Would More Veterans in Congress Give Us a Smaller Military Budget?

Writing in The New York Times, U.S. Naval Academy historian Aaron B. O'Connell worries that a paucity of veterans in Congress makes lawmakers apt to mindlessly "support the troops" and oppose cuts in military spending.


Writing in The New York Times, U.S. Naval Academy historian Aaron B. O'Connell worries that a paucity of veterans in Congress makes lawmakers apt to mindlessly "support the troops" and oppose cuts in military spending:

Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution—particularly one financed by the taxpayers —should be immune from thoughtful criticism….

Most of the political discourse on military matters comes from civilians, who are more vocal about "supporting our troops" than the troops themselves. It doesn't help that there are fewer veterans in Congress today than at any previous point since World War II. Those who have served are less likely to offer unvarnished praise for the military, for it, like all institutions, has its own frustrations and failings. But for non-veterans—including about four-fifths of all members of Congress—there is only unequivocal, unhesitating adulation. The political costs of anything else are just too high.

If Mitt Romney had served in the military, maybe he would be less inclined to portray every so-called cut to the so-called defense budget, even when it amounts to merely a smaller increase, as recklessly endangering the nation's security. 

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  1. But no institution?particularly one financed by the taxpayers ?should be immune from thoughtful criticism….

    Pentagon decision-makers are pretty far divorced from “the troops” which most people are referencing when they pledge support. I don’t know why it’s so hard to criticize military spending when so much of it does not seem to directly affect troop safety or support.

  2. He’s using a data point of exactly one, Eisenhower, and this is the money paragraph:

    Eisenhower understood the trade-offs between guns and butter. “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,” he warned in 1953, early in his presidency. “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.”

    It’s not about military budgets, it’s about shifting government spending from military to domestic affairs.

    1. No it’s about not wasting money on the military or on domestic hand-outs.

    2. He’s using a data point of exactly one

      Oooh, nails on a chalkboard. I’m filled with murderous rage now. Excellent job of trolling me.

      1. “Single point of data.” Better now?

        Anyway, I don’t see any evidence that military veterans in Congress will be more likely to cut military budgets.


          1. That’s not even a word.

        2. If i ever got there, I would. I could clear out 20% of the DoD and not even dent readiness. Don’t get me started on their criminal contracting procedures…

          1. I put it to you that 60-80% of the inefficiencies in the military acquisition system are a direct result of Congressional interference and regulation.

            That system will NEVER be right, Congress pretty much ensures everything will be late and over budget.

            1. And steered to the right district (Oshkosh, WI, most famously).

          2. If i ever got there, I would.


            Been out for 4 years now, but the article is right – veterans are a lot more realistic about the military than civilians are.

  3. There are two factors at play here:

    1) People who have been in the military have seen the bullshit from the inside and are better able to separate bullshit projects from sensible ones.

    2) People who have been in the military and left early enough to embark on a second career like politics won’t be wedded to a community like a flag officer who has been in that community his/her entire career (we need 50 more attack subs to combat terrorism so that my command doesn’t shrink!).

    3) A veteran is harder to portray as being anti-military (I was there in Iraq and saw Sleepy Weasel fail first-hand and it must be canceled).

    1. I was about the write something similar.

      I’ve seen the waste. I saw the stuff that works versus absolute crap like the fucking worthless ACU camouflage, the fifty pound radios, and the shit-piece M16.

      Veterans are less likely to believe the political Generals. They might also be a little suspicious when the DOD says they need something like 1 civilian for every 2 soldiers and sailors.

      1. If the government has money, it will spend it. Talking about cutting military budgets without talking about cutting all government spending is a joke.

        1. We should cut all government spending. But if I had to choose between cutting military spending and nothing else, and cutting nothing at all, I would choose the former without hesitation

          1. That’s not a choice. If you cut military spending it will just go somewhere else. Turnip subsidies, or whatever.

            1. That’s how it went down during the Clinton Administration. I don’t think it’s a rule or anything.

              1. Government spending still increased during Clinton, but at a smaller rate than most administrations. I guess that’s something.

