In the game of chicken that is national politics, it was sure that the left would pounce upon excessive defense spending as a way of reducing the deficit. Since the Cold War, conservatives have supported spending for defense while the left has shown tepid support for defense spending. Should we still support a big defense budget? Yes, but it is worth recounting the reasons why.
The blood of our troops is much more precious than tax dollars saved. The left has long condemned "gold-plating" our military. But in Desert Storm, the virtue of this investment was clear. Despite facing a huge, battle-tested army with the best technology the Soviets could provide, our weapons systems were so advanced that America lost almost no casualties in achieving total victory.
In strictly monetary terms, the cost of fighting a war is much greater than the cost of a huge, well-armed American peacetime military. During the Cold War, America was never going to attack Russia, but Russia might have attacked America -- if we had seemed weak enough. Huge defense budgets not only kept our soldiers safe, but also ensured that we never had to spend the vast sums that a hot war with Russia would have cost us. Because we seek peace, we must be clearly stronger than any groups that would use violence to sate their unpleasant ambitions.
Military spending develops technology. There is an element of competition in military spending which is absent from nearly all other government spending. In wartime, this competition is quite literally a matter of life and death. In peacetime, the rivalry is still intense. We develop technology to counter and to overcome the weapon systems of our enemies. As a consequence, the internet, satellite communications, jet engines, and a host of other practical advances have spun off military spending.
Our high-tech military produces men and women who have job skills that our economy can use. These veterans also have self-discipline and responsibility which many other Americans lack. The federal government has an incredible number of job training programs. Out of all of these different programs, the American military actually works. In a land of immature and self-indulgent adults that go from high school to college to the job market, we need workers who understand work. The military provides us with this sort of people.
Military personnel also carry their work ethic and values into American society. American veterans like Congressman Allen West give hope to conservatives fighting to reclaim our country. Because these folks have been on the front line of defending America from its enemies, they have suffered from vilification by the left. Once slimed by these ideological goons, people who once thought themselves non-ideological see in conservatism fellow victims of leftist defamation and persecution.
Religious faith flourishes in the foxhole: few Americans face their own mortality so regularly and so emphatically as our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and seamen. Patriots are drawn to military service, and patriotism is reinforced in our Armed Services as well. There are few gardens left in America to cultivate conservatism, and our military is one such garden. In 2000, Democrats tried to rob the votes of servicemen and to count the votes of felons. They knew their natural constituencies.
When we spend aggressively on our military technology, we force our enemies to loosen the yoke on their subjects (because innovation and science respond very poorly to the lash) or to see their armies and air forces shrivel into irrelevance. And just spending money cannot replace liberty. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union spent more on scientific education, engineers, and other objective indicators of a formal investment in science than we did. Marxism, of course, also worships science. Yet the Soviet military lagged far behind the American military in technology. Why? Freedom is the catalyst of science and technology.
The more our potential enemy nations rely upon home-grown science and technology, the more those nations will have to unbind the manacles of state control. Revolution from within -- another Tiananmen Square or another Iranian popular uprising -- is the best hope for our security and liberty being peacefully preserved. Funding scientific research in America also helps keep us freer: real science cannot last long enslaved to ideological orthodoxy or bureaucratic control.
We should never ignore waste and fraud in government -- especially now -- but we should also remember that military spending has benefits which are not easy to put into a spreadsheet. The world is full of those who hate us, and our nation is filled with narcissists who will not defend us. In between those groups are the men and women who volunteer to fight our battles for us. We should never shortchange them.