Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Nothing Silly About this "Silly String"

A soldier’s mom had the gumption and the perseverance to help out our troops by arranging to send them 80,000 cans of "silly string." It’s not because these guys want to goof off. The string is used to detect trip wires on bombs. This is a great story about American ingenuity and a mother’s devotion. Good for her.

Discussions - 25 Comments

There is little great about this story. Why can't our $2.7 trillion federal government fund our national defense and give them all they need to win?

Will you ask this same question, Clint, when you can't get that test you need to determine what is ailing you when we get a big bureaucratized health care system? I think you know the answer to the question you ask. Someone, somewhere in the vast bureaucracy of the armed forces (or the postal services) is incompetent and lacking in common sense. That's really a shocker, isn't it? But this lady didn't stand around and whine about it. She got it done. I say she's a hero.

Good for the lady, but I'm more disgusted with the government than I'm inspired by the lady. Heck, yeah I'll be asking the same question about HillaryCare. But I want to make clear to you and other conservatives who like to glory in the military that really the military is just big government gone wrong. Our military is not too small but too big. We shouldn't be involved in a bunch of wars and "police" duty with our military because it is just an excuse for expanding government.

A small military that is rarely and prudently committed is best. Frequent war is one of the biggest reasons for big government, maybe I should vote for Ron Paul afterall.

Clint, you are being unrealistic about our world. If we were in a world without aggressors what you write would be quite true. Constitutionally, we ought have no standing army. But the rationale for a navy, that of self-defense, is the rationale for a large military force today. A well trained militia will not do the job any more. We can't defend our country with just a navy, either.


Or do you think that if we have no military, we will have no enemies? I hear that from my students at the community college who look at keeping at peace in the world like keeping your head down in a bar fight. The world isn't like that.

Kate, defend our country from what? From terrorist attacks? Our military apparently couldn't do that on 9/11. If we haven't had an attack since, it isn't because of military force, but rather effective law enforcement and intelligence.

Neither Clint nor anybody else is talking about getting rid of the military. His point that "Constitutionally, we ought have no standing army" is factually true, whether there are aggressors or not. But I see no evidence that our country couldn't be protected by armed forces that are considerably smaller than the ones we have now, a sizeable chunk of which are being wasted on garrison duty in Iraq.

Beyond that, I ask, in all seriousness, when was the last time that U.S. forces really fought in defense of the United States (rather than in defense of its overseas interests, which seem to be rather broadly defined these days)?

John,
I don't think it is fair to say the military "couldn't" protect us from 9/11. It didn't but perhaps more military operations against Al Q. could have prevented it. Do you believe that the fact that the country has not been attacked again has nothing to do with military operations against foreign terrorists? Moreover, your last question is rather odd and hard to take as seriously as you wish. Do you think that protection of overseas intersts has no relation to the defense of the country? Wouldn't the war in Afghanistan have something to do with defense of the nation?

The only branch of the military that we need to be constantly active is the navy. It is impossible for whatever enemes we have to massively assault the United States without crossing the sea, and should we need to quickly strike at an enemy, our navy should be able to handle it while we gather an army together. (Although I would not have too much of a problem if we reverted to Thomas Jefferson's idea of a navy).


Clint is correct that our constant engagement in warfare is largely responsible for our ever expanding government. I do not think it is coincidence that we have been in an almost constant state of war somewhere in the world ever since FDR took over. If we want to limit the size, cost, and deficiency of our government, one of the first steps would be to remove us from unnecessary entanglements abroad. And, when we DO get entangled abroad for the right reasons (arguably Afghanistan), let it come with a Constitutionally-mandated declaration of war from Congress that will devote everything we have to victory and allow us to destroy our adversaries quickly and completely. Instead of using the military whenever something we don't like happens, the United States can try enforcing its will with hard diplomacy and things like trade embargos when someone does something we don't like but is not threatening the lives of American citizens.

Strictly speaking, John, the war against Afghanistan, however morally justified, was not "defense"--it was a retaliatory offensive. It's not clear to me that it's increased our national security one iota. Surely Al Qaeda's far-flung cells have been able to cause considerable mischief around the world in spite of our six-year occupation of Afghanistan. That they haven't succeeded in pulling off any further attacks on this country is surely a measure of our vigilance and intelligence efforts, not our ability to project power into Central Asia.

I would only disagree with Clint and R.O.B. in that I think an effective air force is just as vital as a navy. Obviously this is a branch that the Founders could not have foreseen, but critical for keeping enemies away from our shores.

