OSSOWSKI: Is the Defense Department a jobs program or a tool for security?

By   /   July 31, 2012  /   2 Comments

By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog

Yaël Ossowski

TAMPA— In the decades following World War I, a widespread consensus existed in the United States that armed conflicts were not pursued for defense, protection or necessity, but rather for the opportunity of profitable investment enjoyed by the captains of industry.

According to the Senate Historical Office, the 1920s and ’30s played host to “widespread reports that manufacturers of armaments had unduly influenced the American decision to enter the war in 1917,” and that they would once more “reap enormous profits” by convincing lawmakers to enter the ongoing conflict in Europe, what we know today as World War II.

The reports’ momentum was strong enough to spark an official Senate investigation by the Senate Munitions Committee in 1934, chaired by U.S. Sen. Gerald Nye, R-North Dakota, a staunch non-interventionist.

Four Democrats and three Republicans were on what is now known as the “Nye Committee.” Its final report in 1936 issued a scathing condemnation on the collusion between arms manufacturers and political powers — later described as the “military-industrial complex” by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1960 farewell address:

“The committee finds, further, that any close associations between munitions and supply companies on the one hand and the service departments on the other hand, of the kind which existed in Germany before the World War, constitutes an unhealthy alliance in that it brings into being a self-interested political power which operates in the name of patriotism and satisfies interests which are, in large part, purely selfish, and that such associations are an inevitable part of militarism, and are to be avoided in peacetime at all costs.”

That conclusion, drawn in 1936, later inspired four neutrality acts and restricted the sale of arms to foreign nations in war — measures which were repealed once the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

Nye Committee of the 21st century

In the modern era, it is impossible to tell if the Nye Committee‘s conclusion is still regarded as truthful.

The United States remains active in five theaters of war — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya — and has almost 1.5 million active duty soldiers stationed on overseas bases, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Military spending in 2012 exceeds $1 trillion and arms industries receive up to a quarter of that every year for weapons, tanks and planes they sell to the Defense Department, as outlined by the Federal System for Award Management, the contracting vendor for the federal government.

What the Nye Committee never envisioned, however, was just how large the arms manufacturing industry would grow in the 21st century.

Currently, more than 3 million people are employed because of military contracts, meaning that many communities nationwide have their fates tied to the money allocated to the weapons and planes manufacturers who receive upwards of $235 billion per year.

For example, the B-2 stealth bomber, developed by Northrop Grumman, the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world, has a piece of it built in every state in the union, making any consideration of a budget cut practically impossible for congressmen looking to boost job growth in their home district.

Does that mean therefore, that the Department of Defense has grown to become a largely expensive jobs program?

That notion was rejected Monday by Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, when they visited downtown Tampa, warning against the $500 billion sequestration cuts to the military budget ordered for the next decade — less than $50 billion per year.

Each lawmaker explained calmly that the Defense Department was not a jobs program, but rather a necessary and important function of government power.

Ayotte specifically cited the effect of cuts to weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin, warning the audience that the company had begun distributing layoff notices, threatening to put “up to 100,000 Americans out of work by the election,” said Ayotte.

Is the senator from New Hampshire not directly promulgating the idea that military spending is essential to the employment of hundreds of thousands of American workers?

On the other hand, McCain has been on the record exposing the culture of unnecessary Pentagon spending and the danger of allowing defense contractors to grow beyond control, as seen in a Senate House floor speech on Dec.15, 2011:

“The 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s address presents us with a valuable opportunity today to carefully consider, have we heeded President Eisenhower’s admonition? Regrettably and categorically, the answer is, no.  In fact, the military-industrial complex has become much worse than President Eisenhower originally envisioned: it’s evolved to capture Congress.  So, the phenomenon should now rightly be called, the ‘military-industrial-congressional’ complex.

McCain cited various examples of programs and weapons manufacturers, which have enjoyed profligate support by a bipartisan effort, calling into question the immense size of the defense budget. He decried the “biases” of political and military actors, who signed off on “failed” and “costly” projects, while welcoming the new “cultural change” forced by fiscal austerity.

When I confronted the McCain on this issue, he claimed that he had been fighting for decades to set hearings and debates on the profligate spending and culture of corruption.

“I fight it everyday. What I’ve been warning about is a program like the F-35 has turned into a trillion dollar weapon system. It should have never happened,” he said with serious tone. “But as you said, members of Congress have the incentive to continue that.”

McCain didn’t complete his thought, but an ideal sense is that he sincerely wishes for a change in the culture of military spending — away from the idea of the Pentagon as a jobs program.

Could this also mean that McCain would favor turning an eye toward the wealthy arms manufacturers who may or may not be influential in pushing the country to war? Could there finally be a discussion in this country about how maintaining the largest military in the world adds or detracts from national defense?

Short of a Nye Committee in the 21st century, however, it is uncertain that any broader conclusion can be reached.


Yaël formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Yaël, nice article, there are enumerous examples of this out of control spending: the M1 Abrahms tank which cannot withstand an IED explosion and thousands in storage because we have no need but are still building more, the C-130s that were designed in the 1950s and still being built and not needed, the heavy lift C17 where the AF has too many planes and not enough pilots or missions for them. Those are just the big ticket items that make the headlines. The budget could easily be cut in half and they would still waste half of that.
    Then there is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, the pensions. Let’s start by acknowledging that 90% of all vets have never seen a shot fired in conflict. All of them are eligible for a 50% pension after 20 years, when the civilian population would never, ever think that a man or woman should be paid a pension starting at the age of 38 for the rest of their lives. At 48 they can retire with a 75% pension.
    Then look at the huge number of officers in the military, under Truman it was decided not to staff the military the way it had traditionally been, he assumed there were be a WW3, so they kept and brought in ten times as many officers as they had in relation to the enlisted men with the intent that when the next WW came, they would have trained officers to lead the new recruits. Look at the resume of an average officer and in a 20 year career, they have leadership roles for about two years, the rest of their time spent in school or as paper pushers somewhere. We the taxpayers are now paying those bloated pensions while the double dippers never have to worry about working for a living, and they think they earned that money. Yes, those in combat and injured in combat deserve special consideration, but not a cook or truck driver who never left the US, or an ROTC officer who never led anyone in combat. Get real, we cannot afford those pensions!
    Why are we still occupying Germany? Are the Nazis going to be resurrected from the grave? That costs us $20B a year! Why do we have so many military bases here in the US and all over the planet? We could drop the number in half and still be just as strong. Why do we have the largest fleet of Learjets in the world there at the pleasure of the generals who get to fly anywhere they want with not oversight. We can afford to fly generals from around the world to conferences in Hawaii when they mostly play golf? Spending money like drunken sailors, guess there is a reason for that saying, only what about the AF and Army too? Look at how many generals are on active duty right now, ten times the number that we had in WW2. Why?

  • It would unique if we created a Department of Peace and coerce the industrialist that they could make more money by rebuilding the world rather than destroying it. Rebuilding cities and countries like Haiti, education, health-care, jobs that would be created in every sector of industry makes more sense. Human’s act so much differently when they know they have a chance……..I’m in that special group of people that will never be in the “workforce” unless by someone in a close network. I’m over 55, over-educated, over-experienced!! So, I’m reinventing myself after 3yrs unemployment and falling off the grid for awhile. Who knows? By the way, good article.