let’s talk a little about the army. the american army in particular because that’s the real focus but this applies to most countries, especially in the western world. i am a strong component of demilitarization and pacifism at all costs. but this is not an argument for disarmament in the complete sense of having no military. this is about the point of having an army. armies are extremely expensive both in financial and human terms. they cost vast amounts of money to maintain, train, equip and organize and the cost to society in death, psychological problems, armed and dangerous civilians and a culture of warfare and competition are immeasurable. so what’s the point?
first, a look at history. armies do two things. they allow you to defend yourself and attack, conquer, pacify and control others. yes, that looks like five things but the last four are really all one thing and we can call it conquest. so either you are using an army for defense or conquest. in the past, you were defending yourself against two things, loosely classifiable as barbarians and state actors. in the typical example, the roman army (the imperial roman army, let’s say, in the period after caesar) was responsible for keeping the empire safe from those terrorists just on the edges of its borders (they had shaggy beards and became referred to as barbarians from the latin for beard) and ensuring other states (for example, greek and germanic ones) didn’t take over. that was a huge portion of its reason for being and why it was worth so much effort and money from the roman citizens. the other part was conquest, acquiring more territory and ensuring it was sufficiently peaceful not to escape the imperial clutches. this included places like modern-day france, england and spain. they weren’t originally roman territories but the army made them part of the empire. this was also true of smaller pre-roman states like judea, now israel, as you may remember if you have read the bible, and much of what is now the arab middle-east, which the prophet spoke of in the qur’an. anyway, those are just examples but they’re ones most people are familiar with.
from a modern perspective, then, what’s the purpose of the american army in these two possible roles? realistically nothing. it has none at all. that may seem like an incredibly sweeping statement but please hear me out. i’m not saying military power in the american sense is useless. i can clearly demonstrate its immorality but it’s not useless. but the army is not a functional part of that usefulness in the twenty-first century.
first, defense. if you’re going to use an army for defense, you need to be in contact with the enemy. you’re defending yourself from an invasion, in other words. if you’re not fighting in your own territory, it’s not defense. if i go to your house and fight you, it doesn’t matter who starts it. it’s still your house. so who’s the potential attacker america is frightened of? perhaps an exploration of the nearby geography will give us a clue. well, looking at the map, it must be canada. a massive territory inhabited by another violent culture just to the north. but that can’t be right. america has friendly relations with canada (well, since the war of 1812, at least and i think two hundred years really is enough to kiss and make up, even for two homophobic societies that tend to think of kissing as a prelude to things best left not done by nation-states). perhaps the other direction. mexico? cuba? that doesn’t seem to make much sense, either. a mexican uprising crossing the rio grande isn’t hugely likely and i think the texans on the border are likely going to stop that in its tracks with their antique muskets and blunderbusses before the army needs to deploy. and the cubans are about as threatening as an invasion force as that school of dolphins living outside miami harbor. yes, some cubans and mexicans would like to move to america but we’re not talking about using the army for border control, just invasion-suppression. if there’s no invasion, suppression seems a little unnecessary. while we’re on the idea of unnecessary, try not to forget that the 2021 budget for the american military is a little over six-hundred-billion dollars. billion with a b. that’s two thirds of a trillion. a six with eleven zeros after it. let’s say only a tenth of that is destined for the army (and it’s more than that but nobody really knows the exact number, officially-speaking), that means we can think of it in several ways…
- if every church in america was given just that one-tenth, each would receive about $150 000.
- that’s a bit more than $800 for each child in the country.
- it’s almost a half-million dollars for each elementary and secondary school, college or university.