R.O.B you say "Clint is correct that our constant engagement in warfare is largely responsible for our ever expanding government." Military spending as a percent of GDP has not been above 10% since Korea, its currently below 4%. That statistic alone seems sufficient to refute the suggestion that foreign war is responsible for big government.

John, what exactly do you mean by defense? Taking out the Taliban before they assisted further strikes seems to me to fall within the rubric of defense. If the US had been more offensive prior to 9/11, maybe it would have need for retaliatory offense. To use a hockey analogy, the best way to win a game is to keep the puck in the other teams end of the ice.

John, as you know there is far more to wartime spending than what goes directly toward military purposes. During every war of the 20th century, the size of government in general shot upward. Of course, it always shrank somewhat at the end of the war, but never returned to the way things were beforehand. Think how much the size of government has increased since 9/11. True, most of that increase isn't in the form of pursely military spending, but it's likely we wouldn't have seen the same increases were it not for the GWOT. As Randolph Bourne put it during World War I, "War is the health of the state."

As for your other point, it's not clear to me that the Taliban was doing a whole lot to assist Al-Qaeda, beyond providing a place for some of the group's leaders to hide. How much support did the 9/11 attacks need? The terrorists used box cutters that they probably purchased at Wal-Mart, and learned to fly planes in America, not Afghanistan. That said, the operation was still defensible as a retributive strike, but I still don't see how it qualifies as true "defense."

John,
I do not quibble with the idea that war often leads to government growth, but that has only been true of the 20th century. The primary reason for the growth of government can be traced back to the 20's, and not because of WWI, at least exclusively. The progressive era put into motion a different understanding of the role of government. Even without the depression and the New Deal the growth of government to its current levels was set in motion in the 20's, Coolidge comes to mind. The fact that earlier wars didn't contribute to the continual growth of government cannot be simply dismissed as the nature of war prior to the 20th century.

As to your point about 9/11. The safe harbor provided by the Taliban was more important than where the box cutters were purchased or where they learnt how to fly, or at least take off. As to defense, it is true defense in so far as any place where people are free to organize and plot terrorist actions free of internal impediments can be reasonably labeled a threat to national security. Taking out the Taliban ended that safe haven. It may also be a defensive measure to try to the extent possible to change the political culutre and the regimes of foreign states that assist others in plotting attacks. Unless you are willing to say the terrorists strike only because we meddle in their affairs, or that we simply exist, then one may be forced to accept that the root causes of terrorism resides in the political culture or religion of that region of the world. If that is true, even if only partially true, than it would seem to make sense to say an preemptory attack on those states is defensive.

John-your numbers about military spending as a percent of GDP are bogus. First the number means nothing as to the relative size of military spending in growing government. Second, you must realize the "military spending" is merely the budgeted yearly amount, war funding is a special additional request, and the military has a black budget account not included that no one knows how big it is and how much is spent. Therefore even while the yearly budget is $470 some billion you add to that the extra $100 billion for the war, and the unknown spending for secret projects.

There is also, as Moser refers to, the massive other increases in government caused by war that don't show up in military budgets.

I'm not saying get rid of the military or ignore national defense (navy or air force or whatever). I'm only saying that the bigger the military, generally caused by involving it in too many disputes, the bigger the government. "Conservatives" should realize this before they do too much chest thumping.

Clint,
I know that military spending is not the end of the line when it comes to funding the war or any war. Taking into consideration other expenditures still will not lead you to the point you were trying to make. Even if we add the extra costs we still will only come to 10-15% of the total goverment budget. This is plaes in comparison to what is spent on social security, health care, education and other enititlement programs. My essential point remains, the growth of government is not due to foreign adventures but to the introduction of foreign conceptions of what the role of government is.

I know you've got a narrative going here about "gumption," "perseverance," and "American ingenuity" with this story (now you've even called the lady a "hero"(!!)), but it seems like you've really got to twist this one to make it positive. Article says:

"Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Iraq, said recently that Shriver's efforts are appreciated, but that commanders decide which items troops need. He said the spray was used heavily in the early stages of the conflict but is not as widely needed today.

'If commanders on the ground are screaming that we need this stuff, we'll get it to them,' Garver said."

Ok, fair enough. So, if the Lt. Col. is telling it to us straight, she's sending something that the troops are not in need of. But it's possible that he's covering for himself or the Pentagon and they are in need of it, and not getting it (memories of families sending Kevlar vests to the troops and irate soldiers confronting Rumsfeld about unarmored Humvees come to mind). In that case, it sounds like some serious incompetence at work once again.

