CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When America's top deficit-fighters -- Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles -- led a Charleston forum on the crushing federal debt, they spotlighted the $1 trillion annual expense of the U.S. military.
"We spend more on national defense than the next-largest 15 countries put together, including China and Russia," Bowles said. "I don't think America can afford to be the world's policeman."
Simpson added: "Erskine was right about military-industrial contractors. They will eat up the country's financial system."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who hosted the Charleston assembly, often protests the waste of taxpayer billions in foreign quagmires like Afghanistan. End the pointless overseas spending and bring the money home to help Americans, he argues.
Officially, the U.S. military budget is less than $700 billion per year. But that doesn't include extras such as veteran care and interest on past arms spending done with borrowed money -- which pushes the total to around $1 trillion.
Why does America bankrupt itself through gigantic militarism, when no other modern democracy squanders nearly so much? Why does the United States feel compelled to be the armed Goliath of the planet?
As we've said repeatedly, international warfare is vanishing in the 21st century. Large armies, navies and air forces have little purpose. They're ineffective against today's menace: hidden terror cells and rebel bands. Commando squads and killer drones are best against them.
World War II was an exception, a time when all-out defense had to be waged against a deadly aggressor. Otherwise, throughout history, militarism and warfare mostly have been ruinous, suicidal and self-destructive, as damaging to the victor as the loser -- proving the quip: "You can no more win a war than you can win a hurricane."
Ancient Greek city-states squandered their young men in endless combat, then collapsed. The Roman Empire used military force to seize most of Europe, until barbarians toppled the empire. Napoleon sacrificed more than a million young Frenchmen in invasions that proved futile. America's Civil War killed 600,000 Americans and left destruction behind. Nazi Germany and Japan employed mighty killing power, but ended shattered.
Civilization has advanced to the point that international wars seem unthinkable. American taxpayers no longer need to waste $1 trillion a year on militarism. Cutting the war force could help solve the U.S. debt dilemma.