Pentagon Threat Inflation

393295 05: (FILE PHOTO) An F-22 Raptor 4001 stealth fighter is silhouetted against the setting sun in this undated file photo
393295 05: (FILE PHOTO) An F-22 Raptor 4001 stealth fighter is silhouetted against the setting sun in this undated file photo. The Pentagon gave Lockheed Martin approval August 15, 2001 to begin production of the stealth jet to replace the Air Force''s F-15 fighters. (Photo courtesy of United States Air Force/Kevin Robertson/Getty Images)

Are you afraid of a North Korean missile that poses no threat to the continental United States? Are you afraid that Iran might, just might, be capable of developing an atomic bomb in the next few years, or that China is working on a "stealth" fighter?

I thought so. Such "threats" pale in comparison to the global reach and global power of the United States military. And they pale in comparison to the threat of nuclear Armageddon that faced us when I entered the U.S. military in the Reagan years.

Why do we continue, more so now than ever before, to exaggerate the military threats that we face? For it is undeniable that our massive national security complex has spawned its very own enemy-industrial complex. And the reason for this is simple: threat inflation makes good business sense. Just like sex, it sells.

As the political scientist Christian Bay noted, "All organizations, once they become well established, tend to become ends in themselves rather than means." Our Department of Defense is supposed to be a means to an end, the end being national defense. But it has become an end in and of itself, one that has shut itself away from any critical review (it can't even pass a financial audit, let alone a strategic one). It continues dramatically to exaggerate threats, just as it did in the Reagan years; heck, just as it did in the Eisenhower years, which is why Ike made his famous speech warning of the emergence of a military-industrial complex.

All this breathless threat inflation keeps the money rolling (along with the caissons) into the military. It's great for America's arms merchants too, as they continue to dominate the world's arms trade. Our defense contractors are the new "merchants of death," a blunt phrase that Americans were proud to wield back in the 1930s when we were deploring the militarism of European arms manufacturers. Yet today our leaders insist that American arms sales are making the world safe for democracy, even as we hyperventilate about the threat posed by a few inaccurate North Korean missiles.

Our military and arms merchants and politicians are not stupid. Put differently, there's a method to the madness. Threat inflation sells. It sells weapons. In times of fiscal austerity, it sells the military as being unassailable to budgetary cuts. And it sells us all on a vision of the U.S. in which our country becomes the ultimate gated community, besieged by various overhyped "enemies," a vision that leads us to build ever more walls, bristling with ever more weapons, because we can never be strong enough.

Invest in walls, weapons, and warfare. Because you never know about those crazy North Koreans, Iranians, or (insert inflated enemy here). Right?

Astore writes regularly for and can be reached at