In response to Clint's question, Julie goes into Grover Norquist mode and bashes the bloated bureaucracy of the military (and throws in the postal service and our grim future of Stalinist healthcare for good measure, too). Right, right, an unusual application of a standard line. Government is bad, private businesses are good. So, what, is the solution something like a private military, a mercenary army contracted out? Say, a Blackwater? Yeah, that's worked quite well, as we can see, right in Iraq. They've won a lot of hearts and minds. Actually, why haven't Blackwater or Kellogg, Brown & Root stepped in with the string? Don't tell me that the government has had them on such a short leash that it wasn't possible!

The idea that this woman "persevered" to send 80,000 cans of Silly String to Iraq, when they might not even be needed, and is thus a "hero" (didn't you mean heroINE?) is yes, actually, kind of silly. Parents of soldiers shouldn't ever feel as if they need to be quartermasters filling in the supply gaps for their kids' units. This should simply not be an issue, something they shouldn't have to think about or concern themselves with. But somehow military parents have been getting that idea quite a lot during this war. Everyone can agree (yes?) that the military is not known for its fiscal prudence. If silly string is actually needed over there it is crazy to think that it's not being purchased and shipped right away, and billed to the taxpayers.

It's no secret that I have many, many problems with this war, but if the troops need this stuff to protect themselves, then they should be getting it without some soldier's mom having to do it. All of this is assuming that it is actually needed there, though (in which case military spokesman Lt. Col. Garver is fibbing). Otherwise, it will just be used as a party-time gag, and Iraqi kids will be pulling Silly String cans out of the sand for years to come.

John, with 470 billion plus the 100 billion in war etc, "military spending is easily 1/5 (20%)of our gov. budget. Also we could continue to add in things like Veterans Affairs (73 Billion), Department of Energy which plays around with nukes for the military and some research, and the list I'm sure could go on and get to 1/3 really easy.

Likewise goes the fact that Moser pointed out about wartime being a good time to strengthen and enlarge the state in numerous other regulatory and control functions, all adding to beauracracy. And we could figure up some economic costs of losing workers, ingenuity, and taxpayers to the military when they could be doing better work at home.

Clint, You, and Dr. Moser, continue to put the cart before the horse.There is great difficulty in sorting out spending, much of the defense budgets have increasingly gone to non-defense items like the special olympics, environmental concerns,etc. A reasonable arguement can be had as to whether we spend too much or too little on the military, I obviously believe too litte, you too much. The point remains, again, that the growth of government is often justified falsely by war, but is not the prime mover. The expansion of government may be passed off as necessary given the conflict but is in fact due to a unconstitutional expansion of the role of government. The fact that after earlier wars the size of government returned to its prewar size suggests that in the past despite the war the government maintained respect for the principle of limited government. My problem with your assessment is that it is a dangerous way of trying to limit the size of government. If one wants to limit governmental growth one should focus upon the non-essential functions of government. These non-essentials regardless of our disagreement about figures, still loom much larger than the military budget however conceived. You admit as much above that foreign war is but an "excuse" for expanding government, not the cause of expanding government.

It is unrealistic to look at the world we live in and think that we are safe because of the oceans and that to let the rest of the world go to hell in a hand-basket means that we can be safe within our borders. We don't even tend our own borders sufficiently to keep people from wandering in as they please. The world has become too small for us to be able to keep to ourselves as we once might have been able to do. You ignore the concept of the U.S. as a commercial nation as if we need nothing from outside of our own natural resources to prosper. We prosper to the degree that the rest of the world is at peace and we trade with them. Yes, we have many interests beyond our borders. Peaceable, democratic neighbors ought to be one of our interests.


As a portion of discretionary spending, military spending is enormous. As compared to mandatory spending, it is no big deal. Look at what is part of mandatory spending and consider how much of it is constitutional. There is the frightening extent of bureaucratic government. True government power is expressed in that spending, not that of the military which has (though John Colman has a good point as to some of that spending) a limited function and bureaucratic demand. National defense is a legitimate function of government and something that we cannot do for ourselves.


I agree that the loss of those overseas, especially those already dead, is an incalculable economic loss. But I ask, what is the economic cost of an America inadequately defended in the world?

