America should not spend half its budget on war


Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

We have all seen the pictures of Palestinians and Israelis losing life and limb due to the tragic ongoing conflict. We have seen people starving to death and mourning over loved ones. But instead of doing anything to stop this, we’ve paid for this abomination with our tax money instead of using it to improve our hospitals and roads or trying to help the poor, the sick and the homeless.

But how much did we pay exactly? A lot. According to a Watson Institute paper by Heidi Peltier, the U.S. spends 55 percent of its discretionary budget on national security. This includes spending on the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This leaves only 45 percent for all other departments combined. This includes the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture and many more.

And what exactly do we get with all that money? Military planes, bombs, soldiers and a lot of wealthy politicians. I think most people would agree that we don’t need to spend nearly half of our discretionary budgets on bombs and rockets. But what about the soldiers that eventually go back to school and the jobs created in the arms industry by those bombs?

According to the same study mentioned above, healthcare, education, infrastructure and clean energy are projected to create between 9 percent and 250 percent more jobs than the military. In other words, our economy would be better for everyone if we were to allocate most of our budget away from the military.

This fact, however, has been known for some time. So why has nothing been done to shift our budget around? To put it plainly: money and political power.

For example, according to Open Secrets, a research group that tracks political spending, the top recipient of defense sector contributions was Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.). From 2023 to 2024, he received $508,470 in campaign contributions from the defense industry. Calvert has been in the U.S. house since 1993 and, notably, is the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Second on that list is Rep. Mike D Rogers (R-Ala.). In the same period mentioned above, he received $398,700 from the defense sector in campaign contributions. Mike Rogers is the chair of the committee on Armed Services and has been in the House since 2002.

When our top politicians are bought and sold by the arms industry, it can be hard to see a clear solution in sight. As Peltier mentioned in her paper, defense contracts lead to more money spent on lobbying, which leads to an even stronger level of political influence and thus the cycle continues.

However, as the famous author and activist Hannah Arendt wrote in “Eichmann in Jerusalem”, there is a certain banality in evil. This banality gives us a chance to steady ourselves, push down whatever fear we may feel and come up with ideas.

For example, one idea Peltier proposed is a just transition for military workers. This transition process would be based off a set of policies developed by labor unions and environmentalists. Originally, it was designed to ease the transition of fossil fuel workers to clean energy sectors.

While there are notable differences, Peltier argues that this process could potentially also apply to military workers. For example, funding could be allocated to individuals for retraining, for communities to withstand the transition and so on.

In conclusion, military spending takes half or more of the U.S. discretionary budget. This money can instead be used on significantly more profitable investments. Defense contractors have a lot of political power and this will not be an easy problem to fix, but we owe it to the world to give it a try.

Aly Ashry is a master’s student studying Chemical Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]

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