Military Norman Solomon

Stop Calling the Military Budget a ‘Defense’ Budget

The ubiquitous use of phrases like “defense budget” and “defense spending” reinforces the false notion that equates the USA’s humongous military operations with defense.
[U.S. Army photo / Pfc. Reese Von Rogatsz, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div. Public Affairs Office]

By Norman Solomon

It’s bad enough that mainstream news outlets routinely call the Pentagon budget a “defense” budget. But the fact that progressives in Congress and even many antiwar activists also do the same is an indication of how deeply the mindsets of the nation’s warfare state are embedded in the political culture of the United States.

The misleading first name of the Defense Department doesn’t justify using “defense” as an adjective for its budget. On the contrary, the ubiquitous use of phrases like “defense budget” and “defense spending” — virtually always written with a lower-case “d” — reinforces the false notion that equates the USA’s humongous military operations with defense.

In the real world, the United States spends more money on its military than the next 10 countries all together. And most of those countries are military allies.

What about military bases in foreign countries? The U.S. currently has 750, while Russia has about two dozen and China has one. The author of the landmark book “Base Nation,” American University professor David Vine, just co-wrote a report that points out “the United States has at least three times as many overseas bases as all other countries combined.” Those U.S. bases abroad “cost taxpayers an estimated $55 billion annually.”

As this autumn began, Vine noted that President Biden is “perpetuating the United States’ endless wars” in nations including “Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Yemen” while escalating “war-like tensions with China with a military buildup with Australia and the UK.”

All this is being funded via a “defense” budget?

Calling George Orwell.

As Orwell wrote in a 1946 essay, political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In 2021, the hot air blowing at gale force through U.S. mass media is so continuous that we’re apt to scarcely give it a second thought. But the euphemisms would hardly mean anything to those in faraway countries for whom terrifying and lethal drone attacks and other components of U.S. air wars are about life and death rather than political language.

You might consider the Pentagon’s Aug. 29 killing of 10 Afghan civilians including seven children with a drone attack to be a case of “respectable” murder, or negligent homicide, or mere “collateral damage.” Likewise, you could look at numbers like 244,124 — a credible low-end estimate of the number of civilians directly killed during the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq — and consider them to be mere data points or representing individuals whose lives are as precious as yours.

But at any rate, from the vantage point of the United States, it’s farfetched to claim that the billions of dollars expended for ongoing warfare in several countries are in a budget that can be legitimately called “defense.”

Until 1947, the official name of the U.S. government’s central military agency was the War Department. After a two-year interim brand (with the clunky name National Military Establishment), it was renamed the Department of Defense in 1949. As it happened, that was the same year when Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” appeared, telling of an always-at-war totalitarian regime with doublespeak slogans that included “War Is Peace.”

Today, the Department of Defense remains an appropriately capitalized proper noun. But the department’s official name doesn’t make it true. To call its massive and escalating budget a “defense” budget is nothing less than internalized corruption of language that undermines our capacities to think clearly and talk straight. While such corroded language can’t be blamed for the existence of sloppy thinking and degraded discourse, it regularly facilitates sloppy thinking and degraded discourse.

Let’s blow away the linguistic fog. The Pentagon budget is not a “defense” budget.


Norman Solomon is the national director of and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. 


  1. Let’s start calling the Department of Defense what it actually is – the Department of War. And let’s no longer allow the Secretary of War to be affiliated in any way whatsoever with the military/industrial complex.

    1. I agree with you Richard, 100% but you know how these people hide facts about who influences whom and how, hoarding power and wealth they take from working people and hiding it so it is not taxed. And as a governing body is mostly controlled right now by corporations. Prince has got to keep his made for war boys busy. How do Bezos and his ilk get away with this criminal behavior, with our infrastructures going to hell. I’m sure some of the top brass does the same. Let’s check Pence’s taxes, and very single general and top brass.

  2. A great article, a pity most americans are so focused on their facebook page or crying on twitter and trying to be gender warriors on tik tok, no one cares where the millitary money goes. The pentagon can kill a million people without too many people objecting

    1. Neil,
      What with nuclear threat of war always pressing on the human condition, I still hope that’s an overstatement. Surely one day, people will see hopefully soon that it will be them someday and rise up as they should and away from all the distractions and start paying attention to their world and those running it and how they get away with this murderous intent for profit. It is what has become of capitalism and now there’s special name for it like disaster capitalism, which preys upon those afflicted by disasters, rather than offering a helping hand. Sometimes you have to bite the hand that feeds you because you realize you been eating shit all this time. Disaster capitalists, I would imagine murder what gets in their way, esp. if you are indigenous or like Donziger and Assange, or what about that jailed Lt Col. for asking accountability from his superiors on the Afghan war. He needs to be released immediately and people should be rising up to support him. I’m pretty sure this war game is clarifying for him and I hope he does not end up like Epstein or worse. It too is sci-fi ish and both are murderous attacks on people who spoke truth to power. I read reports of so many murdered indigenous people in South America, defending their land. What the pandemic doesn’t make go extinct, murderous profiteers can be hired to do the rest. It’s an ugly world when you know too damn much. No one wants to face it, call it out. For now, too many live in an unsustainable fairytale land.

  3. They do nuclear bombs, poisons, viruses, bacteria, assassin dolphins, plague riddled cockroaches, sound bombs, lasers, plasma, napalm, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, gasses, torture chambers, psychological operations, propaganda campaigns, fear campaigns, pharmaceuticals, psychedelics, drones, robotics, and now rfid’s and bio chips and 6 g, and now jabs with nanomaterials and nanoparticles and blood/brain barrier transhumanism hacks. HARRP to change the weather and electromagnetic programs to bath entire cities in microwaves and other frequencies to pacify or crank up paranoid thoughts. Chem trails. Oh, don’t you just thank those motherfuckers for their service!? All documented and creeps like trump/ biden/ pelosi/ obama and all of them are a-okay with it all. Ecocide and eugenics. Our men and women in the effing armed murder forces.

    1. Paul, I read in The Pentagon’s Brain, an uncensored history of DARPA, that they were trying to make the ‘perfect’ soldier of some of our wounded vets. That seriously troubles me to take advantage of the wounded like that. Horrifying and so sci-fi ish. Read some Yuval Noah Harari, in particular his titled work called Homo Deus.

    2. I liked the moniker “National Military Establishment” simply for the acronym, NME. Unfortunately for those invested in the forever wars, it wouldn’t take long for people to figure out whose NME it was.

  4. The Lt. Col was released from jail, I read and has sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy to resign his commission rather than face court martial, a request that should definitely be given. Sounds like we need a letter writing campaign to the Sec. of the Navy.

  5. Actually, it IS a defense department. The question is, “Who gets defended?”
    I know who’s not defended – pipsqueaks like me. If I had a larger investment
    portfolio, it might persuade me to change my mind. (heh heh)

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