Kate, if you're going to play the realist card, and argue that the United States has a national interest in protecting the flow of certain raw materials (read oil) into the country, then perhaps you can explain to me why we insist on having as our closest ally in the Middle East the one country in the region that produces no oil. This despite the fact that this friendship drives a wedge between us and virtually all of the states that DO produce oil. A country does not have to be democratic in order for us to trade with it; indeed, the United States maintained a brisk trade with Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s.

John, I'm willing to concede that the larger problem is not war per se, but rather progressivism. However, our chances of undoing the progressive mentality are slim indeed. If we know that, under the current political climate, war is likely to cause the size of government to balloon, then surely it's easier to avoid the war than it is to change the climate.

John, It may well be easier to avoid the war rather than change the political climate but at what cost? There are good arguments against the war in Iraq, although I have yet to be convinced of their soundness. However, any argument against war on the grounds that it will swell the size of government strikes me as dangerous. If the progressives have made us less secure, due to foolish notions of the the inherent justice and goodness of multilateralism and dialogue, to avoid war because it is easier than taking on the pervaisiveness of progressivism would be quite frankly insane.

I suppose we have democratic principles, too. What a surprise. Israel is an ally for reasons other than oil. We fail there in the self-interest area, too. I do not think we stay in Iraq purely for self-interested reasons, either. Military men coming back, as Joe Knippenberg cites on the blog and as my veterans in my classes tell me, are not thinking that they are fighting for oil. We have other interests in the world besides natural resource protection.


I suppose it is easy to look back at Hitler's Germany and seem surprised that we had trade with them, but is it unusual to carry on trade with a country we will be at war with later? I don't think so.

Wasn't there an argument against war with Germany and Japan on the grounds that it would increase our military and increase the size of government, which was already bigger than many conservatives liked? To listen to you and Clint, we ought to keep our collective heads down to keep from being drawn into any conflict, since the way to win said conflicts is to have a military that grows the size of government. I always love this kind of argument about America. "Quick, everyone, look small!"


War comes. If we ignore evil outside of our own borders long enough, it comes to us anyway. We had better use every tool we have in dealing with the rest of the world. The rest of the world does not ignore us.

War comes. If we ignore evil outside of our own borders long enough, it comes to us anyway.

There has always been evil in the world, and it's likely that there always will be. Whatever happened to JQA's maxim that America "goes not in search of monsters to destroy"?

The question isn't whether there's evil out there, but rather whether it really has the power to hurt us. That's why I supported the Iraq War in the beginning, when I really did believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The mere desire to hurt us isn't a high enough standard for us to intervene--that would commit us to (in the words of Harry Elmer Barnes) "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

The fact is that not even Osama bin Laden is a threat in the same way that the Nazis and the Japanese were. He could launch one spectacular attack on our territory, but after that his bolt was essentially shot. Nobody believes that he is capable of bringing down our society or our system of government. What he can do--and what he wants to do--is to gin up support for a unified Islamic effort to try to destroy us. But the only way he can do that is with our help. His strategy is that of all terrorists, to try to provoke a massive response from his enemies. If that response is violent enough, and indiscriminate enough, then it will arouse the hatred of those elements of the Islamic world who currently aren't inclined to want to annihilate us. This is the direction in which we're headed at present. It shouldn't be allowed to continue.

"Thus the Romans, observing troubles from afar, always found remedies for them and never allowed them to develope in order to avoid a war, for they knew that war does not go away, but is merely deferred to the advantage of others." I don't want a large standing army, per se, but I do want to be able to deal with every reasonable threat to American security which may develope. I think we have to keep in mind that unless we maintain our formidable strength others with less than good intentions will fill in the power vacuum. From what I've read of history, this seemed to be the fate of any major power. I believe the "Empire of Liberty" many have described is accurate, and the detractors of American super-power should note not only the similarities between America and a Rome or a Britain, but also the vast differences.

I would point out that Jefferson, who disagreed - to say the least - with the "monarchist" Hamilton on foreign policy was a very imperial president. And out of necessity. The Lousiana Purchase and regime change in Tripoli would probably frowned upon by many on this website if the took place today, but history has shown the prudence of such decisions and the American experiment has continued.

Thank you, Andrew.

Wow. Kate and Andrew! Very well thought out responses to those who would hide and complain about our Country's Military and/or the financing of the war. I like to tell the whiners to go back to their caves or get under their rocks and let the rest of do what it takes to keep what we have. Excellent!
Way to go Some Soldiers Mom! That was a great thing for you to do!

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