Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Debate: What is Military Adventurism?

November 11, 2010 was Veterans' Day. Some random thoughts and opinions:

1. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President: "A Nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten."

I do not consider someone's unquestioning willingness to die for a cause or country to be worthy of respect in and of itself. To be worthy of praise, I need that willingness to die to be tied to self-defense. Otherwise, I'm not sure we are helping our soldiers, our safety, or our worldwide reputation.

I understand that a soldier's willingness to die is a necessary component of self-defense. However, I view such an attitude--the willingness to murder your fellow man--as a necessary evil, and I do not see much sense in praising a necessary evil. Therefore, I neither condemn nor praise necessary evils.

War is sometimes necessary. We need soldiers, and we need to make sure we give them the tools they need to succeed. Today, the U.S. does not have a mandatory draft, so everyone voluntarily chooses military service. 
3. If you are in charge of American military personnel, you failed us on 9/11; you failed us again after 9/11 by invading the wrong country; and you are failing us now because your agency is designed for wars against countries rather than smaller, more fluid organizations.

Onward to the Facebook debate on military adventurism and the scope of a thinking person's patriotism:

Lawyer: At work in the private sector so the military gets the taxes it needs to exist. Our modern-day military creates no net revenue and causes our country to lose billions of dollars each year. Without the private sector, there would be no military. Thank someone who owns a small business or is working in a non-government job today.

Also, if you fought in WWII or any war prior to Vietnam, thank you. Once we reach the Vietnam era, however, it's unclear whether any war has created safety for Americans on American soil.

Write your government and demand that we bring our soldiers back from Iraq as soon as possible. Why are we leaving so many young Americans in harm's way when it's unclear whether they are increasing our safety?

(I am still undecided about wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As far as I know, none of the 9/11 hijackers lived in either country or received training there that helped them attack America. The terrorists came mostly from Germany. It's also unclear why Pakistan and Afghanistan are America's problem rather than India’s and Iran’s. At the same time, whenever I see pictures of what the Taliban has done to innocent Afghani civilians, especially young girls, my trigger-finger gets itchy.)

Hilarious Buddy: Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.

Judah: Government workers pay taxes too. But since you wrote this on Veteran’s Day to be controversial, I don't suppose that will matter.

Lawyer: @Judah: if I give you 100 bucks and you give me back 30 bucks, I'm still out 70 bucks, right? You've basically taken 70 dollars from me, and all you've done is refund me back my own money. So gov workers don't really pay taxes--they refund money paid to them by the private sector. If they're not creating something, gov workers are causing financial losses and taking money out of the private sector whenever the federal gov provides loans to states and/or fails to maintain a balanced budget without increasing taxes.

And by the way, I said military personnel create no revenue. I didn't say they failed to pay taxes. In any case, whether we spend 5 trillion dollars or 1 dollar on the military, it's all irrelevant unless the military keeps us safe here at home. If our commanders fail to keep us safe at home, we are paying money for nothing while losing some of our best and brightest young people.

Judah: Government workers get paid by the government, the government gets its money from taxes on the private sector and some other sources that we can agree to leave out, those taxes come out of your pay, you are paid by your clients, your clients earn money from their businesses, and so on, and it's non-trivial to determine where the money actually comes from. But if your argument is that the military should be thankful to you because you pay taxes, then you need to admit that taxes are taken out of everyone's pay, and no one has any say about how they're spent. It may be government money to start with in some cases, but from the point of view of the person getting the paycheck, it's identical. You haven't done anything extra that a mailman, or a federal judge, or a park ranger hasn't done. From your pay, you contribute to the running of the government, which includes the military.

Lawyer: @Judah: you could not be more wrong. I created a business. In order for my business to survive, I have to create something either new or more effective than existing services or products. The same philosophy applies to almost every private company, especially here in Silicon Valley--either they innovate or die. In contrast, all the government has to do is exist.

Throw in the toxin of government unionization, and we have a financial miasma that is made worse whenever anyone praises non-creative government workers. With respect to the military, I fail to understand how any war since Vietnam has helped Americans on American soil. It seems like we've lost a lot of American lives and killed a lot of civilians for nothing. If you want to praise that as equivalent to creating new services and introducing more efficient products into the marketplace, go right ahead.

