Drawing on GDP statistics provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, I constructed the following graphs. The red bands indicate years in which U.S. armed forces were fighting wars: WWII, 1942-1945; Korean War 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1965-1973; Gulf War, 1990-1991; Afghanistan and Iraq, 2002-2011.
Source: Derived from Table 1.1.5, Gross Domestic Product (then-year dollars).
Source: Obtained by averaging two estimates. The first is a top-down estimate, which applies the percentages displayed in the preceding graph to the estimate of constant-dollar GDP given in Table 1.1.6, Real Gross Domestic Product, Chained Dollars. The second is to construct a chained 2005 dollar estimate of defense spending from Tables A, B, C, and D, which cover overlapping periods (1929-1947, 1942-1962, 1962-1982, 1977-1997, and 1995-2011), and to divide the resulting “double chained” values by the top-line estimate of GDP given in table 1.1.6.
The point of the second graph is that defense spending should not be thought of as a “share” of GDP but as the cost of protecting Americans and their interests from the world’s evil-doers, who are always in plentiful supply. If the real cost of defending America in the 21st century approaches the real cost of fighting World War II, so what? The threats are what they are; today’s enemies (actual and potential) have access to weapons and technologies that far outstrip the relatively primitive weapons and technologies used in WWII.
Moreover, critics of defense spending to the contrary, the object of defense is not to have “just enough” for a “fair fight”; the object of defense is to deter enemies and, if deterrence fails, to defeat them. It is ludicrous to say — as some pundits have said — that the U.S. has “too many” aircraft carriers because their number exceeds the number owned by the rest of the world’s navies. That is a plus, not a minus; Americans should take comfort in such superiority and demand it across the board. America’s enemies do no discriminate between left-wing appeasers and right-wing zealots; we are all targets.
In any event, here are my “takeaways” from the graphs and the history that lies behind them:
|Low defense spending and anti-war fervor in the 1930s||German and Japanese aggression lead to WWII.|
|Hasty demobilization after WWII||N. Korea invades S. Korea after U.S. declares “lack of interest.” The Korean War is a proxy war for the USSR, which finds U.S. wanting in resolve.|
|Buildup of strategic forces in the 1950s||Nuclear war does not ensue.|
|Buildup of conventional forces in the early 1960s||Domestic opposition leads to a faltering (and eventually failed) U.S. effort to counter Communist aggression in Vietnam.|
|Post-Vietnam drawdown in the 1970s, followed by Reagan buildup in the 1980s||Nuclear war does not ensue. Conventional superiority enables the U.S. to score an easy win in the defense of Kuwaiti oil from Saddam (who, mistakenly, is allowed to remain in power).|
|Post-Gulf War drawdown in the 1990s (Clinton balances budget on the back of defense.)||Drawdown and other signs of U.S. weakness encourage 9/11; subsequent campaigns to stabilize hotbed of terrorism hindered by domestic opposition.|
|The availability of armed force leads to war.||The appearance of weakness encourages aggressors.|
|The U.S. is a war-like nation.||The U.S. reluctantly prepares for and fights wars.|
|Defense is a huge drain on the economy.||Defense protects Americans and their vital overseas economic interests. As the economy grows, peacetime preparedness and regional wars take an increasingly smaller share of GDP.|
|Defense takes money away from vital social services.||Defense is the most vital of social services; it keeps Americans alive, free, and prosperous.|
Libertarians and the Common Defense
Libertarianism and Pre-emptive War: Part I
An Aside about Libertarianism and the War
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Conservative Criticism of the War on Terror
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
War Can Be the Answer
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Why We Fight
Getting It Almost Right about Iraq
But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Now, Let’s Talk About Something Else
Shall We All Hang Separately?
Foxhole Rats, Redux
Know Thine Enemy
September 11: A Remembrance
September 11: A Postscript for “Peace Lovers”
The Faces of Appeasement
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Torture and Morality
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
We Have Met the Enemy . . .
My View of Warlordism, Seconded
Whose Liberties Are We Fighting For?
The Constitution and Warrantless “Eavesdropping”
NSA “Eavesdropping”: The Last Word (from Me)
Privacy, Security, and Electronic Surveillance
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
Words for the Unwise
More Foxhole Rats
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Recommended Reading about NSA’s Surveillance Program
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
A Rant about Torture
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
QandO Saved Me the Trouble
What If We Lose?
A Footnote about “Eavesdropping”
Thomas Woods and War
More than Enough Amateur Critics
Moussaoui and “White Guilt”
Jihad in Canada
In Defense of Ann Coulter
In Which I Reply to the Executive Editor of The New York Times
Post-Americans and Their Progeny
“Peace for Our Time”
Anti-Bush or Pro-Treason?
“Proportionate Response” in Perspective
Taking on Torture
Conspiracy Theorists’ Cousins
Not Enough Boots
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
I Have an Idea
September 11: Five Years On
How to View Defense Spending
Reaching the Limit?
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Terrorists’ “Rights” and the Military Commissions Act of 2006
More Stupidity from Cato
The Military Commissions Act of 2006
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
And Your Point Is?
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Blood for Oil
Katie Couric: Post-American
It *Is* the Oil
Here We Go Again
Christmas in Iran: Foreign Affairs According to Planet Rockwell
Waterboarding, Torture, and Defense
9/11 Plotters and the Death Penalty
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace
The Media, the Left, and War
September 11: A Remembrance
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The “Predator War” and Self-Defense
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
Delusions of Preparedness
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
The Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War