Sunday, March 24, 2013

National Defense and Global Security

I enjoyed Professor Olson's engaging lecture on National Defense and Global Security. It was interesting to see how people voted about various scenarios that lurk in the shadows of national defense. Making decisions that involve people's lives is a grave challenge that will weigh upon anyone's heart. Believing in your decision for the sake of protecting one's fellow citizens is something none of us have ever faced. Professor Olson has made those calls and I have immense respect for his service as well as the many others to whom we can't place a face or a name. However, on many issues of national defense I would most likely disagree with Professor Olson's opinion and that of the majority. My disagreement stems from many convictions some personal, some spiritual and some economical.

From one perspective, I view the issue of national defense through a lens of economical pragmatism that I is similar to the President Clinton's era. War and national defense are expensive. How expensive? It's not easy to nail down the exact figure but from various sources** the 2012 budget for national defense can be estimated  between 800 million - 1 TRILLION dollars without adding in the budget for "covert black-budget operations". 

1 TRILLION dollars.

Now I want you to think about this. You are married with two kids. Your family earns the median US household income of $50,000 usd. Your family is burdened with choice. You can either contribute $12,000 dollars per year to pay for the national defense budget or contribute that money to free university education for every child in the country.

War costs people. The average citizen must contribute $3,000 plus interest on the money borrowed to support the national defense budget. However, most young adults are graduating college with historic debt because they can't afford the phenomenal costs of college. How many people do you know have borrowed money to further their education? There are siginifcant opportunity costs to think about when one talks about National Security. While this issue of War and Defense is an impassioned argument, I ask you to not lose your logic in the heat of the moment. Please leave comment in the bottom.


I don't believe it is right for Americans to go outside our borders and fight an extrajudicial war. It is true Al-Qaeda on the tragic day of 9/11 killed innocent Americans. That act cannot be forgiven. But how can we justify the acts we commit as a country, when we invade other countries for the sake of revenge? When we commit drone strikes abroad and shrug off the collateral damage of killing innocent people, do we forget those acts reflect upon ALL of us. We live in a democracy and it up to us to participate. I can never spiritually condone the killing of an innocent person for the sake of revenge. That to me is playing God and that is not something with which I wish to wash my hands. It is easy to forget that terrorists are the minority and the only weapon they have is fear. I am not afraid. I will never be afraid. And I'm willing to defend my country right here at home. 


The Military Imbalance: How The U.S. Outspends The World

Our Insanely Big $1 Trillion National Security Budget

Military Budget of the U.S.


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  2. First and foremost, I also enjoyed Professor Olson's lecture. It was one of the most intense lectures we've had so far and something I'll remember for the rest of my life.

    In regards to this post, I agree with the spirit of your argument but want to point out some things that stood out to me.

    - 800 million - 1 trillion dollars? I'm assuming this was 800b - 1t; if not, that's a heck of a range.

    - How was the contribution of household income calculated out? I'm trying to figure out where the $12,000 came from and having difficulty with trying to figure out
    1. Their amount of tax liability
    2. Where the $12,000/$50,000 (24% of total income) figure comes from.
    So far, I'm having difficulty reconciling $12,000 worth of tax liability for that family let alone having all that money go straight into the national defense budget.

    - I think the argument of college/higher education needs to be maintained separately. It's powerful rhetoric to engage the emotions of students with debt (And a very real issue) but it's a huge topic that shouldn't be simplified for the sake of comparison. I would love a discussion about education (Both primary + higher) but would feel more comfortable addressing that matter outside of national security.

    - Labeling our acts overseas as revenge is a very powerful statement to make. I think there are multiple reasons for this war we're fighting but calling it a war for the "sake of revenge" is hardly doing it any justice. Calling it such would mean that our goals of pacifying terrorists groups is just a guise for wanting to engage in violent warfare. Regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with how our current administration is handling things, I doubt anyone up there is this petty.

    Looking forward to any responses!


  3. I agree with a lot of what Ming said, though I also find the statement "Believing in your decision for the sake of protecting one's fellow citizens is something none of us have ever faced" to be bold. I believe each of us do this, but that is a debate for another time.

