U.S. Military A Poor Investment: I Want My Tax Money Back


Imagine a scenario. You're looking for a new home and a realtor shows you one that's shiny, beautiful, and thoroughly modern. The price seems steep, but it appears to have all you want, plus the realtor assures you that this house will be updated every year you own it. Now you're suspicious, so you ask, "What's the catch?" The realtor hems and haws and then admits, "Nothing in the house works very well, so each year you have to spend at least the purchase price to rebuild and reequip." You'd be out of there in a New York minute.

So explain to me why every year since 1950 U.S. taxpayers have shelled out at least $100 billion (inflation-adjusted) dollars and up to $570 billion for military spending. Do not tell me it's to protect my freedom or to save me from some external buy guys. That's not true. I'm not being cynical; I'm being historical. As it turns out, the U.S. military isn't very good at protecting us–since 1945 it has unambiguously won exactly one skirmish of any consequence–the 1983 conquest of Grenada and it's hard to get juiced about defeating a foe with less firepower than the Massachusetts State Police. In global terms the U.S. military is like our World Cup soccer team––there's enough potential that it could surprise you, but only a fool would bet on it to win more than a round or two.

Blame whomever or whatever you wish–presidents, desk chair commanders, Congress, over-reliance on technology, hippie peaceniks––but the end result is the same. Our military forces are roughly as bad on the battlefield as the service academies are on the football field. Let the record show the following:

Enemy Result
Communist North Korea
Stalemate; 36,516 US dead; more than 20,000 troops still stationed there; border remains a hotspot; $341 billion spent

Attempt to intervene in internecine struggle
6 US dead; temporary clam but Lebanon returns to civil war 1975-90; US returns 1982; Lebanon riven by factions; build distrust in region
Communist North VN 58k dead; $738b spent; ignominious defeat; downfall of Laos & Cambodia as well
Dominican Republic
Help prop up dictatorship against perceived leftists
44 US dead; DR has another 30 yrs of junta governmen
Iran 1980
Islamic fundamentalists
Attempt to rescue US hostages aborted; 8 die in desert crash; worsened already bad situation

El Salvador
Secret war vs. leftists guerillas
21 dead; prop up junta that had one of worst human rights records on earth

Lebanon (redux) 1982-83
Attempt to restore stability

266 US dead; utter failure and withdraw 1984

Grenada 1983-84
Alleged leftist govt. + endangered US medical students
Students not in danger; 19 dead; dubious W on inconsequential foe; big victory parade though!
Panama 1989
Remove drug kingpin Noriega from power 40 dead; new leader put in place, though Noriega had been a US operative
Gulf War I
Saddam Hussein & 'liberation' of Kuwait
294 US dead; $102b cost; Saddam remained; Kuwait made safe for monarchy

Intervene in civil war
43 dead; utter failure; warlords take over
Bosnian Intervention
Serbs 12 dead; limited impact as Bosnia already in tatters
Gulf War II 2003-11
Saddam and WMD 4,488 US dead; Saddam removed; no WMDs; Iraq a disaster; utter waste of $784b
Taliban, Al-Qaeda, history 2,229 and counting US dead; no end in sight and no one has yet to win in Afghanistan; $321b spent & rising

Sure, there have been a few successful evacuations here and there, but do you detect a pattern from the above? Does it make you confident if we decide to commit ground troops against ISIS in Syria? Do you see anything that justifies the staggering costs in money and casualties?  Since 1950, over 109,000 US soldiers have died on foreign soil. Are we spending a half billion bucks a year for military bands, air shows, bad sports teams, and victory parade over Grenada?

Here's a better idea: Let's go back to having a defense department, not an offense department. We're pretty good when provoked and we don't think about nation building, but we stink at preemptive actions. One thing the military seems to do right is racial balance. How about deploying here instead of over there?  Recent events in Ferguson and Cleveland make me think that maybe we ought to let troops train on American streets. How about we save some cash by dismantling corrupt urban police forces and let the US military patrol America's mean streets Italian carabinieri style? It would be nice to get something back from all the dough we're wasting on bad wars and military funerals.  Barring that, I want a tax refund. Cry as many star-spangled tears as you want, but the U.S. military as currently constituted wouldn't past lemon laws muster.

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