In this Document-Based Question exercise, students consider and write an essay about competing views on defense spending.

Read each paragraph, then answer the question following it. After you have read all of the paragraphs, write an essay in response to item G.



Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable. Even if present fiscal restraints no longer existed, we would still have misspent too much of our tax revenues on too few, overly expensive, overly complex weapons systems that leave us ill-prepared to defend the country in a real military emergency...Until we decide [or are forced] to dismantle our empire, sell off most of our 761 military bases...in other people's countries, and bring our military expenditures into line with those of the rest of the world, we are destined to go bankrupt in the name of national defense. As of this moment, we are well on our way, which is why the Obama administration will face such critical—and difficult—decisions when it comes to the Pentagon budget.
—Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
Question: What is one reason why the Obama administration should cut defense spending?


Rather than cutting, the Obama administration ought to be increasing defense spending... [It is] exactly the kind of expenditure that can have an immediate impact on the economy. A reduction in defense spending this year would unnerve American allies and undercut efforts to gain greater cooperation. There is already a sense around the world, fed by irresponsible pundits here at home, that the United States is in terminal decline. Many fear that the economic crisis will cause the United States to pull back from overseas commitments. The announcement of a defense cutback would be taken by the world as evidence that the American retreat has begun.
—Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington Post
Question: What is one reason why the Obama administration should increase defense spending?


The spigot of defense spending that opened on 9/11 is closing. The economic crisis and resulting budget pressures [will provide] one of those rare chances...to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements, those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.
—Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense
Question: What opportunity does the economic crisis present?


"At a time when he [Obama] is proposing trillions of dollars of deficit spending and at a time when our military needs at least $100 billion just to replace war material (such as trucks, other vehicles, munitions, communications equipment, etc.) expended in Iraq and Afghanistan and not yet replaced-he is not allocating any of the trillion dollar "stimulus" deficit to pay for such assembly line-starting and militarily necessary new spending. That might be taken as a hint of his long-term plans for defense needs.
—Tony Blankley, syndicated columnist
Question: Why does our military need additional funding?


Now is...a good time for the military to increase recruiting and training...As a minimum this would provide education in a variety of technical skills...that would lead to better civilian careers for the group. It would also provide a larger reserve force that could be called upon if needed by the military in the future...The current two-year stimulus period provides an opportunity for additional temporary spending increases with high payoffs. Investments in port security would reduce a major homeland vulnerability. Expanding the government's language training programs for new intelligence community recruits would provide more translators who can monitor the terrorist communications we are able to intercept...A substantial short-term rise in spending on defense and intelligence would both stimulate our economy and strengthen our nation's security.
—Professor Martin Feldstein, Harvard University
Question: How could an increase in defense and intelligence spending help our economy and make us more secure?


It is possible to debate how strong America should be militarily in relation to the rest of the world. But that is not a debate that needs to be entered into to reduce the military budget by a large amount. If, beginning one year from now, we were to cut military spending by 25 percent from its projected levels, we would still be immeasurably stronger than any combination of nations with whom we might be engaged...I do not think it will be hard to make it clear to Americans that their well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face.
—Barney Frank, Democratic Chairman of House Financial Services Committee
Question: Why is it necessary to reduce our military spending?


Views differ sharply on defense spending.
Using information from the documents and your knowledge from other sources, write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs and a conclusion in which you:
  • compare and contrast different viewpoints on whether the U.S. should increase or cut defense spending
  • discuss your own view and the reasons for it

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org