    I find it interesting that this post mentions opportunity cost initially, but then does not use the same logic when talking about our presence overseas. Opportunity cost is measured in numerous ways. Unfortunately, in times of war that cost can sometimes be measured in innocent lives. I will never dispute the fact that revenge played a role in the war, but we are not simply killing innocents for revenge. This is an incredibly sad opportunity cost. It's hard for us to calculate how many lives we've saved by uncovering, postponing, or preventing various attacks, some of which were on a scale not much smaller than 9/11. If I found out that 9/11 could have been prevented had we bombed a location with 5 terrorists and 30 innocent civilian, I would find it hard to justify saving the lives of those 30 and sacrificing those in the towers and in the pentagon. The absence of action is an action in itself.

    Additionally, I agree that war is expensive and our national debt is tremendous, but I find it hard to put a price on our safety and our freedom. I would rather put that $12,000 mentioned above towards giving my family an environment where they are free to be themselves, who they want to be, and towards a place where they can maximize their potential free from fear of harm. If I lived in a place that did not fit this criteria, like many people are around the world today, I would find $12,000 to be a small price to pay to get out.

    I find it important for us to remember what our country looked like after September 11th. We had pain, we had sorrow, we had anger and tears - but we also had love. We were a unified country, grieving a great loss together.

  4. I think one of the key points in this debate is what Erin wrote about how "the absence of action is an action in itself." Violence should never be the answer to a problem. However, when a group, like terrorists, uses aggressive violence to accomplish their goals, the only realistic and impactful response is going to involve violence.

    This conversation reminded me of a comment Mr. Bermudez made at our first lecture. He was pointing out how international trade is possible because the US Navy patrols the seas. While some of the uses of Defense money are highly publicized and controversial, I think there are many untold benefits. I feel like some irony exists in any conversation about the role of war and national defense. The safety we enjoy as we discuss moral philosophy was won by people like Prof. Olson, who were on the front lines. One could almost go so far as to say that without war, we would not be able to have antiwar demonstrations.

  5. In post-seminar report writings, I have come across an interesting article that some of you may or may not have seen:

    You all may find it interesting that even agencies such as the NSA are being affected by the government's data storage, and have chosen to encrypt their communications simply to maintain their closed circuit network. Although there is plenty of speculation in the article, there are numerous truths that raise significant questions about the future of our country's intelligence, especially in regards to Prof. Olsen's comments on how under-reported clandestine services are.
    In the midst of our country's widespread infiltration around the world over the past century, it now seems that we, as US citizens, may be monitored more than has ever been possible before.

    -Matt McMahon

  6. After the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, I think Professor Olsen's lecture deserves renewed thought. Many of the questions he posed during the lecture apply to this situation; additionally there are other issues in this present case that Olsen did not address, but parallel the ethical dilemmas of which he spoke.

    As of writing this, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been caught, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is dead. One issue that has caught attention of the media and the nation is whether or not Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be tried as an enemy combatant. On Monday, April 22, White House press secretary Jay Carney announced Dzhokhar will be tried as a civilian and he will be charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and terrorism. When he was captured the police did not immediately read him his Miranda Rights. They cited provisions allowing the police to delay this procedure in the face of imminent threat.

    As events transpire and questions are raised, the administration is making decisions. The various decisions the administration makes, which are decided on multiple levels, have implications for the future, as they will influence the Obama Doctrine and may be used as a precedent in future situations. These events have raised some questions:
    1) Should civilians be tried in military courts if the need is great enough? Should Dzhokhar be tried in a civilian court or as a military combatant, even though he is a U.S. citizen?
    2) Is it right for the police to delay reading a citizen their Miranda Rights in the face of imminent threat? Was it right for the authorities to delay reading Dzhokhar his Miranda Rights?
    3) Are natural born citizens treated differently than citizens who are immigrants when they commit terrorist activities? Does Dzhokhar deserve different treatment because he is not a natural born citizen, but an immigrant? Why is his origin an issue in this matter?
    4) At the time of writing, neither the attacks on Boston nor the attackers have not been linked to more attacks or a larger terrorist organization. How does this shape the decisions of the authorities? If the administration thinks there is a connection to other attacks or a larger network, how and what decisions be made? If the administration thinks there is not a connection to other attacks or a larger network, how and what decisions be made?

    These tragic events have raised questions about how the United States of America will act. There needs to be a balance between so many different aspects. We want to ensure the rights of citizens are protected, justice is served, the families of the victims are consoled, the future security of the country is assured, and so much more. It is difficult to hold all of these in mind when making decisions. It is sometimes impossible to consider all implications and the future results of the decisions made now. Despite this, decisions must be made now. It is useful to put oneself in this situation; while we, as students, are not required to make policy decisions, we may in the future be required to make decisions with such vital and far reaching implications.

    Source: Terror Takes a Front Seat