A question of priorities

By Joshua Russell

How a country spends its money says a great deal about the direction it is going, the values it embraces, and which citizens are exercising the greatest influence. One way to determine a country’s priorities is to examine how it spends its money. In the United States, one of the largest and longest-standing budget priorities is the military.

U.S. military spending is projected to come close to $600 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, which is by far the most of any country in the world. The United States spends almost three times more than China, the second-highest military spender, and more than the next nine countries combined when ranking military spending in the world.

Why does the U.S. spend so much? Could it be cut back at all?

One of the most concerning aspects of the defense budget is not only its largesse, but the amount of money that has gone unaccounted for. Since 1996, the Department of Defense has been unable to account for a staggering $8.5 trillion dollars. Were this to happen in any other part of the federal government, Congress would be outraged. Defense spending, however, is another story.

The Department of Defense is under no serious threat to account for that $8.5 trillion because of the lack of political courage on the part of most politicians. Generations of Americans have learned not to question the military, and to regard it as the most sacred part of the U.S. government.

Politicians have learned this too, and have frequently reaped the political benefits. Congressmen and women on both sides of the aisle have worked to bring military bases or contractors to their districts, thereby earning the approval of their constituents due to new, reliable jobs. However, this is only possible because of the massive amount of defense spending that the federal government signs off on year after year.

Recently Congress voted, by a significant margin, to approve the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would continue the pattern of significant military spending. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill because it lifts the cap on Pentagon spending while discretionary spending on other programs remains capped. The bill does this by increasing the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)—or war-spending—account by $38 billion. Many discretionary programs, such as domestic anti-poverty programs and international humanitarian assistance, would benefit greatly from increased funding. But so far Congress has only acted to increase the Pentagon’s budget—a $38 billion increase that the Pentagon did not even ask for.

For Anabaptists, the values of Christian pacifism dictate a refusal to serve in the military, a tradition that has been upheld for centuries. However, it is not enough for Mennonites and other Anabaptists to simply not participate in the branch of government that continues to consume a significant percentage of our tax dollars.

oneElected leaders should be asked to reconsider what the priorities of the U.S. as a country should be, and how they are evidenced in our budget. Many believe allowing such a high level of military spending to continue is contrary to Anabaptist beliefs and values.