Gregg Easterbrook’s “The Myth of the Hollow Military” (The New Republic, Sept. 11, 2000) is, if anything, restrained in its rejection of the myth of a weak U.S. military. Easterbrook does do a good job of pointing out that the military would have even more money if it didn’t waste so much – an idea familiar to many conservatives in the area of education – where, however, there isn’t much waste. How often have we heard “Money can’t fix our schools,” despite the fact that schools are as underfunded as the Pentagon is drowning in fat?
But there are two serious problems with Easterbrook’s article. First, he doesn’t say what funding the Pentagon should have. Should it continue to be funded at a rate of three times all its supposed enemies combined, or should a more reasonable allocation be made? Surely Easterbrook has set forth enough facts to justify more than just opposing an even worse waste of money than the current level. He does not even delve into the question of how much smaller non-U.S. military spending might be were it not for the level of U.S. spending and the United States’ refusal to sign test-ban treaties, space-weapon-ban treaties, or disarmament agreements.
Second, the common assertion that the U.S. military is weak is not meant literally, and is not new. All it means is that its speaker wants more moolah to go to the Pentagon. This form of American politi-speak is also seen in the assertion – made every election cycle – that the latest candidate is “questioning the idea that candidates must keep their religious views to themselves.” Outside of Ralph Nader, no candidate for U.S. president that I know of has ever kept his religion or lack thereof to himself. Certainly none who has failed to flaunt theism has been elected. The so-called “questioning” is an allegorical way of saying “We want to elect someone religious.” Similarly, the claim that the military is weak – which is made before every national election – does not mean the military is weak in comparison to any other military. It just means that we want to misspend more money on it.