Thursday, April 9, 2015

Political culture and the military-industrial complex

Throughout my childhood, I heard references to the Military-Industrial complex. Growing up military, I usually heard them from the Left, from environmentalists and pacifists. Imagine my surprise when I took International Space Politics & Technology, and discovered that the phrase came from a Republican. President Eisenhower, in fact, and a World War II General.  (Everything seems to come back to World War II.)

Now, remember that I grew up trying to thread the needle between military culture and Liberation Theology.

It's tough. There are several irreconcilable differences. I think this article discussing Robert A Heinlein shows that the dichotomy and attempts at integration are not uncommon in the Science Fiction world, with its polarity between Utopian idealism and fascination with high-technology weaponry.

I know enough of history, to believe that nations must have some form of standing military, in order to maintain their existing borders.

Beyond that, how large the military should be, what equipment it should have, those are questions open to discussion. Questions likely rooted in culture, in the peoples and traditions of the inhabitants of the state.

According to this Atlantic article, I may be as rare as 1 in 3. Both my father (USAF) and my father-in-law (Army, Vietnam) are veterans, as well as my sister (Army, Iraq II) and several aunts & uncles.

The source of the article, by the way, was my sister. I think the Atlantic article is important, because it helps illustrate what and why I want to be able to speak up about how we spend our military budget, how much we spend, and where that money goes. As the Atlantic article points out, it is my duty as an American citizen to ensure that our people have the right tools for the job. That's not a position that goes over well in industry, where so many space exploration businesses are also Defense contractors.

For reference, here are details on U.S. Federal Government spending for Fiscal Year 2015.

I'm an engineer, I like technology. But I care about having the right level of technology. I care about the tradeoffs between "newness" and reliability, the technology readiness levels. I care about using the right tools for the right job.

I'm also concerned about proportionality to the rest of the world, and how it relates to the cost to end world hunger, and the cost to end extreme poverty.

In the discussion of Mars settlement, I saw a little bit about NASA's budget. It's a very old argument. NASA doesn't get the kind of money today that it got at the height of the Apollo program. It hasn't seen that kind of money since before Apollo 11. In the 21st century, NASA's budget has held steady at around $0.005 of a tax $1.