On this special day, America expresses gratitude to all citizens who entered military service over many decades, especially those who risked their lives in deadly combat. They richly deserve public thanks for their patriotism.
But the holiday also can be a time to ponder a deeper question: whether America should remain the world's only superpower, wielding more military might than the entire rest of the planet.
A Marine Corps officer who teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy wrote a warning titled "The Permanent Militarization of America." The instructor, Aaron O'Connell, says "unequivocal, unhesitating adulation" of warmaking forces now dominates U.S. politics and popular culture.
"The United States spends an enormous sum on defense -- over $700 billion last year, about half of all military spending in the world," he wrote.
Actually, the total U.S. taxpayer cost is over $1 trillion per year, counting veteran expense and interest on past arms outlays done with borrowed money, some researchers contend. That monumental sum outstrips the militarism of all other nations combined.
The Naval Academy professor quotes a famed Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, the military hero of World War II, who warned against excessive power of the "military-industrial complex." Eisenhower said in 1953:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.... The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people."
Gigantic military spending consumes U.S. wealth that otherwise could improve life for all Americans. It's a major factor in federal deficits and the out-of-control national debt. Professor O'Connell noted:
"Were Eisenhower alive, he'd be aghast at our debt, deficits and still-expanding military-industrial complex."
While everyone thanks veterans today, it's also time to give intelligent thought to American priorities.