Sobrans -- The Real News of the Month

What Is “Defense”?

November 6, 2001

For the first time in living memory, Americans have to think about defense. Most of us (I include myself, until fairly recently) have assumed that our government was defending us. We equated military spending in staggering sums — sustaining heavily armed soldiers, sailors, and pilots around the world — with defense. And we thought that meant safety.

It didn’t. Now we know better. All that military spending was making us enemies all over the earth. As a result, we have to worry about people who were no threat to us a few years ago — cruel, cunning men who have found methods of by-passing traditional military forces.

After World War II the Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense to soften its image. Defense sounded nicer than war. Yet the United States military has been less and less oriented to what the Constitution calls “the common defense of the United States.” Its offensive power has become stupendous, and globally ubiquitous, but its actual defensive power turns out to have been seriously flawed. It was designed to deter attacks by rival states, but other kinds of attacks were hardly imagined. An enemy state can be destroyed with overwhelming force; a loose affiliation of guerrillas, saboteurs, or terrorists is another matter.

Nuclear weapons, which a few of our more hairy-chested pundits are recommending now, are useless when you have to defend — really defend — every post office, airport, and shopping mall. You can’t nuke anthrax.

The nuclear option is being urged out of sheer frustration at a shadowy, dispersed, elusive enemy. Some people feel that our ultimate weapons must prevail, if only we use enough of them. But in this case, enough would mean genocide. Virtually the entire populations of several countries would have to be annihilated in order to kill a few scattered terrorists. And that’s assuming that the terrorists would be close enough to the nuclear targets, rather than hiding in remote areas.

Speaking of targets, I’ve read several newspaper columns urging nuking, but none of them have specified a target. They can’t. The whole idea of nuclear weapons is strategic: to destroy major targets, especially big cities. But nobody knows where the relevant targets are, or why nuclear weapons would be any more effective than conventional explosives. In essence we are being told: “Don’t just stand there — nuke something!”

[Breaker quote: Nukes and other 
dudsThe old model of a centralized enemy state doesn’t apply here. The would-be nukers seem to forget that all the atrocities the enemy has committed so far have been the work of men who were and are already within U.S. borders. If Osama bin Laden, sitting in an Afghan cave, had a change of heart tomorrow, he might be unable to call off further strikes.

The notion that bin Laden exercises close central control of the terrorist forces may be an optimistic assumption. It allows our government to feel it can win by targeting him — or can at least justify its efforts to us. The politicians only have to make us feel they’re achieving something with their “defense” forces, even if they aren’t really getting an inch closer to victory or are actually doing more harm than good.

This can be seen as a war between the public and private sectors. As usual, the public sector — the U.S. Government, in this case — is outspending the private sector — the terrorists — by a huge margin. And as usual, the massively organized and centralized public sector is wasting a colossal amount of wealth, while the decentralized private sector is getting far more bang for its buck.

Conservatives and libertarians have long argued that the private sector is far more efficient than the public sector, but this isn’t exactly the kind of demonstration we had hoped for. We’d rather Bill Gates made the point than Osama bin Laden. Not that it will sink in with our government either way. The lesson will be lost on believers in the megastate, as the calls for nuking the terror network illustrate.

Talk about defense spending. This time it’s not just our government that’s paying; all of us are bearing the enormous cost of anticipating attacks on every conceivable target. And apart from the expense, there is the awful anxiety and fatigue. Welcome to the real world of defense.

Joseph Sobran

Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive | Back Issues of SOBRANS 
 WebLinks | Scheduled Appearances | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas | Notes from the Webmaster
  Contact Us | Back to the home page 


Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications

small Griffin logo