring just for wounded veterans vary wildly, with numbers between $400 - $700 billion over the next two decades quoted by different sources. When you include all medical disability payments to soldiers, that $700 billion amount seems more likely.

President and former general Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans to be wary of what he labeled "...the military-industrial complex..." in 1959, but not enough of us paid attention to his words.

In 1935, Gen. Smedley Butler offered his blunt opinion: "There are only two things we should fight for – one is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket. "

Pres. George W. Bush spoke similarly in 2001, before he decided to invade the Middle East in response to the attack on 9/11: "If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem."

James Madison saw the danger back in 1795, when he wrote, "Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because ... armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few."

Building a wall across our southern border will probably cost at least $30 billion, probably more, and take perhaps a decade to complete. If we're actually going to do that, we don't need to rely on Mexico to pay for it. We have that money available in our military budget every year, should we ever get smart enough to cut that bloated budget down to a more appropriate size.

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