                1. Civilian spending went way up while the Army was halved.

            2. I’m speaking hypothetically obviously

        2. Talking about cutting military budgets without talking about cutting all government spending is a joke.

          But…but…yesterday Kendall Schultz told me that we can’t talk about cutting programs which would make people feel bad if cut.

          Also, if you question him about that, he will officially declare you “not-a-real-Brown person” despite any evidence to the contrary. Because if you don’t think like how he thinks a Brown person should think, then he’ll call you “a White bigot” and a “troll”.

          But, Ken’s not a racist, remember.

          1. Hey, you two, take that fight outside! This is a classy joint!

            1. If I ever do see him outside, I’ll knock his block off.

          2. Whoa, link?

            1. If you’re really interested; here’s the part where he accuses me of being a sockpuppet in blackface. I respond by posting a link to my baby pictures. He response by refusing to follow any link that I post, plugging his fingers in his ears, and shouting “la, la, la; I can’t hear you.”

    2. Republicans had no issue calling Ron Paul anti-military and he was one of only two guys in the race who served

  4. How much military spending is spent on the troops compared to the vast Military Industrial Complex?

    I’m thinking not very much.

    1. Good question.

      /glaring at Navy (DDX anyone?) Air Force (F-22 or F-35 or F-### or whatnot) Army (not every retiring General needs a contractor to land with) and USMC (changing amphibious craft again?!)

    2. You’d be surprised.

    3. Just personnel costs are about a quarter of the DoD budget, which may seem small, but when you consider we spend more on people than the shiny new toys, it should put it in perspective. If fact, personnel costs are rising to the degree that they are squeezing out the other categories to include procurement. Throw in other categories such as mil construction and housing and the ratio goes up. And FWIW, I work in the 5-sided puzzle palace.

  5. There’s a ballot question this time in PA tgat made me do a double-take:

    (3 ) Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter – which allows for a preference in the civil service regulations for the children of Philadelphia firefighters or police officers who were killed or who died in the line of duty – be amended to further allow for a preference for the grandchildren of such firefighters or police officers?

    I didn’t know about the children part, much less the grandchildren thing.

    1. Sorry it’s a bit off topic but I saw the thing about police officers, emergency workers, etc. in TFA.

      1. As the US Constitution prohibits working corruption of the blood (bad) and titles and patents of nobility (good) – let us just say “no” to that.

  6. We have a three war policy: that we can fight WWII, Korea and Vietnam simultaneously.

  7. More Ron Pauls and Barney Franks would (the only two House members who want to cut the Pentagon budget).

  8. If Mitt Romney had served in the military, maybe he would be less inclined to portray every so-called cut to the so-called defense budget, even when it amounts to merely a smaller increase, as recklessly endangering the nation’s security.

    Maybe if Mitt weren’t running for president…

  9. Come on, folks, veterans are useful to make points about the hell of war and the need to take care of those who serve, but do you really want these shell-shocked lower class users of violence to have a say in our governing process? They’re victims of predatory recruitment, all of them, and they need to be cherished and protected.

  10. Question on my ballot tomorrow:

    Are you in favor of amending the Kentucky
    constitution to state that the citizens of Kentucky
    have the personal right to hunt, fish, and harvest
    wildlife, subject to laws and regulations that
    promote conservation and preserve the future of
    hunting and fishing, and to state that public
    hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means
    of managing and controlling wildlife?

    1. Wow – Wisconsin has something similar a while back – passed overwhelmingly.

    2. Don’t KY citizens already have that right? Get a fishing license and go fishing (ditto hunting)?

  11. The massive Cold War military budgets were produced by guys who saw action in WWII, remember? They saw blood, but they also saw tons of waste and abuse and chicken shit typical of any large military.

    Yet they fully backed a huge military as well as tons of bad and wasteful weapons projects (Osprey, divad, etc.) kinda weakens the argument.

    1. It’s more complicated than that.

      The WWII and Korean War era U.S. Army had shit equipment. The Germans had much better tanks, artillery, and by the end better rifles and fighter planes.

      We won because we had far more stuff, but Veterans returned home bitter that they watched their friends burned alive in shitty Sherman tanks.

      That’s why they reflexively voted for better stuff.

      1. I really do want it to be no contest – our stuff wipes out anyone elses and I want it to stay that way – but why do the contracts end up such a joke… gosh, cost overrun again, derp derp, just hand over more $!

