By: David Korten
The recent 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade towers was a reminder of the terrible consequences when a nation ignores the lessons of history—including its own recent history. The U.S. military budget is a tragic example.
We currently spend roughly $598 billion on defense, which is more than the next seven biggest military spenders combined: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan. This represents 54 percent of federal discretionary spending. In return, we get an ability to rapidly deploy conventional military power anywhere in the world.
The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was the most devastating foreign-sourced attack on the United States since the War of 1812. It was carried out by a largely self-organized band of 19 religious fanatics of varied nationalities, affiliated with a small, dispersed, and loosely organized international network. We responded by invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. This led to hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths, destabilization of the Middle East, and a cost to the U.S. Treasury of some $4 trillion to $6 trillion.
I view all this in part through the lens of my experience as an Air Force captain during the Vietnam War. I briefed pilots headed for Vietnam on the psychological consequences of bombing civilian populations. I later served in the Defense Department’s office overseeing defense-related behavioral and social science research.
“We currently spend roughly $598 billion on defense, which is more than the next seven biggest military spenders combined.” (Photo: Daniel Achim / iStock)