- if every hospital in the country received an equal share of this one-tenth-of-the-military-budget number, it would mean an extra ten-million dollars every year to help the sick.
of course, that’s not how economics works and the army’s budget couldn’t really be used for any of those things. that’s not the point. the idea is to give you an idea of how absolutely incredible the amount of money we’re talking about is. and that, remember, is only one-tenth of the military budget for one year, a vast underestimate for what the army actually costs but a very safe bet as a savings number if it was eliminated.
i can hear what you’re thinking, though. there are countries out there that hate america. truly hate america. and want to attack it. yes. i am certain this is true. but we’re not talking about defending against an attack. most attacks don’t actually occur in a way an army can fight against them. it’s built to fight against an invasion, not a single attack. the army won’t stop a ballistic inbound from clobbering washington or los angeles. it won’t stop a terrorist attack in seattle or houston. as much as i would like it to be able to do these things – it would be a truly justifiable reason to have an army, practically speaking – nothing can do this. potentially, a missile shield can do the first but none has been successful yet in accomplishing it in any meaningful way. nothing can do the second. perhaps good intelligence and policework. but criminals and terrorists always have the initiative and a free country means there is a certain degree of freedom to cause harm that can’t be eliminated without eliminating that freedom. while i believe that freedom should be vastly diminished in the interest of safety, that’s not the current discussion and not really relevant to the army.
so what countries out there hate america and have the ability to invade? which states are americans so afraid of that they are willing to spend eight-hundred bucks for every child so they can sleep easily knowing there won’t be an invasion? there are, realistically, three – north korea, iran and china. i know. i know. what about russia? well, the soviet union died a long time ago and, with it, any hope of being able to invade the united states. russia might now be a belligerent and painful enemy in a lot of ways. but it’s not looking for an invasion force to land on the beaches of new england – not any time soon, at least, unless the political landscape changes. but those other three? what about them, given how much they hate america in public? ok, admittedly north korea would probably love to conquer america but (not to put too fine a point on it) it’s not going to happen. if you seriously think the north korean army is going to pop up on the california coast and try to march across to washington and sweep up the lower forty-eight, whatever you’ve been smoking is likely to earn you a long stay in a federal prison. yes, north korea has an absolutely massive army. but it’s in north korea and that’s not exactly swimming-distance. they’d have to have a fleet of ships to rival a small country in land-mass. and that’s not something you can hide from a satellite. tell me the navy wouldn’t sink that before it gets anywhere near american shores. the same goes for iran but, unlike north korea, it simply doesn’t have the army to do it, even if it could land that army in america, which is realistically impossible even if it had the ships, which it also doesn’t. china, in theory, has the army capability to conquer and do it successfully but even that vast military powerhouse doesn’t have the marine transport facilities. and that’s assuming it wanted to in the first place, which i’m sure you realize, if you know anything about china, it simply doesn’t. does china need the headache of conquering america? not in the slightest. china wants two things from america – for the united states to leave it alone and buy its products. that’s all. the united states as a colony of china? who needs that nightmare? the cpp is far too smart to wish that on itself and the american public isn’t stupid enough to think it’s a possibility even in the most fevered of dreams.
so there are no countries to defend against an invasion from. but you knew that because the idea of an invasion from canada, mexico, cuba or anywhere in asia is so ludicrous it will make your head spin.
what about the other side, though? every country wants the power to take over its enemies, right? like the song says, everybody wants to rule the world. but does america? it wants to meddle in other people’s business, most certainly. it wants to rule the world economy, which it has been doing a horrendous job of in the last few decades, not that it was doing well before but at least doing well enough most people didn’t notice. but rule the world? conquer it and plant american flags all over asia and europe and africa? i’m not sure even the staunchest conservatives the republican party can field would support such a plan. can you picture the house of representatives with representatives from busan and kyoto? the honorable senators from johannesberg and berlin (not the one in georgia – or the one in nevada, for that matter, which i believe has absolutely no citizens)? i am a proponent of a single world government. but this is, again, not the forum for that discussion and it’s not relevant to the army.
so where would america like to conquer? or where is america likely to conquer despite lack of ambition in the colonial sphere? right. nowhere.
what this means is a complete lack of purpose for an army. the army, while potentially enjoyable for its members in many cases, provides no actual function to the country.
i can, yet again, hear the objection. a country without a military force leaves itself open to attack. yes, this is potentially true. it’s not always the case but it’s definitely a possibility. here’s the issue. we live in the twenty-first century. attacks come from various places. if they are invasions from nearby, an army can repel those invasions. there are really only three countries close enough to stage a functional invasion of the united states – canada, mexico and cuba. none of these three have either the armed forces or the political desire to do it. the army is defending against a potentiality that has no potential at all of happening. if a country like north korea or iran wants to attack america, they have to do it with long-range weapons. missiles or ships or aircraft. if it’s missiles, defense is possible but we’re mostly talking about blind scientific luck on a defense shield coupled to intelligence work. if it’s ships and planes, there are other branches of the military set up to deal with those threats. you’re generally not going to try to sink a ship with an army or shoot down an aircraft from the ground. yes, as a last-ditch effort it’s definitely been done, though rarely successfully since the second-world-war.
the other possibility for a military force is projection of power. and this is probably something that’s come to mind as we’ve been thinking about this topic. but that’s not relevant to the army. the american military projects power with its carrier fleet. sending ships and aircraft near china, for example, to try to bully that country into submission. it’s not really all that effective but it makes americans feel good for some reason. gunboat diplomacy, some people have called it. it worked in japan centuries ago but it’s not so likely to function against a modern nation like china or india that has the ability to fight back and, especially in the case of china, succeed in teaching a very painful lesson in return.
to summarize, then. the army costs the united states at least sixty-billion a year. probably far more than that but it’s a reasonable low-estimate. it works and trains very hard. but it has no purpose. there’s nothing to defend against and nothing to attack. american soldiers are training, fighting and dying but they shouldn’t be. they should be at home. and nobody should be fighting. there’s no war in america. it shouldn’t go looking for one. if america needs defending, it can rely on the navy and air force because nobody is going to get nearly close enough for the army to have to engage them on american soil. the entire army could stand there on the rim of the san francisco bay for the next hundred years and it will provide absolutely no useful protection for the country because nobody’s going to show up to try to invade. and there’s nobody to conquer. america doesn’t want to expand its territory (ok, some americans do but it’s not going to happen and the last thing america needs is new states called alberta and chiapas. trust me. expansionist politics are a thing of the past even if they do fit the traditional rhetoric of hardline conservatives.
so let’s do ourselves a favor and scrap the army. it’s not worth the pain. not worth the cost. and not worth the societal sacrifice. it won’t make the country weak. those are strong people whose minds and bodies could do something far more useful for the country. build things, learn things, help people, save lives at home. let’s give them a chance to do it.
by the way, expanding this perspective to other countries, the same could be said for most western nations. why does the united kingdom need an army? defending itself from france? i know france has attacked england many times in the past but it’s been hundreds of years and perhaps it’s time to stop imagining baguette-wielding bogeymen under the four-poster for a change? france needs to defend itself from spain and italy about as much as i need to defend myself from the ravages of the squirrel i saw this morning in the garden. armies can’t fight against individual terrorists and these countries have no functional large-scale enemies and no territorial ambitions. they need an army like i need a bleeding head-wound. it’s not just useless. it’s incredibly harmful to society to have an army both in financial and sociological terms. there are certainly countries where there is a theoretical risk of invasion. south korea has a legitimate fear of north korea. north korea isn’t going to invade them and that’s something i may someday have to write about. there are many reasons it won’t happen. but at least the fear is legitimate and physically present. israel is legitimately afraid of its neighbors potentially invading (and this one really could happen, though it’s unlikely). there are various central-african countries where invasion is far more possible and an army to defend their citizens might be a reasonable precaution, though there are always better options. but for countries in the developed west and much of the east (china, japan, india, malaysia and indonesia, i’m looking at you), there is no rational justification for a ground fighting force. that’s not to say there never was. just that we live in this modern world and it’s time we started to make decisions like it.
thanks for taking the time to explore this idea with me today. please let me know what areas of thought you’d like me to explore next. i’m always happy to take topic suggestions…