        1. Agree – and some of the stuff they skimped on are the things I really cared about. I wanted a rifle that didn’t jam. A rucksack that made sense and was at least the equivalent of your average pack at EMS. Etc…

          I didn’t really care if it was an A-6 dumping dumb bombs up ahead or a B-2 was delivering GPS guided missiles.

          1. Which one do you want dropping bombs in a danger close TIC scenario?

  12. Also, I have an actual race for my State Rep. I figured it was so, since my Rep sent me mail this time around.

  13. It boggles my mind how conservatives, who realize how inefficient and wasteful the government is in everything else, and mock liberals who prophesize catastrophic consequences if even one dollar is cut from domestic programs (even if the “cut” is really just a smaller increase), do the exact same thing when it comes to military spending.

    1. At least military spending results in something you can point to and say, “Look how that F-35 goes fast and kills things.”

      Domestic progams, on the other hand, seldom provide such tangible benefits and often result in bad things happening, like generations of surly citizens who think their government owes them something.

      1. Unfortunately, the F-35 doesn’t go faster than the aircraft it’s replacing. Or further, or with more ordnance.

        1. Unfortunately, the F-35 doesn’t go faster than the aircraft it’s replacing. Or further, or with more ordnance.

          But that’s not the point of the F-35. The point was it being a Stealth fighter.

          1. At this point, there is no other option to the F-22 and F-35. The aircraft they are replacing are literally falling out of the skies. The AF fleets are used up and need replaced.

            A direct result of our abysmal foreign policy over the last quarter century.

            1. At this point, there is no other option to the F-22 and F-35. The aircraft they are replacing are literally falling out of the skies. The AF fleets are used up and need replaced.

              That and the J-31.

            2. So, McDonnell Douglas/Boeing couldn’t just retool to build new F-15’s, F-16’s and F-18’s?

              1. a. Given the sunk costs in the new programs and the proximity of their completion it would cost far more to reopen closed assembly lines.

                b. The capabilities of the new 5th generation stuff that we’d be likely to face in future conflicts greatly surpass the capabilities of our 4th gen systems. E.G. the F-22 went years without losing an engagement against F-15/16s. The one I eventually heard about was a fluke (circa 2006). It truly would be bringing a knife to a gunfight. It’s orders of magnitude better.

              2. They probably could, however it would make even more sense to design new aircraft which are incremental improvements over the existing models. buy those in bulk, then have a small handful of the really super advanced models buying them in just enough quantity to keep an assembly line running so that if the shit hits the fan we can quickly ramp up production while the incrementally better models hold the line for a little while.

                1. I like this thought process, but the problem is “ramping up production” takes years, as does the training of the pilots to fly them and the training of the maintainers to fix them. The complexity of the aircraft as well as the employment tactics far, far, far surpass that of WWII.

              3. No need to retool, they are still producing them, in newer variants to foreign customers. Those options have been on the table, but we simply can’t afford them and the F-35…

                1. I toured the Boeing St Louis plant in 06. Yes, they are still cranking out dumbed down foreign F-15/18s, the numbers are minimal. To undertake replacing our fleets would require a HUGE expansion without the benefit of obtaining a superior product. Not to mention closing the F-35 plants would cost additional money in early termination penalties.

                  1. I toured the St Louis plant as well in ’10. The numbers are small, but the bottom line is the engineering work is largely done and the line could simply be expanded; it doesn’t have to be “huge” since we wouldn’t be buying 80’s numbers, we’d simply bump the foreign customers out of line. Yes, foreign sales can be “dumbed down”, but that’s usually avionics/ecm. Boeing’s actually invested a significant amt to create a stealth-like F-15 w/ conformal tanks, internal bays, and stealth coatings. The new production F-15/F-16s can be a viable 4.5 generation platform since a lot of what makes 5th gen has nothing to do with steath. I’m not saying we should buy them, but they shouldn’t just be swept away because the basic design is decades old. I spent many a day analyzing this very subject in the AF

            3. This is true, while it is somewhat amazing to think that it is only in the last dozen or so years that any other Air Force has been able to fly aircraft which could match those 3 in performance it is far scarier to realize that the F-15 was developed in the 1960’s, the F-16 the 70’s and the F-18 the 80’s. Sure the models flying today are significantly better than their first generation brethren but the airframes themselves are all at least 25 years old and starting to turn into maintenance nightmares.

