In late January, the U.S. military-industrial complex reported results for 2014's fourth quarter and expectations for 2015. Good times! Northrop Grumman knocked down nearly $6 billion in Q4 2014 and expects 2015 sales of around $23.5 billion. Raytheon did about as well last fall and expects a big radar order from the Air Force this year. Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced a travel upgrade for the president of the United States - a new Air Force One. Base cost for the Boeing 747-8? $368 million, before presidential modifications.
Anyone who doesn't live under a rock (or whose rock gets bombed periodically) knows that the U.S. government spends more on its military than any other nation-state. A useful way of understanding how much more: If the U.S. "defense" budget were cut by 90 percent, it would remain the first- or second-largest military spender in the world (depending on fluctuations in China's military expenditures).
That 90 percent - and then some - is the single-largest welfare entitlement program in the U.S. government's budget, even omitting "emergency supplementals" for the military misadventure of the week and military spending snuck into other budget lines.
In truth, if the U.S. Department of Defense consisted of a cramped office in a strip mall somewhere with a couple of old generals sitting next to phones waiting for the word to call out a citizen militia, the chances of a successful military invasion of the United States would fall somewhere in the range separating "slim" from "none." Unlike China, the U.S. has fairly friendly neighbors and enjoys the protection of very wide moats between itself and most prospective enemies.
So: Why the huge "defense" establishment? If you have to ask why, the answer is usually "money."
As the U.S. cruised relentlessly toward its fateful entry into World War II, the Great Depression refused to die. The New Deal had failed. Unemployment in 1938 remained at levels similar to those of 1933. The ramp-up to war and the years of carnage didn't change the economic fundamentals. Unemployment statistics went down only because 16 million American men put on uniforms and because American women went to work producing bombs and bullets.
When the war ended, America was set to fall right back into the rut. What to do? The easy answer, and the one that found near unanimous support among Democratic and Republican politicians alike, was to remain on a war footing in perpetuity. Cold War. Hot war. War neither rare nor, usually, well done. As William F. Buckley, Jr. - arguably the ideological founder of the modern American "conservative" movement - put it in 1952: "Large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant centralization of power in Washington ... . We have got to accept Big Government for the duration - for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged ... except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."
The primary function of the U.S. government since World War II has been to regularly and routinely transfer as much wealth as possible from the pockets of those who produce things people actually need to the bank accounts of welfare queens such as Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
The purpose of those welfare transfers is not to sustain a military roughly the size of that at the height of the Civil War, when the U.S. completely mobilized for battle on its own borders, or a military more than 50 times as large as the one that conquered and ethnically cleansed the territories to its west with single-shot rifles. The purpose of sustaining that military - and all too frequently putting it to murderous work - is to justify the welfare transfers.
But this massive garrison welfare state has for 70 years continuously lived on borrowed time and borrowed or stolen wealth. We can't afford the welfare. Nor can we afford the state.
Thomas L. Knapp is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org), where this article originally appeared.