For five hundred years Ancient Rome was the world’s only major superpower. Although the Empire showed signs of weakening as early as the fourth century, that Rome could ever fall was inconceivable to Romans and their enemies alike. Yet by A.D. 500, Roman power was only a memory, and Germanic barbarians had taken the “Eternal City” for their own.
Scholars have offered countless theories for why Rome fell, but one unquestionable factor—and perhaps the only one that mattered in the end—was the slow and eventually irreversible erosion of its military readiness. Today, many Americans are deeply concerned that our own military is headed down a similar path.
Every sensible person wants to live in a peaceful country, but there are two fundamentally different views of how to best achieve this. The first holds that war is an inevitable part of the human experience and that the best way to achieve peace is to make one’s country an unattractive target for would-be attackers. The second view sees war as an anomaly that must have a specific and treatable cause. Eliminate the “cause,” and you can have world peace. The first view is often associated with constantly strengthening one’s defense capabilities, while the latter may be associated with greater reliance on efforts to appease one’s enemies.
Unfortunately, political abuse exists on both sides of the argument. Billions of pork spending is squandered in various congressional districts in the name of a robust military. In 1998, a Republican controlled Congress famously insisted the Air Force purchase more new C-130 military transport aircrafts than it wanted at a cost of billions of dollars. Critics speculated this was due to the planes being manufactured by Lockheed Martin in then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s congressional district. More recently, USA Today reported that the Pentagon was planning to destroy $1 billion of its $70 billion conventional ammunition stockpile even though some of the munitions were still usable.
On the other hand, earlier this year, Chuck Hagel announced defense spending cuts that would reduce the number of American soldiers to their pre-World War II levels. Last year’s military budget cuts reached all the way into the food budget for combat troops. (Although contrary to some internet rumors, breakfasts were not eliminated. Hot breakfasts were replaced with prepackaged rations.)
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.