The Costs Of Being No. 1

The New York Post is the official newspaper of neoconservatives. Another term for neoconservative is big government conservative (big-gov-con). On Tuesday, the Post’s opinion page contained two apparently complementary articles about our military: "World’s Greatest Military. . .", by Jack Kelly, and ". . . But It Doesn’t Come Cheap", by Lawrence Kudlow. These thought-provoking articles provoked some thoughts with this writer that the authors and editors probably did not intend.

Kelly thinks the United States has the strongest military in the world, able to "conquer the world." Kudlow thinks we need to increase defense spending. I guess the Post wants us to experience cognitive dissonance and hold two contradictory thoughts at one time: our military can conquer the entire world but is starved for resources. The scary thing is, I bet virtually all neoconservative writers believe all these propositions are true:

1. Bill Clinton eviscerated the military; 2. Our (Clintonian) military could conquer the world; 3. Our military needs a lot more money.

Personally, I am not qualified to discuss these matters, according to Jack Kelly, that is. He describes "the chattering classes" as "know[ing] absolutely nothing about matters military, and show[ing] little inclination to learn." This is the standard militarist line: unless you have been in the trenches, you are incapable of saying anything intelligent about defense policy and should just shut up. Like there’s something extraordinarily complicated about pumping lead into the enemy faster and more accurately than the enemy can pump lead into your people. I am getting a headache already. Has anyone come up with anything new since Nathan Bedford Forrest advised, "Get there first with the most."? If you think military strategy is complex, try reading Heidegger.

Strange it is that so few neoconservatives have donned military fatigues outside of costume parties. They worship the use of force from afar. As for Jack Kelly, a quick Google search did not disclose his military service, if any. I suppose he gets his unique military insights the way the rest of us do: sitting safely in front of a computer screen. But readers be warned. Mr. Kelly would probably say I am not qualified to comment on military matters.

In my defense, I am a member of the militia of the United States. What, some crazy far-right legal theory? No, federal law, 10 U.S.C. §311. Also, they do allow me to vote for Commander-in-Chief every four years. I must admit, however, that no one I ever voted for, won. But even that fact bolsters my credentials. It means I bear no vicarious responsibility for such military blunders as having no fighters ready to protect vital civilian and military targets on September 11. Ultimately, though, I am just another middle-aged peacenik who avoided service in Viet Nam by being chronologically challenged (b. 1957).

Back to Kudlow. He cavalierly proposes defense "spending hikes of $75 billion a year." We already live in a country where most mothers must work, with the salaries of mothers in two-income families going almost entirely to the taxman. As a result, millions of children are being raised by day care and television-and it shows. Nevertheless, Kudlow wants to vastly increase defense spending on a military his partner Kelly says can unilaterally conquer the world. Engaging in the fallacy of the broken window for the second time since September 11th, he promises that such increased spending will have a "salutary impact" on the economy. Previously, he opined that September 11th would stimulate the economy. Did he have in mind gun dealers, psychiatrists and the makers of anti-depressants?

Why do we have a military that can conquer the world? How about a military that Washington or Jefferson might have imagined: one strong enough to deter invasion and strong enough to repel invasion? Having a Herculean military is far from cost-free. The out-of-pocket cost alone is enormous. As Henry Hazlitt taught us, it is difficult to see the costs of government spending. If you look closely, the costs of our military machine can be seen in poor and working class neighborhoods where millions of Americans struggle to survive financially, maxed-out on credit cards, with no health insurance or retirement savings, living in run-down housing and driving beat-up cars.

There are other costs. U. S. military spending sets the pace and forces all major powers to spend more just to stay in the same century as the Americans. Ever-increasing resources in poorer nations are plowed into the military. There is an increased focus on developing those sickeningly dangerous weapons that even the vaunted American military cannot stop: chemical, biological and nuclear. Finally, of course, military power cannot prevent terrorist attacks. Quite the contrary: military might engenders terrorism. Military superiority breeds arrogance; arrogance leads to foreign intervention; foreign intervention provokes terrorism. Terrorism is precisely that strategy adopted by those who wish to strike governments whose policies they find intolerable, but whose militaries are invincible.

Why do we have a military that can conquer the world? It is not because our power elite literally wishes to conquer the world. Rather, it is because they wish to have the final say about most things in most places most of the time around the world. They want to call the shots. This is a very expensive and very dangerous whim to indulge. Ordinary Americans have paid the price for this power lust, in treasure, and, more recently, with their lives. The tag-team of Kelly and Kudlow want us to pay even more. It’s just another Big-Gov-Con. December 22, 2001

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at

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