Judah: It sounds like you're suggesting that your business *must* contribute something, or it would cease to exist. Why wouldn't that be true of the military?

Lawyer: B/c government workers and entities receive much of their revenue from the act of printing money, which requires no creation or innovation. Again, it's nonsensical to compare someone in the private sector--which has to actively attract money from voluntary exchanges--with government workers, who do not have to actively attract money using intelligence or innovation. In contrast to someone like me, all a gov worker has to do to get paid is a) unionize; and/or b) vote in their preferred politician. Obviously, I can't do that, and neither can most non-banking businesses. It appears both major political parties will continue printing money to give to the military. Thus, we are left with a military that doesn't seem to keep us safe on our own soil while simultaneously costing us trillions of dollars.

The difference between the private sector and the public sector is that non-banking businesses need to create something or provide something more efficiently to get paid. From this creative destruction comes almost all progress, including Google, eBay, or any small business. In the case of gov entities, because politicians are in charge of a massive amount of money, and the fed gov can print money when it runs a deficit, the normal requirement to be useful does not apply. They just need to vote once a year to keep their jobs. And that's exactly what they have done in California.

But don't listen to me--read David Walker's book, Comeback America. He has an entire chapter on the military that is a must-read.

TX Buddy: Geez, way to ruin Veteran's Day :-P

Lawyer: @TX Buddy, hope you're doing well now that Texas has In N’ Out :-) I'm just trying to introduce a different viewpoint. I despise conformity, and holidays tend to bring out the worst cases of unthinking herd mentality on Facebook.

It's always sad to see people base their opinions on propaganda instead of logic and facts. Logically, if we're anti-war and view the military as a necessary evil (not heroic), our soldiers get to stay safer and live longer. All this changes if there is a direct threat to Americans on American soil, and almost all such threats come from domestic residents, not foreigners who are poor, who cannot speak English, or who cannot blend into American society.

Judah: I don't understand your assertion that the military has failed to keep us safe on our own soil, but I never intended to challenge your assertion that the benefit of military action in recent years is difficult to quantify at best.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and what we're honoring today isn't the military, it is the men and women who have served in it. You don't think the military has provided us much benefit in recent years, and you don't think that the individual members of the military have contributed much. They aren't attracting money, they aren't growing the economy, and whatever they're doing on a day to day basis is done in service of a mission you find questionable.

You say that it's nonsensical to compare private sector employees to government workers. In the case of the military, you're spot on. A soldier, airman, sailor, or marine may not be creating wealth, and your taxes pay at least part of their salary, but they also fight and die in their jobs, when they are ordered to.

You and I, and all the creative private sector employees you champion, we don't have to do that. And we don't get a federal holiday, but we're celebrated every day of the year. Your assertion that what matters is creating money-- growing the economy, generating the revenue that pays the salary of the military--is a celebration of the private sector.

No one should have to thank you.

Lawyer: @Judah: if keeping us safe on American soil involved only killing people and dying when ordered to do so, then your statement would be correct. But safety is multifaceted, and it usually includes a thriving economy. For example, the more men who are unemployed, esp young men, the higher the risk of domestic crime. Long story short, without a thriving private sector, we risk higher domestic crime and unrest, which sometimes leads to coups and pogroms. Thus, when someone in the private sector goes to work, s/he is helping keep us safe at home. It's unclear why we shouldn't thank people who maintain our way of life and who keep us safe here at home.

Moreover, it is unclear whether military operations abroad protect us from collapse from within. Indeed, history tells us that pro-military countries tend to collapse. If true, when we praise any part of the military that is not directly useful to domestic security, or when we view military members as always heroic (and therefore unworthy of any criticism, especially towards higher level military leaders), we plant the seeds of our own downfall.

You focus on death, and you view a soldier's willingness to die as deserving of thanks, but a country can die, too, and death can come in many different forms. For instance, one way to destroy a country is to destroy its economy by providing too much money or printing too much money to give to non-useful government workers. Another way is to implement poor fiscal policies, such as excessive or non-useful military spending. It is unclear why anyone who is part of an inefficient machinery of military adventurism deserves thanks, unless--like private sector workers--they are keeping Americans safe here at home. I do not believe our military is focused on keeping us safe here at home, because I believe that our biggest threats come from English-speakers who can blend into society, not foreigners. Richard Reid, Vincent Padilla, the NY car bomber, and almost all recent terrorism attempts against America support my belief.