              1. Compare the F-15 Silent Eagle to the F-35. The Silent Eagle beats it in every single category and has zero development costs.


                1. No offense, but that’s simply not true. There are significant development costs. The model they have is a demonstrator. That means it’s proof of concept, not ready for prime-time. That’s like saying the YF-22 that did the flyoff in the late 80s is the same aircraft that’s in production. The YF-22 was an empty titanium can with no integrated weapons capability. I’m fairly certain Boeing didn’t spring for the development of all the improved avionics on the off chance that someone would buy it.

                  While true that the range and performance took a hit in the F-35, its improvements come in the form of avionics and stealth making it survivable in a double digit SAM environment, something the Strike Eagle never will be.

                  1. Agree the silent eagle is no JSF, but would cost less and could make for a decent gap filler, esp if you just bought current production models. It’s not meant to a be substitute, but if all you’ve got is a increasingly delayed F-35 and older planes “falling out of the sky”, then buying ‘new-old’ planes can make sense capability-wise. You gotta also remember, the entire inventory does not need to be stealth or A2/AD capable. Unfortunately, if you’ve seen the budget/inventory charts, we’ve put all our eggs in one basket…

                    1. Don’t get me going on the acquisition system. All the JSF problems could have easily been foreseen. It is GROSSLY inefficient (it is after all, a government run entity).

                      However, keeping several different aircraft types that fulfill the same mission comes with it’s own price tag. You need separate facilities to house and maintain them. Different tools to work on them. Different training facilities to train pilots and maintainers. The list goes on.

                      The correct way to run it, knowing how long it takes to develop a new system and knowing there are ALWAYS problems with any new system, is to start your replacement program early enough to be up and running BEFORE your older systems shit the bed.

                    2. Oh, concur. If you look at the lifecycle of aircraft in the 50s vs today, it’s mindboggling, but for good reason (drink) since it seems to me we are reaching a technology/engineering/budget threshold, almost a reverse Moore’s Law. I really can’t wait to break out the popcorn to watch the long range bomber project since that’ll make the F-22/F-35 look successful since you’re already talking low production numbers so the price tag will be hotly debated I’m sure.
                      As to your comment about different acft types, I do think it’s wise to diversify since the spectrum of warfare has done nothing but widen, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the newest toys can’t do a lot of things we need (okay, choose) to do now. Think about the inability of the F-16 to fully replace the A-10 in the CAS role, or the expansion of prop-job non-standard aircraft in SOF/ISR.
                      I’ll bet money the F-35 buy will continue to get cut and we won’t have near the quantities that everyone is planning on and then you get into politics… the politicians won’t take too kindy to all those facilities, bases, bodies going idle. Lots of facets to this.

                    3. Too bad it couldn’t be based solely on combat necessity instead of fucking politics.

  14. It helps if you stop thinking of the military as a killing machine with a spending problem and start thinking of it as a Workfare program with a killing problem.

  15. Mitt’s pandering aside, actual spending reductions are going to have to be made – and various Pentagon parasitess and contractor leeches will have to be removed from the host. There is enough wasted #$%& in systems contracts and procurement to reduced spending an actual 20% and not even come close to hurting capabilites.

  16. Vote suppression! Tony outraged!…..ary-voters

  17. Here’s the question…

    How many congresscritters are ENLISTED veterans?

    People who have spent a few years on THAT end of the bullshit, might have some pretty good perspectives.

    1. Like Charlie Rangel? He has a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Veterans are like anyone else, no better or worse on the whole. I think Heinlein covered it best in Starship Troopers.

  18. This is a time for us all to take a moment of silence to remember the great Military Reformer and Cost-Cutter….

    John “I have my own Airport!” Murtha

  19. “Most of the political discourse on military matters comes from civilians, who are more vocal about “supporting our troops” than the troops themselves.”

    Probably because we have first hand experience with how large military salaries are and how the money is wasted in most areas.

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