The Scope of the Question
The great edifice known as The National Security State conjures up men in black who operate in the shadows. Perhaps it evokes the memory of Colonel Flagg, the hapless intelligence officer from the television show MASH. Regardless of what image comes to mind there is often an underlying sense that these people are here to protect us and make us more secure.
Let us set aside the true motivation of those engaged in the imperial project, and instead focus on a more easily measured metric. Is the US in fact more or less safe for all its overseas activities.
US Security Before the Empire
The US entered the imperial world in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Prior to that the US was a growing continental power, moving steadily from the East to the West coast of North America. The language of empire is certainly appropriate as the takeover of North America was certainly a conquest and absorption. In fact, the language of empire was a part of American discourse from the beginning.
Yet, it was not an overseas empire and in spite of the battles and bloodshed that did occur, there was little real threat from Native Americans or Mexicans. Additionally, even though these lands were held as territories (meaning less than full citizen rights) for a long time, ultimately they were absorbed as full states with the same rights vis a vie the federal government as the original 13 states. That is a fundamentally different arrangement that the possession of imperial lands, or even client states in the case of the modern US empire.
US security was not really threatened at all from any overseas power, after the War of 1812. Peace was made with Great Britain and the US kept out of any entangling alliances with other nations, and was especially leery of any such entanglements with European powers. The US needed and possessed a small military, and had no overseas bases. No one wanted to attack the US homeland, even if they had the means. The lack of entangling alliances meant that the US military was never a target, except for the aforementioned Native Americans. The only real threat to the US as a nation came from within, as the US Civil War tragically exposed. On the whole the burdens the government put upon the citizenry were light, and markets were for the most part liberalized and free.
Onto the World Stage
After 1890 it was conceded that something was fundamentally different about the US. The frontier was considered closed, and the US existence as a nation was not at risk from internal strife. The US was a continental power, growing ever wealthier, and with nowhere else to expand in North America. This is an often-repeated phenomenon in history. Think about the year 1492. That year the Spanish crown funded Columbus’s voyage west. That was later in the same year that the Moors were forced off the Iberian peninsula and Spain was able to consolidate power over that whole area. This was not coincidental.
Additionally the US was getting over the rancor that fed into the Civil War and its aftermath. The South was no longer under “Reconstruction”, and had been allowed to reduce blacks to a status of peonage through the development of Jim Crow Laws. The “Myth of the Lost Cause” had arisen to justify the Confederate revolt as a states rights, noble cause. This was allowed to pass because the nationalists needed Southern support to move forward as a unified nation. The desire to continue the “American Experiment” overseas overrode whatever ill feelings may be still lingering about the Civil War. This noble rhetoric also hid the blatant economic interests desiring to use the US government to help them profit in managed international trade.
Growth of Empire
In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War (which was trumped up more than the 2003 Iraq War), the US took over all of Spain’s overseas colonies. This included, most notably, Cuba in the western Hemisphere, and the Philippines in the Pacific. From there the US got deeply involved in the carve up of China, and setting up bases and trading outposts throughout the region. Cuba also became a US satrap.
Then came the US entry into WWI. The reasons were both ideological and economic, but they fit the overall notion of the spread of American values. This directly entangled the US in a European civil war, and mass bloodletting. It showed very clearly the power of the US economic and military potential. True, it produced an “isolationist” reaction (the last such reaction), that saw the US avoid direct European entanglements until 1941.
That reaction did not apply to the Western Hemisphere, however. The US engaged in a variety of economic and military interventions throughout Latin America, solidifying itself as the dominant power in the region. Also at this time was a deepening involvement in the Pacific, which put the US on a collision course with the Japanese empire. At the same time the Roosevelt Administration during the 1930s, angled the US into a de facto alliance with Britain and France against Germany. There is no point to rehashing the US victory in WWII. This turned the US into a global superpower, and one who was not ever going back to a noninterventionist policy.
US Security Under the Empire
Now that we have taken a brief tour through US imperial evolution let us see what the US security situation is under the empire. Since 1945 the US has been involved in at least 21 significant wars, most notably, Korea, Vietnam, and the two Gulf wars. This does not even consider the logistical and material support that the US has given countless other combatants. Nor does it consider the numerous regime changes that the US has instigated.
All of this involvement has led to the deaths of millions of innocents and over 100K US troops. Additionally, the spending on the military, when you add in veterans benefits, diplomatic, and aid packages, etc., comes close to $1.5 Trillion/year. This is a significant drain on an already overburdened US taxpayer. The basis of military security is economic security, and that has eroded badly under the imperial aegis.
The other main takeaway is that the conflicts that the US are involved in are no longer contained overseas, as 9/11 brought home all too vividly. The US homeland is now squarely in the crosshairs of the endless series of enemies the US has garnered over the years. This targeting of the homeland that goes beyond the obvious capability of Russia, and China to destroy the US with nuclear weapons. Now US citizens are at risk in their homes and workplaces. True, the US government likely exaggerates this risk, but it is a real risk, nonetheless.
This exaggeration brings up another point about US security. US citizens are notably less secure from their own government since the dawn of the empire. This trend has only accelerated since 9/11. The government routinely engages in mass surveillance of citizens, without warrant. There is a massive intrusion upon US citizen’s financial privacy. The government truncates free speech rights every chance they get, and they charge us ever more in taxes for all of this.
The defenders of this arrangement will tell you that the world is coming at the US and that the US needs to respond and “defend” itself. Yet if one peruses the list of US wars since 1945 that I linked to above, you will not find any “enemy” that posed an existential threat to the US Neither the USSR during the Cold War, nor China today rises to that threat level. The nuclear threat is two-way, and Mutual Assured Destruction keeps the peace, I am talking about a threat to conquer and control. All of the wars the US found itself in post-WWII (WWII for that matter) were wars of choice, wars of national interest, wars of imperial adventure.
There is not one conflict on this list that has anything to do with the defense of US territorial integrity, US sovereignty, or US transit in international waters; the only things a nation may possibly use force to defend. The blunt fact is that the US does not need a large standing military to defend itself. It has the two assets that make it virtually impregnable: the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. All US wars are just facile justifications for empire, as I discussed here and here. All these immoral, illegal and unjustified excuses have done is expose the US citizenry and made them demonstrably less secure.
So, in the final analysis the government burdens US citizens with an enormous, and growing financial burden (the way all empires do), making for less economic security. The US government has made US citizens less secure in their own homes, both from their own government and from militants responding to US aggression. This is not a justification for atrocities like the intentional targeting of civilians, as on September 11th. It is only a recognition of the reality that US international aggression has led to those aggressive wars being brought to US shores. The US in spite of its clear propaganda has done nothing since 1898, and its ascendance to the world stage, but create a massive, expensive, and bloody Insecurity State.
Like a 12-step program healing starts at step 1, by admitting there is a problem. That starts with an objective view of what the US government has done and the kind of world it has created. As people of faith we should be in the forefront of this effort to deal with this problem honestly. Let us start with a step 1 statement that “we have a problem”. This is just another form of witness, as God always calls us to the truth.
Praise Be to God