Americans ought to consider Veteran's Day as a period of sadness or stoicism rather than a time to praise or thank our soldiers for their military adventurism. When that attitude shift happens--as it has in countries such as modern-day Germany--we will have a safer country as well as safer soldiers and young men and women.

Judah: And you focus only on the economy. When I focus on fighting and dying in the context of the military, I am focusing on the job that they are asked to do. When you focus on the economy, you are focusing on a job that is someone else’s to do and decrying the military's failure to do it. If you think the military is overfunded, the blame for that lies with the organization that sets the funding. If you think the military mission diverts attention and resources from economic problems, the blame lies in the hands of the politicians that set the agenda (I will concede here that at the top levels, the military has some power in setting its agenda).

The military is not the entire government, and if the economy becomes the death of the country, there will be others far more responsible for it than veterans.

Lawyer: @Judah: you may be correct, but unlike you, I do not consider the willingness to die in an era of military adventurism as heroic or deserving of praise.

Pointing to corrupt politicians--who also deserve blame--is a diversion. Can’t one condemn corrupt politicians while refusing to plant the cultural seeds for further military adventurism? I believe that when you praise the military or any part of it during a time of wars that do not help keep Americans safe on American soil, you do not help soldiers, civilians, the economy, or the cause of peace. In fact, it is more reasonable to argue that your praise helps maintain America’s cultural ease towards war.

You end your comment with statements that are true, but hyperbolic. Of course the "military is not the entire government." However, when the military is between 20% to 30% (when including black ops, foreign military assistance, and the CIA) of our federal budget, it should not be immune from criticism or responsibility for our current economic woes. It is also not a valid argument to say that b/c "X" is not the primary factor of a problem, we must focus on other contributing factors.

At the end of the day, our country is safer now because of our private sector workers’ diligence and dedication to improving the economy, not because of our military commanders. Today, I praise all of the private sector workers who have not rioted or acted violently against others and who have diligently continued looking for work, paying their bills, and taking care of their families. Thank you. Keep your chin high. You are the people who are holding up this country, and if we lose you, we will collapse from within.

Eric: The military is expensive and, it can be argued successfully, I think, that we have too many military obligations overseas. You would be surprised how many countries we have some form of military involvement in. The other day, I heard it was over 100 different countries. Is that really necessary? Well, that's arguable. One might suggest that, if it weren't for us, the world we be a much less stable place. Much less stable for trade, so that small and large businesses in the United States and elsewhere would not be able to do business.

Certainly, the military kept us safe during the cold war. If we had been week and had no military, would not the Soviets have taken us over? Since the fall of the USSR, one can argue that it was not as necessary to keep a strong military. Or is it?

Was Iraq necessary? No. It was expensive and achieved nothing. Afghanistan? I suppose it did send potential terrorists (who do have money to commit acts of terror internationally) running for cover, so that war is arguable.

But having a military in general protects us and stabilizes us. It doesn't seem like we need the military when we sit in our safe offices and homes and grouse about taxes. Nobody is breaking down our doors with guns and tanks. But that's because the world knows that if someone did try to come at us, we would utterly destroy them. Knowing that everyone knows we would utterly destroy them if they came at us is a comforting thought, because it allows us to have our businesses and our homes and know they won't go away. We can even type on Facebook about how we dislike government and wish that taxes could be lower (which in some countries would get you thrown in a gulag). We are free and stable, because of the military. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth the expense? Absolutely!

Lawyer: we do not need to thank our modern military for being a deterrent, b/c it is not clear that they are in fact deterring anything right now. In fact, the military may be causing Americans on American soil to be less safe by their actions.

Also, plenty of countries don't spend trillions on war and manage to do business and not get invaded. Consider Switzerland or modern-day Germany.

Now, take a look at countries that go to war or engage in war, and there is usually one very clear commonality: inflation, high unemployment, or a lack of a strong private sector economy. Look at wars/invasions in Africa; Bosnia/Serbia; Cambodia; old Germany; Iraq; perhaps even Ecuador now, etc. All of them had a weak or nonexistent private sector economy. A strong military wouldn't have protected the average citizen from war. It would have only caused a military coup and a probable military dictatorship.

