We have all seen the bumper stickers thanking the troops for “fighting for our freedom.” Such a statement, taken at face value, is a sign of respect for the men and women willing to put their lives at risk in order to protect American interests abroad. If we really support the troops, however, we’ll stop flashing bumper stickers and start demanding massive cuts to the defense budget. Though noble in intent, the message of the bumper sticker is based on false assumptions.
To begin with, a large portion of the U.S. military is composed of private contractors, not the noble volunteers we envision. Second, involvement in nation-building quagmires doesn’t protect our freedom, but instead puts our national security at risk, as the $832 billion defense budget continues to plunge our nation further into crushing debt. Third, the military is the same entity curtailing our rights to privacy, a freedom guaranteed to American citizens in the Bill of Rights.
Since politicians from both parties support the unsustainable level of defense spending, it is the responsibility of the average citizen to raise the salience of this issue. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 4 percent of citizens list war as the most important issue facing America. War falls under concerns about health care and moral decline. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that America is in the midst of a 12-year war in Afghanistan. With new conflicts in Syria, Libya and Somalia, it appears that perpetual war is now considered normal. It’s time to let politicians know that we are paying attention and do not accept conflict as the status quo.
There are several means of cutting the military budget while maintaining our homeland security. One necessary change is reduction of our massive weapons arsenal, which could destroy the world many times over. In addition, reducing the size of the Army and Marine Corps could save our country nearly $220 billion. Rather than putting our country at risk, this reduction would force our military to adapt to modern warfare, which involves fighting insurgent troops rather than nation-states themselves. Innovations in technology will save us money and prevent further American casualties. Despite the controversy surrounding drones, these unmanned aircrafts save the government billions of dollars. Finally, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, must be held accountable for their unchecked spending, as these entities are currently unauditable.
Left to its own devices, the Pentagon’s budget is rife with waste, fraud and corruption. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project alone has cost the U.S. $400 billion. The private contractors providing both weaponry and personnel to our troops on the ground draw up significant overcharges. It seems the sprawling budget of this organization touches areas outside of its responsibility, as the Pentagon is spending $2.3 billion to outfit municipal law enforcement with military-grade weapons. We should be suspicious of an entity willing to use billions of our taxpayers’ dollars but unwilling to disclose basic financial information.
We cannot sit by idly as our soldiers are forced to go on third and fourth tours of duty. The rate of mental illness among soldiers is rising rapidly, with an increased number of suicides. More often than not, these men and women come from low economic circumstances, adding to the psychological distance between middle-class Americans and active-duty soldiers. Yet, whenever a politician calls for cuts to the defense budget, they’re labeled naive, unpatriotic and unsupportive of the troops. If we really support the troops, we’ll bring them home and keep them home, instead of using these men and women as cannon fodder for our military-industrial complex. A true patriot can recognize the difference between fighting for freedom and fighting for the profit of the war machine.