It’s become obsolete, the days of conquest are behind us, yet the military-industrial complex grinds on all the same.
– TOM STREITHORST
America spends more on its military than all its enemies put together yet it still can’t win wars. Failed adventures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have drained America’s power and diminished its prestige. The bloated Pentagon budget actually makes us weaker.
Here’s the weird bit: nobody seems to care. If any other government department spent as much and accomplished as little, the populace would be in arms, complaining about wasteful government spending. Instead we mumble “Thank you for your service” and increase defense appropriations.
War has always been brutal and destructive, but once upon a time it had a purpose. William of Normandy invaded Britain knowing victory would make him rich beyond dreams of avarice. Soldiers followed Genghis Khan, Hernan Cortes, and Napoleon Bonaparte for the opportunity to steal gold, land, or slaves from their defeated enemies. Loot captured in war could transform a man’s life, give him the money he needed to buy land or start a business. For thousands of years, the opportunities inherent in battle gave many men their only chance to escape their impoverished origins. Success in war could turn a brigand into a king.
Today it is trade and technology, not conquest, that makes us rich. It is a cliché of the left that America went to war in Iraq to take their oil. This is a serious misreading of history. For one thing, had George W. Bush told Saddam to either share his oil wealth with ExxonMobil or face invasion, Saddam would have certainly complied. For another, Korean, Russian, Angolan, and Chinese companies all control more Iraqi oil fields today than do American firms. Had we gone to war to steal Iraqi oil, we might have done a better job of it.
At least in the developed West, conquest is profitable no more. This has been true for over a century. Back in 1910, Norman Angell wrote “The Great Illusion,” a pamphlet proclaiming that war was obsolete. He noted that the intertwined nature of the global economy made war almost as destructive to the victor as the vanquished. Should they go to war, Angell observed, Germany and England would be slaughtering potential clients, not capturing prospective slaves. And victory in the Franco-Prussian War hadn’t made Germany richer: “When Germany annexed Alsatia, no individual German secured Alsatian property as the spoils of war.”
Angell decided that since war was no longer cost effective, it was obsolete. Of course, World War I proved him wrong and generations of history teachers have mocked his mistimed prophecy. But maybe he was just ahead of the curve. Today, for America, war is nothing but expensive spectacle. …