P.S. the Cold War is over. You might want to get that memo over to the Pentagon and the Dept of Defense, who are still spending our money on weapons more suited to the Cold War instead of domestic threats and smaller, fluid groups of terrorists.

Eric: I agree that war is a bad thing and that having a military can lead to a military dictatorship without a strong civilian government and a private sector. For whatever reason, our country has been spared a military dictatorship and wars on our own soil (for the last 135 years anyway). I think that our brand of military, strong, but loyal to the civilian government, is owed a lot of the credit.

I'm not saying that military incursions and having a very strong military is always a good thing everywhere. I'm just saying it worked here. I don't think you can compare the United States to Africa, the Balkans, Cambodia, etc., Iraq, and other countries you mentioned. The United States went down a different path. I don't know why. I cannot explain it. Perhaps it was the sheer vastness of the country. It's resources. None of the countries/continents you mention are stable in any sense of the word. Not militarily. Not economically. Not legally.

Besides, I'm not talking about going to war. I'm talking about having a military that is so big and so powerful that anyone would be stupid to invade us. With our Navy, we can have huge warships anywhere in the world in just a few days, etc.

Does it deter people from being stupid? I think it does. I suppose that is debatable. But I'm not willing to take the deterrent away for any period of time to test your theory.

Lawyer: in an age of nuclear weapons, it's unclear whether we need to spend trillions of dollars on military adventurism to create a deterrent. In any case, you miss my point. I am not against a well-funded or strong military. I am against praising the military or its members during times of military adventurism, which helps support a pro-war culture.

Eric: So strong military good. Military adventurism and excessive military spending bad. I'm okay with that. We could spend a little less on the military right now. Perhaps a lot less. I'm not sure I an in sync with your definition of military adventurism. I might put the Iraq war in that definition, but I'm not sure we do that a lot. Other than Iraq, what else is included in the definition of military adventurism?

Lawyer: @Erik: see Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. (Are we fighting wars in other countries?) Unless you can directly link our military’s activities in those three countries with more safety here at home, we are engaging in military adventurism.

Also, have you noticed the kind of people who have been attacking us here at home? (NY car bomb, Padilla, Reid, 9/11 terrorists, etc.) They are almost always domestic or European residents who speak English, not foreigners who live in the Middle East. It's unclear whether blowing up two foreign terrorists and three civilians (I'm estimating a high civilian death count as a result of our military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) makes us safer. A foreigner who cannot integrate at least superficially into Western culture cannot effectively deliver a bomb close to American soil. I do not believe the people we are blowing up in the Middle East can effectively deliver a bomb on American soil without being easily detected. Therefore, I call our wars there military adventurism because they do not seem to support a viable self-defense strategy.

Sean: I am all for pulling out of Germany, Japan, the Middle East etc...but at the same time I thank those who are willing to risk their lives for me. Note that I did not include those that decide what those men and women in uniform will risk their lives for, but those who actually are willing to risk their lives...I do not expect soldiers to be policy makers, I oppose the policies, including military policies, of the policy makers, while being thankful for the soldiers.

Without a strong military someone else will want to set you policies for you...

@Sean: thank you for your comment. You've made the only comment so far that may cause me to shift my position. At the same time, I do not believe that praising a person's willingness to die for his country is a positive action during times of military adventurism. Condemning or praising a military member is different from taking a neutral position towards him/her.

Also, I never said we shouldn't have a strong military. Being against military adventurism and excessive military spending are not inconsistent with supporting a strong military.

If we want to be the world's policeman, that's fine. I just don't know how we're going to pay for it. With the money we save on reducing military obligations, we can support a stronger dollar and our position as the world's reserve currency. I'd rather exert power through trade and tariffs than hard military power. Since we're a consumer-based economy and other countries rely on us to buy their exports, it's unclear why we can't maintain our influence by using trade incentives and disincentives.

I will let Matthew Hoh have the last word. See here.

Bonus: from Slawek: "thank god for the new wars we still got going for us, otherwise we would run out of veterans pretty soon. and how silly would we feel come veteran’s day then? pretty f*cking silly."

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