The First Casualty of War is the Budget

The saying you commonly hear is that “the first casualty of war is the truth.” The saying might have originated with Samuel Johnson in 1758:

Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.

A version of the saying is then ascribed to Senator Hiram Warren when the U.S. entered what we now know as World War I: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” In 1928, Arthur Ponsonby wrote, “When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.”

Perhaps it is. But the budget is a close second. And it may deserve to be first.

pentagon cash shredder

War is the time when taxes go up. It is also the time when the government redoubles efforts to mass produce more money and force the public to accept it. This experience goes pretty far back in human history. When John Donne wrote a poem—Love’s Growth—describing how love would only grow and never recede, he brought up the experience of governments during wartime:

As princes do in time of action get

New taxes, and remit them not in peace,

By “time of action,” Donne means wartime. He expected his readers to understand the practice of governments to raise “temporary” taxes for an emergency and then never lower them again.

And even though Congress has not declared war, we are in wartime now. So it is time to pump out the money. Fox News reports, “Lawmakers renew call to roll back military cuts amid ISIS, Ebola fights.”

Citing President Obama’s calls for an expanded bombing campaign against the terror group — whose videotaped beheadings of three western hostages drew international revulsion — longtime foes of what’s known as sequestration say now is no time to slash military funding.

Rather, they argue, the Islamic State, or ISIS, is just the latest threat that underscores the need to undo the $487 billion in automatic Defense spending cuts required under the 2011 Budget Control Act.

“Even before these things erupted, it was not adequate,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said of Pentagon funding at a Senate Armed Services Hearing earlier this week. “As we all know, risk increases when adequacy is not met.”

The Oklahoma Republican was pressing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on whether the Defense Department has enough money to carry out Obama’s goal of destroying ISIS. While the Obama administration has requested an additional $500 million to pay for arming and training Syrian rebels, more than a month of airstrikes against the terror group have already cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The fact the administration wants to expand operations has fueled renewed worries over Defense funding, including among those who support the White House’s proposed strategy.

“I am troubled by the hit that readiness has taken through some of the budget cuts,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told the Council on Foreign Relations last week, adding that while lawmakers have had some success restoring the funding, “the whole sequestration decision, looking back at it, was wrong.”

Beyond the task of fighting ISIS, crises like the Ebola pandemic in West Africa — where U.S. military personnel are being deployed — and the armed struggle in eastern Ukraine have military officials joining lawmakers in sounding the alarm.

“If sequestration occurs, we are going to have to continue to downsize the Army,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters in Germany this week, according to Reuters. “We are going to have to decide where we do it.”

Notice here that it is assumed that we can simply continue to increase spending on government, year after year, world without end. We are supposed to be able to simultaneously “fight” Ebola in West Africa (?), defend Europe, protect Ukraine, interfere in Syria, side with Japan and “contain” China, occupy military bases all over the world, ad infinitum.

Well, it can’t be done. You are going to have to triage your wish list and only use the military for what is absolutely necessary.

We have to cut spending both on domestic “entitlements” and on our military. The only hope of avoiding a major financial crisis is to start dramatically cutting the spending. “Sequestration” wasn’t chosen because it was the most intelligent way to cut spending but because it was the only politically feasible way to slow spending. It was a start that we need to build upon, not roll back.

Can military spending be done more intelligently? Of course it can. But no one wants to do that. They want to get us to increase the budgets again.

Remember, this is an organization that can “lose” multiple trillions of dollars and never suffer any penalty. You might ask yourself, if past levels of spending were so useful, what do we have to show for it?

If the Tea Party is not going to oppose military overspending than the entire movement needs to disband. There is no hope to ever reduce spending and debt if every manufactured crisis and unwarranted intervention can trump calls for fiscal sanity.

For now, those eyeing a re-upping of the Pentagon budget are hoping polls that show public opinion surging in favor of striking ISIS – coupled with bipartisan backing of the administration’s initial request for $500 million to train and equip Syrian rebels — will lay the groundwork for rethinking the Defense sequester before the next round of cuts kicks in.

In other words, they hope war hysteria blinds you to the most likely threat to our national security and our well-being—an economic collapse brought upon us by government debt.