Military spending is the economic elephant in the middle of America's living room. In 2006, we will commit roughly $500 billion to our armed services, an amount equal to the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. We'll do so despite the evident reality that our "best-trained, best-equipped" force is neither trained nor equipped to counter the asymmetric threats we now face and expect to confront for the foreseeable future.
More than a decade after the demise of the Soviet Empire, and with no peer military competitor on the horizon, America is in an arms race with itself. That our defense industry has become a sacred cash cow should come as no surprise. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Dwight David Eisenhower warned America:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
Something Old, Something New
In perspective, the collusion between industry and the military is hardly a post-modern American phenomenon. It's as old as the Industrial Age itself. Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (the elder) exploited 19th-century Europe's transportation revolution to win the German Wars of Unification. Moltke also happened to be a part owner and director of one of Prussia's largest railway lines.
In 21st-century America, however, we've refined this form of military-industrial 'bedfellowing' to a fine art. You can't count the hands of everyone who's knocking down a piece of the defense pie because everyone's hands are in somebody else's pockets. It's a complicated web to untangle, but we can get a sense of it by starting at the top of the arms business food chain.
Top Down, Bottom Up