Tag Archives: military spending

Militarist Nation, Coming and Going

knott-cartoon

 

Amid shifting political powers and tense foreign relations of the early 1930’s, both France and Japan faced the challenge of balancing their budgets between the economic depression and the necessity of increased military spending. An editorial, written by an unknown author in 1933 in the Dallas Morning Newspaper, “Troublesome Budgets”, explicates the larger political stakes at play. It reveals the French government, urged by Premier Daladier, has increased taxes to offset the budget deficit and that while the Japanese Parliament is not currently in session, they will soon face the same dilemma. Frances is pressured to give out loans to the Japanese territory, Manchukuo, and that Japan is under pressure to forge a diplomatic agreement with the Soviet Union. Due to the debts and future responsibilities of both these countries, they cannot truly afford a full-scale war without assured bankruptcy, so they must remain open to political agreements with Germany and other potentially hostile nations. While admitting the concerning nature of these events, the author is optimistic, as these concessions may lead to the prevention of a massive, global war (Troublesome Budgets).

In the accompanying political cartoon, Militarist Nation, Coming and Going, John Francis Knott, a prominent cartoonist of the era, satirizes the precarious political situation of the French government in 1933, challenged with maintaining military strength in the wake of the devastation of World War I and facing the economic downturn of the Great Depression (Knott). The illustration depicts the front and back of a French soldier representing the two opposing sides of the interwar French government. His front, a crisp and well-maintained uniform with the words “Millions For Armament” on the ammunition pouches, is the paragon of military ideals, the image France wanted to convey to Germany as part of their defensive mentality. The back, however, is in tatters, covered with patches stating “taxes”, “unbalanced budget”, “defaulted debts” and “reduced wages”. The implied pacing motion of the soldier could be interpreted as a metaphor for France being on guard, a sentry keeping an eye out for possible warlike advancements by Germany. The soldier is wearing prototypical uniform of the World War I era, complete with an Adrian helmet, made of steel, and only issued to soldiers in heavy combat (Suciu). The defensive nature of the soldier’s uniform, as well as his worried expression is parallel to the apprehensive, tense nature of France during the interwar period. The patches on the uniform represent temporary sacrifices that are meant to fix the holes in the economy. This exposes what is underneath pretense of the supposedly formidable French Armed Forces: a weakened economy and divided populous.

The events leading up to this period in French history are crucial for understanding and interpreting the mentality of the French government and people. The French and global economies were still recovering from the devastation of the first World War, ending in 1918, with a victory by the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States) and the creation of the League of Nations, aimed at preventing another worldwide military conflict. Germany, due to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, was mandated to make war reparations, however because of their ruined economy, were unable to complete the payments, leaving France to fend for themselves, who in turn had to repay war debts to the United States. France had to spend large sums of money on reconstruction to repair the damage to the infrastructure and the ingrained societal systems (Hautcoeur 9). In 1924, taxes were too low to balance the budget, but instead of raising taxes they lowered the interest rate on bonds, which led to a decrease in the purchase of bonds which worsened the recession. In 1926, Prime Minister Raymond Poincare was given nearly absolute power over the economy and repaired by implementing new sales taxes and trimming the fat off the bureaucracy (Beaudry 16). While this left the economy in relatively good shape, the shock of World War I had created a defensive mentality in France. The resulting turmoil led to support for extremist groups and split France into two diametrically opposed, radical political alliances: The National Bloc, the right, who advocated for business, the army and were hellbent on revenge against Germany, and the Cartel des Guaches, a coalition of leftist parties who lobbied for the lower-middle class and were in favor of a foreign policy of security by negotiation.

The differing economic policies of the alignments came into play in 1931, when the Great Depression began to affect France. The Depression was not as consequential in France as it was in the United States; the French economy was mainly self-sufficient and relied on smaller business and local economies (Beaudry 12). The mentality towards depression was different than that of the United States; it was seen as a necessary evil to purge excess money and to send indebted companies, barely staying afloat, to failure. A success of the government was that they maintained a restrictive and procyclical policy, meaning that in a recession, they reduced government spending and increased taxes, which helped them avoid the full implications of the depression (Hautcoeur 7).

In 1933, the year of the cartoon, radicalistic Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, in an effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1920’s, made the argument to Parliament that the augmentation of taxes is needed to offset the necessary military spending (Troublesome Budgets). This request is granted, demonstrating that they have learned from their past economic mistakes, however, in his cartoon, Knott outlines all their new errors. While Parliament is focusing on armament and defensive foreign policy, they are ignoring the crucial implications for their own economy. The largest militaristic expenditure was the Maginot Line, proposed by André Maginot, the French Minister of War, at the cost of 3 billion francs, a tactical defensive perimeter that spanned eighty-seven miles of the German-French border (Wilde). This dismal financial situation left France struggling to maintain insecure political relations and commit to defensive military tactics, while feigning to have the upper hand. Their financial difficulties made them receptive to Japanese and German demands, for treaties and military movements.

The irony in Knott’s cartoon is apparent in that things are not always what they seem on the surface. The title, Militarist Nation, Coming and Going, while fitting the illustration, seems to also imply the inevitable fall of France as an imperialist empire, in part due to its unrealistic budget priorities. Before the first half the 20th century, French was a prominent and influential player on the global stage. However, the two World Wars left the economy, politics and infrastructure of France devastated, and France was never able to return to its former status as a major power.

 

Works Cited

Beaudry, Paul, and Franck Portier. “The French Depression in the 1930s.” Review of Economic Dynamics 5.1 (2002): 73-99. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Hautcoeur, Pierre-Cyrille, and Pierre Sicsic. “Threat of a Capital Levy, Expected Devaluation and Interest Rates in France During the Interwar Period.” SSRN Electronic Journal (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Knott, John. “Militarist Nation, Coming and Going.” Dallas Morning News 19 Oct. 1933, 19th ed., sec. 2: 14. Print.
Kuttner, Robert. “The Economic Maginot Line.” The American Prospect. N.p., 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Suciu, Peter. “The First Modern Steel Combat Helmet: The French ‘Adrian’ – Military Trader.” Military Trader. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
“Troublesome Budgets.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News 19 Oct. 1933, 19th ed., sec. 2: 14. Print.
Wilde, Robert. “The Maginot Line: France’s Defensive Failure.” About.com Education. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

 

U.S. Military Spending

wolverton-cartoon

In recent decades, the American government has been harshly criticized for their increased military spending at the expense of other public benefits and programs. The 2004 Monte Wolverton cartoon titled “U.S. Military Spending”, mocks this issue, depicting a caricature of George Bush as president, obediently shoveling piles money into the gaping maw of a US military officer, entitled “U.S. Military Spending” that is demanding “FEED ME!” (Wolverton). While this cartoon takes a decisively negative stance on U.S. budget priorities, an argument can be made that it was necessary, as the heightened military spending is in response to a complex and precarious political balance, beginning near the turn of the millennium.

In the 1990’s, President Bill Clinton presided over an unexpected period of economic prosperity and budget surplus. While the United States had recently exited the Cold War, there were no prominent military conflicts, and it was at the height of its imperialistic power, and the nations’ influence was far-reaching and authoritative. However, during George Bush’s presidency, a tragedy occurred. The terrorist group, al-Qaeda coordinated and executed four catastrophic attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and wounded over 6,000 others. Monetarily, they caused over 10 billion dollars in property damage and 3 trillion dollars in total cost to the United States (Bram 2). The September 11, 2001 attacks on the twin towers fundamentally changed the outlook and temperament of the nation. There was a palpable shift towards anxiety and paranoia in the mindset of the collective American citizenry, and a movement greater defense spending and heightened airline security. Even as early as early as 2016, the history of the culture and actions United States can be divided into ‘pre’ and ‘post’ 9/11 (Butler 4). At the time fear mongering and threats from Middle Eastern nations made it easy to convince the United States population that the military spending was imperative.

The resulting Afghanistan war was a response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, beginning in 2001 when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The purported goal was to remove al-Qaeda from a position of power, by eliminating the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic movement that wanted to implement Sharia law (Santos 148). To date, it remains the longest U.S. military conflict in its history (Kim 16). The following period was a time of strained political and societal tensions, characterized by an increase in government military spending. Following the conflict in Afghanistan, anti-Middle east sentiments carried over into the Iraq war, which began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq and lasted the better part of the next decade as the U.S. remained in the country to destroy the government of Saddam Hussein and oppose the resulting insurgency. In 2003, approval ratings of the war with Iraq were high, as the attacks on the twin towers had renewed patriotism and nationalism, and the public was hungry for revenge. However, as the war dragged on, enthusiasm decreased, and the war, as well as president George Bush, faced widespread criticism. For some, the reasons for entering the war, the supposed existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, were not sufficient (Santos 145). These arguments have merit, as the war was a significant military expenditure, with the total cost estimated to be $1.7 trillion dollars; however, the long term economic effects were estimated to be more than ten times this (Donovan 4).

The contemporary controversy over the U.S. military budget stems from different views about the purpose of the U.S. military. Some believe that our military serves a fundamentally different purpose from that of the armed forces of all other nations, such as that of China and Russia. They believe that the U.S. has and should take on the role of “world police”, that out military’s purpose is to fight terrorism and intervene on the behalf of our allies. For these people, the fact that the United States outpaces all other nations in military expenditures seems logical and necessary. Others however, believe that the U.S. should only enter conflict if it is a direct attack on the United States, by another nation.

In 1933, John Francis Knott, a historically famous political cartoonist published Militarist Nation, Coming and Going, in the Dallas Morning News (Knott). The drawing depicts the front and back of a French World War 1 soldier: the front of the uniform pristine and reading “Millions For Armaments”, while the back is tattered and worn, with patches which portray the problems that the unbalanced budget faces, such as “taxes” and “defaulted debts”. Knott satirizehe duality of the predicament that France faced at the time: having to maintain a facsimile of military strength, while facing economic crisis and outstanding war debts.

In comparing these two cartoons, it is evident that while they share the same subject matter, a criticism of a military overspending in a nations’ budget, the approach taken by each cartoonist is different, to better represent the nation at hand. In Knott’s cartoon, it can be inferred that the French have put up a façade of a strong military and keep their budget constraints and struggling economy under wraps, while the United States is almost unapologetically gluttonous in their military spending, even when the popular opinion it that it is entirely unnecessary. While the French soldier is depicted as strong and well kept, the commander in the Wolverton illustration is cartoonishly obese, implying that the French expenditure was costly, but necessary, while the United States spends out of greed and pride. The cartoon also implies that Bush is an obedient, mindless servant to the military-industrial complex. He simply is shoveling money into its “mouth”, without closely figuring out how much it would cost or paying any attention to balancing the budget. The Wolverton cartoon is more explicit in its intended point than the Knott cartoon, guiding readers towards the rhetorical question “Enough money left for everything else?”, while Knott assumes the reader has the relevant context and can correctly infer the point.

The implications of the French cartoon, as well as their political and economic situation at the time, are much further reaching than may initially be perceived. The French prewar period, prior to World War II, hallmarked by uncertainty and augmented military spending, can be compared to the period of political instability that currently threatens the United States. At the time, the French did not know for certain of the inevitability of the World War II, an event which justified their increased military budget during the interwar period. World War I was denominated “The War to End All Wars”, the worst war that had happened or will happen, and critics of the French budget priorities claimed nothing on this scale could ever happen again. Yet, within 20 years, Germany had once again become an aggressor, sparking the terrible conflict of World War II. The critiques of the current United States budget claim it is preparing for a conflict that will never happen. However, the contemporary United States doesn’t have the benefit of 80 years of hindsight to determine whether their unbalanced budget will be the most advantageous solution for the current predicament. Unprecedented military and cultural instability in the Middle East, as well as political conflict in Europe, is provoking a period of uncertainty, as there is no way to tell whether our nation is heading towards another ruinous global clash or total disarmament. It could also signify the loss of the United States’ status as the dominant global power, just as France lost its political status after the second World War.

Works Cited

Bram, Jason, James Orr, and Carol Rapaport. “Measuring the Effects of the September 11 Attack on New York City.” Economic Policy Review 8.2 (2002): n. pag. Social Science Research Network. 13 Sept. 2005. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Butler, Taryn. “The Media Construction of Terrorism Pre and Post-9/11.” McKendree University Scholars Journal 24 (2015): n. pag. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.
Donovan, Jerome Denis, Cheree Topple, Vik Naidoo, and Trenton Milner. “Strategic Interaction and the Iran-Iraq War: Lessons to Learn for Future Engagement?” Digest of Middle East Studies 24.2 (2015): 327-46. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Kim, Youngwan, and Peter Nunnenkamp. “Does It Pay for US-based NGOs to Go to War? Empirical Evidence for Afghanistan and Iraq.” Development and Change 46.3 (2015): 387-414. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Knott, John. “Militarist Nation, Coming and Going.” Dallas Morning News 19 Oct. 1933, 19th ed., sec. 2: 14. Print.
Santos, Maria Helena De Castro, and Ulysses Tavares Teixeira. “The Essential Role of Democracy in the Bush Doctrine: The Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Revista Brasileira De Política Internacional Rev. Bras. Polít. Int. 56.2 (2013): 131-56. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Wolverton, Monte. “Military Spending.” Political Cartoons. Cagle Cartoons, 2004. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.