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Ronald Reagan Hated Our Communist Military

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

Arguing for the invasion of Iraq, Dick Cheney argued, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

President Ronald Reagan would have disagreed. As he put it:

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

We’re writing “Our Communist Military” to point out contradictions and logical incongruities that don’t make sense under close scrutiny. By uttering the above aphorism, Reagan (unintentionally) made the point that our military shouldn’t invade other countries. It also shouldn’t help people.

The military is, after all, one of the only departments of the government that actually shows up and says, “Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." As conservative milbloggers put it in their joint “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statement, “No other organization has...rescued more people from natural disasters”. I mean, how many other departments in the government can even rescue people from natural disasters? FEMA? (I originally wrote this pre-Hurricane Sandy. More on that disaster tomorrow.)

This incongruity can be represented by the follow logic chain:

A. Conservatives hate the government.

B. The military is part of that government.


C. Conservatives hate the military?

Did Reagan hate the military? No, he campaigned for increased defense spending, and when he was elected, he did just that. Do conservatives hate our military? No, they don’t. I opened my post “The Best Trained, Most Professional Military...Just Lost Two Wars?” with three over-the-top pieces of praise for the US military; each quote praised the military as the greatest institution for good that has ever existed. Two of those quotes came from conservatives.

The problem is imprecise language. Reagan probably meant to say, “The fourteen most terrifying words in the English language are "I'm from a non-military branch of the government, and I'm here to help," but that kind of ruins the punchline.

Milbloggers have the same problem. Not to poke the bear again, but the same day that the writers over at This Ain’t Hell (who are fine people despite our ideological differences) went nuts over our post, “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs”, Jonn Lilyea posted an article titled, “I’m shocked to discover that the government is incompetent”. Did he mean to write, “I’m shocked to discover that the (non-military part of the) government is incompetent” or does he really think the military is incompetent?

Because you can’t talk about the federal government without talking about the military. The military represents 20% of the government’s budget, over 50% of its non-discretionary spending, and 36% of its workers. You can’t cut it out of the “government incompetence pie” without taking away a lot of pie.

I could spend all day writing about this inconsistency. Instead, Michael C brought up a point while I was editing this post that made me rethink the whole thing. “Maybe,” he told me, “Some conservatives would say, ‘Yeah, but we don’t want a military that’s effective at helping people. We want other countries to fear us and think we’re going to kill them.’”

Looking at Reagan’s quote this way, it’s much scarier. Even creepy. Reagan didn’t say anything about competence, just the ability to inspire fear. Our military terrifies the civilians of every other nation when they invade. They fear for their lives. And fear inevitably creates insurgencies. And insurgencies kill soldiers.

That means the government can be good at one thing: scaring people. So the government can do something right...but I feel like I am trapped on Mobius strip of logic...so let’s end this thing now and sum up with, according to Ronald Reagan’s logic, taken at face value, we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq.

One comment

I will say that I believe Eric C doesn’t really mean the word hate, as in despise. But conservatives willingly say they hate a large federal government. This is primarily because it is so inefficient. However, the military is by some measures the largest part of that federal government. This nuance in the debate over the size of government seldom comes up.