Military Spending is Destroying America


“America’s leaders have embraced the very worst…preferring to be feared rather than loved, while putting power first and principle last…” William Astore, veteran, history professor and author.

“Sticking to the current defense spending strategy is not only economically wasteful but will also make America and the world less safe.” William D. Hartung, political scientist who specializes in military and national security issues.

We have a problem in our country with militarism. Militarism dominates our foreign policy, domestic policing, and national spending priorities. For eight decades our country has engaged in numerous armed conflicts, wars, and endless preparation for wars. This has wasted huge amounts of resources that could have been better spent on vital human needs. It has resulted in the death and suffering of many Americans and many, many more people all across the world.

Excessive militarism is bad budget priorities and counterproductive foreign policy. Each new war increases the normalization of violence, weakens our civil liberties, increases the power of the executive branch and weakens democracy. Everyone’s well-being is affected by reduced money for health, education, job creation and other human needs. Everyone is affected by the PTSD, alcoholism, drug addiction, gun violence, spousal abuse, veteran suicide and racial tensions that come home from every war.

One little reported statistic speaks volumes, “At least four times as many active-duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide than in combat” (Cost of War Project at Brown University).

Here are some little-known facts about “defense” spending that illustrate the scale of our militarism.

  • Half of the Department of Defense (DOD) spending goes to military contractors – 30% of that goes to the five biggest companies: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
  • In 2022, 54% of federal civilian employees were at either DOD (34%) or Veterans Affairs (20%). Add in active-duty military and 72% of federal employees were “defense” related.
  • By comparison, the Department of Health and Human Services had 4% and the Department of State only 1% of federal employees.
  • Non-defense spending creates more jobs – more multiplier effects in the economy – than spending on the military. Domestic spending creates between 9 percent and 250 percent more jobs than the same amount of spending on the military.

“Decades of high levels of military spending have changed U.S. government and society – strengthening its ability to fight wars, while weakening its capacities to perform other core functions, investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education, and emergency preparedness…” (“We Get What We Pay For: The Cycle of Military Spending, Industry Power, and Economic Dependence.”. Cost of War Project, Heidi Peltier, June 8, 2023)

The stark disparity between funding for war vs funding for diplomacy is clear evidence that militarism dominates our government. The National Priorities Project (NPP) calculates we spend $16 on the Pentagon for every $1 spent on diplomacy and humanitarian foreign aid. A NPP report says, “…militarized spending has done far more harm than good, while our consistent under-investment in human needs has made us much less safe” (“The Warfare State: How Funding for Militarism Compromises Our Welfare,” May 24, 2023).

Greg Mello is a scientist with the Los Alamos Study Group and has written about the impact of militarism. “War is not one issue among many. Being at war, or constantly preparing for war, or trying to run a global empire as the U.S. has been doing for many years, means that every social, environmental, and political goal many of us want won’t be realized. A militarized economy and the politics of empire are incompatible to every humane and environmental aspiration.”

Militarism, and resulting wars, are a major cause of the national debt. Wars used to be paid for with increased taxation. During the Cold War the top individual income tax bracket reached 91%. During WW2 excessive profits taxes on businesses ranged from 25-60%. Today the nominal corporate income tax is 21%. Because of loopholes, many large companies pay much less and sometimes nothing on billions of dollars of profit. The post 9/11 wars have been paid for almost entirely with borrowed money. The government owes over $1 trillion in interest on these war debts. Today, for the first time, annual interest payments on the debt are larger than the Pentagon budget.

All this debt does not bring us security. William Hartung writes, “These enormous sums are being marshaled in support of a flawed National Defense Strategy that attempts to go everywhere and do everything, from winning a war with Russia or China, to intervening in Iran or North Korea, to continuing to fight a global war on terror that involves military activities in at least 85 countries…It leads to unnecessary conflicts that drain lives and treasure and too often contribute to instability in the regions where those conflicts are waged“ (More Money, Less Security: Pentagon Spending and Strategy in the Biden Administration”, William D. Hartung, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, June 8, 2023).

Wars do not solve political or diplomatic problems. War is not strength, rather it is the failure to find better alternatives for conflict resolution. It is failure that will eventually destroy our country.

Unfortunately, most people buy into the militaristic propaganda. Most politicians – even “liberals” – believe the militaristic mythology. To avoid being branded unpatriotic they cannot (or will not) support needed changes in our attitudes and polices.


Despite being heavily involved in a no-win war in Ukraine and the ongoing genocide in Gaza, we immediately jumped into a military confrontation between Israel and Iran. This incident, begun by Israel’s attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, may lead to a larger war.

Is defending Israel really in our national interests? Is it worth the risk of a world war? Or are we once again blind to what is really important to our people and the people to the world?

As long as our political leadership, weapons industry profiteers, the media, veterans’ groups, and most citizens believe the mythology we will never learn from our past mistakes and failures. We will never overcome our deeply ingrained culture of militarism. And we will suffer endless wars and an endless stream of dead and wounded coming back from unnecessary wars.

Peace is the best war memorial. Peace is the only real security.