Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Pentagon

Soldiers fire rounds from an Army M1A2 Abrams battle tank at Fort Carson, Colo., Sept. 22, 2021. (Photo: Defense.gov)

Stop Calling the Military Budget a ‘Defense’ Budget

To call the Pentagon's massive and escalating budget a "defense" budget is nothing less than internalized corruption of language that undermines our capacities to think clearly and talk straight.

Norman Solomon

It's bad enough that mainstream news outlets routinely call the Pentagon budget a "defense" budget. But the fact that progressives in Congress and even many antiwar activists also do the same is an indication of how deeply the mindsets of the nation's warfare state are embedded in the political culture of the United States.

The misleading first name of the Defense Department doesn't justify using "defense" as an adjective for its budget. On the contrary, the ubiquitous use of phrases like "defense budget" and "defense spending"—virtually always written with a lower-case "d"—reinforces the false notion that equates the USA's humongous military operations with defense.

In the real world, the United States spends more money on its military than the next 10 countries all together. And most of those countries are military allies.

What about military bases in foreign countries? The U.S. currently has 750, while Russia has about two dozen and China has one. The author of the landmark book "Base Nation," American University professor David Vine, just co-wrote a report that points out "the United States has at least three times as many overseas bases as all other countries combined." Those U.S. bases abroad "cost taxpayers an estimated $55 billion annually."

As this autumn began, Vine noted that President Biden is "perpetuating the United States' endless wars" in nations including "Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Yemen" while escalating "war-like tensions with China with a military buildup with Australia and the UK."

All this is being funded via a "defense" budget?

Calling George Orwell.

As Orwell wrote in a 1946 essay, political language "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." In 2021, the hot air blowing at gale force through U.S. mass media is so continuous that we're apt to scarcely give it a second thought. But the euphemisms would hardly mean anything to those in faraway countries for whom terrifying and lethal drone attacks and other components of U.S. air wars are about life and death rather than political language.

You might consider the Pentagon's Aug. 29 killing of 10 Afghan civilians including seven children with a drone attack to be a case of "respectable" murder, or negligent homicide, or mere "collateral damage." Likewise, you could look at numbers like 244,124—a credible low-end estimate of the number of civilians directly killed during the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq—and consider them to be mere data points or representing individuals whose lives are as precious as yours.

But at any rate, from the vantage point of the United States, it's farfetched to claim that the billions of dollars expended for ongoing warfare in several countries are in a budget that can be legitimately called "defense."

Until 1947, the official name of the U.S. government's central military agency was the War Department. After a two-year interim brand (with the clunky name National Military Establishment), it was renamed the Department of Defense in 1949. As it happened, that was the same year when Orwell's dystopian novel "1984" appeared, telling of an always-at-war totalitarian regime with doublespeak slogans that included "War Is Peace."

Today, the Department of Defense remains an appropriately capitalized proper noun. But the department's official name doesn't make it true. To call its massive and escalating budget a "defense" budget is nothing less than internalized corruption of language that undermines our capacities to think clearly and talk straight. While such corroded language can't be blamed for the existence of sloppy thinking and degraded discourse, it regularly facilitates sloppy thinking and degraded discourse.

Let's blow away the linguistic fog. The Pentagon budget is not a "defense" budget.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·


Betrayal of Railway Workers Ignites Working-Class Fury Toward Biden and Democrats

"Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic," said one rail leader. "Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class 1 rail carriers every time."

Jessica Corbett ·


With GOP House Control Looming, Pascrell Calls for Swift Release of Trump Tax Records

"Donald Trump tried to hide his tax returns from our oversight but after 1,329 days we have finally obtained the documents," said the New Jersey Democrat. "We should review and release them."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo