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.