07 February 2012


That is what our nation's higher-echelon military organization was called, from 1789 until 1947.  In the latter year the War Department was split into separate Army, Navy, and Air force departments briefly.  All were reunited under the aegis of the Department of Defense in 1949.

Ironically, the mission never changed.  It remains, as it has always been, waging war ~ not maintaining a simple defense of the nation's borders.  The United States is both politically and militarily opportunistic (some might say aggressive), and always has been.  Our military is involved in wars and sectarian violence all around the globe, and always on the lookout for the next theater for flexing our muscle.  (Iran?  Somalia?  Pakistan?)  Our foreign policy has been interventionist since well before World War I.

I've long thought that the original name for our collective military should be re-instated.  The Department of War.  If it were truly merely about defense, our military and our foreign policy would resemble that of Switzerland.  This argument is defended very effectively in an essay titled How the Swiss Opted Out of War.  The author explains ~ "Switzerland has not been in a foreign war of any kind since 1815.  This would be astounding, even miraculous, for any nation.  But Switzerland borders, Germany.  And France.  And Italy.  And Austria .... In addition to the encircling foreign marauders, Switzerland itself is composed of four different language groups (German, French, Italian, and Romansh) that get along as well as, well, Germans and French.

"The Swiss finalized their no-wars policy of armed neutrality in 1815.  Their decentralized citizen army was good enough to keep them out of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, World War I, and other European gang fights.  In 1934, the addressed the looming threat of aerial bombing by starting a massive civil-defense effort.  They maintained their citizen army and kept out of World War II, even while provoking Hitler by letting Jews hide their assets in secret Swiss bank accounts.  Many Jews only escaped the Holocaust because they had their money where Nazi tax authorities couldn't get at it.

" .... In 1962, noticing that the Cold War world was not getting any safer, the Swiss started building nuclear shelters.  By the early 1990s, the program was complete.  Every home, school, and business in Switzerland has a blast shelter in the basement, with a filtered air system .... Every citizen is trained in civil defense .... How much does all this security cost the Swiss?  Not very much.  In the 1980s the Swiss spent about $33 per capita annually on civil defense .... Estimates put total Swiss military spending at 0.9% of GDP.  The US spends 5-6% of our much larger GDP to achieve almost total vulnerability .... The United States spends about as much as the rest of the world put together on 'defense'.  Our on-budget military spending is around 45% of world defense expenditure.  But then we have a $75 billion black budget, a Veterans Administration budget of $132.2 billion, on-budget foreign aid of $53.3 billion, and off-budget Federal Reserve foreign aid in frankly unbelievable amounts.  So a hundred billion here, a hundred billion there,  and we end up spend as much as all the rest of the world's armies and air forces put together.

"The United States has military programs to address threats that don't even exist.  We have the F-35 to face the now-defunct Soviet air force, Trident submarines to launch missiles at now-friendly Russian cities, and aircraft carriers to fight no one, as no country is dumb enough to pile $20 billion onto one fragile, indefensible 'missile magnet'.  So we must be pretty safe, right?  We must have really good anti-aircraft defenses ~ oops, no, even civilian airliners can just fly right into the Pentagon, even with lots of warning time.

" .... Switzerland, of course, is small, landlocked among other nations with long criminal records, and it has a smaller military budget than any of its potential attackers.  The United States has none of these problems.  If we applied the Swiss model, we could ensure our society, our Constitution, our freedoms, and most of our people would survive a major attack.  And if someone thinks you're certain to survive and hunt them down, they're less likely to attack in the first place.

" .... We could have a real air defense against bombers and drones tomorrow.  All we have to do is fly our F-15s home from Saudi Arabia and use them to guard Washington DC and Peoria instead of Riyadh.  Our Patriot missiles could be placed around U.S. cities instead of scattered around the Middle East .... If our Navy weren't busy blockading Iran to raise the price of oil, it could add its Aegis cruisers to defend our coastal cities.  

" .... Of course, if we applied a noninterventionist foreign policy, the number of groups motivated to attack us would be greatly reduced.  Right now, we are involved in most of the ethnic and religious conflicts around the world.  Far too many political factions would benefit from a distracted and damages United States.  If an attack were anonymous, how would we retaliate?  Last time, we 'retaliated" against a nation (Iraq) that wasn't even involved in the attack.  They didn't have WMDs, but what if our next president accidentally lies us into attacking someone who does?

"This brings up another Swiss policy ~ their president can't launch wars by executive order.  In theory, neither can ours, and we need to start applying that theory (and the rest of the rule of law) in practice again.

"If we eliminate corporate welfare and bailouts, get out of our illegal undeclared wars, reduce and redirect military spending to actual defense, and free the U.S. economy to recover, the 21st century could see an American Renaissance.  Otherwise, our economy's fall is inevitable .... An America involved in every conflict, with no resources to support any of them, is the legacy we have given to our children."

I do have a few problems with the author's premise, one being that the United States cannot afford to become isolationist in a world that already features an interdependent global economy, and hopefully will feature a global governing body with more equal representation and more effective enforcement power than the United Nations (much as I admire that body) possesses.  Another problem is that the author does not address legitimate military interventions, e.g. to prevent genocide or deter military aggression.

We are a world community.  The problem is that the U.S. has taken upon itself the role of both rule-maker and enforcer, under policies too often tainted by self-interest ~ the greed for resources or influence over others.  We are one nation among many.  To that extent, we might be well-advised to at least consider the Swiss model, certainly within the context of the Department of War.

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