Ike’s speech and the military-industrial complex


This is the chart for 2013 proposed discretionary spending. I found it on a third-party politician’s Twitter feed with some idle thought about how society could advance if we didn’t spend so much on the military. It shows defense spending at a whopping 57%.

Notice that Health, Housing & Community are only 5 and 6%. It sounds like General Jack D. Ripper (of Doctor Strangelove) was running the government.

The trouble is, it’s obviously deceptive. The chart lists discretionary spending, which is not the entire budget.


Here is actual federal spending for 2015 (different years, but the numbers are close enough). It puts defense spending at only 16%.

Use of the first chart is actually more deceptive than you’d think. These are federal budget numbers. The states and cities have their own budgets and taxes. That’s where most of the education spending is at, which distorts comparisons to the defense budget. The state healthcare budgets are massive as well.

That brings me to President Eisenhower’s 1961 speech on the military-industrial complex: Does this mean he was making a mountain out of a molehill? No, and here’s where it gets interesting:

For historical numbers, you need to compare to GDP for comparisons to mean anything. You can get the historical tables here. In particular, look at: Table 3.1—Outlays by Superfunction and Function: 1940–2021. (Note: This is an .XLS file.) National defense was a mere 1.7% of GDP in 1940.

It went to 5.5% of GDP in 1941 (when Woody Guthrie wrote the song, “C for Conscription“ before changing his tune), then 17.4, 36.1, 37.0 to 36.6% in 1945. It dropped back down to around 5% after the war, but then rose to 12.9% of GDP in 1952.

Defense spending was still at 9.1% in 1961, but dropping, when President Eisenhower left office. That’s the context of his famous speech on the military-industrial complex on this day in 1961. He wasn’t worried about a military take-over. It was about the focus of our money, resources and power becoming an end in and of itself. You could run into the same issues when another part of the government gets too much attention.

The numbers went down again as the Vietnam War came to its end. They were as low as 4.5% in 1979, then rising and peaking at 6.0 during the Reagan years, and then finally subsiding as the Cold War ended. Defense spending never saw those numbers again. Not even the War on Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq, brought them back. They didn’t rise above 4% until 2008. They were at 3.3% in 2015.

Along those lines, people fretted about bringing back the draft during the war in Iraq. But that was plainly fearmongering. We had a larger military during the Reagan years, and that was without a draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if that politician pushing the above discretionary spending chart had been among those trying to scare people about a draft.

Space launch trends

Robert Zimmerman posts stats and commentary on launch industry trends going back to 1998. I’m not going to swipe his chart but it is interesting. He breaks U.S. launches down to government, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and then leaves blanks for forthcoming Virgin Galactic, Rocket Lab and Neptune. Then he lists other countries’ steadily increasing numbers of launches.

(Note: United Launch Alliance (ULA) is Lockheed Martin’s and Boeing’s combined effort. Orbital ATK does the aircraft-launched satellites mentioned last month.)

The initial impression you get from the chart is that U.S. launches have dropped, but not just us. Even the Russians have had their issues lately, although theirs are temporary. Here, Zimmerman adds context:

Had there not been launch failures for both SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Russia’s Proton in 2016 we easily could have seen another two dozen launches, bringing the total above 100 for the year, the first time that would have happened since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Then, after a few caveats, he says:

And most important, the shift in the U.S. from a government-controlled space program to a wildly competitive and chaotic private sector launch industry is fueling this boom. There is now money to be made in space, and there is freedom to pursue those profits without waiting for NASA and the government to lay out a program.

Space could be a bit like the Kindle book-writing revolution, but for billionaires.

Christmas book deals

Merry Christmas! And Happy Hanukkah!

It’s Christmas time and author Christopher Nuttall is giving away the first book from two of his mil-SF series: The Empire’s Corps and Ark Royal.

They are free from December 24th through 26th. Details at his blog here.

And if you haven’t gotten my book yet: the Kindle edition of One Thousand Years (the first of my series) will be discounted to 99 cents through January 1st.

The Battle of the Bulge

It’s been 72 years since Operation Watch on the Rhine began, the surprise attack through the forests of the Ardennes, starting what we know as the Battle of the Bulge. Hitler had hoped that a victory here could force the Allies (minus Stalin) to the peace table. The Allies were caught completely by surprise.

Rand Simberg reposts an excerpt of his alternative newspaper story “on how today’s media would have reported it.” The full piece at his link is worth a read.

I can’t say that my own work (and one character in particular) wasn’t inspired by his stories.

Air-launched spacecraft

Pegasus XL under L-1011 "Stargazer"

Pegasus XL under L-1011 “Stargazer”

I’ve been looking at the launch schedule, which covers public and international spacecraft launches, and noticed the December 12 launch of a Pegasus XL.

Pegasus XL is a rocket, of course, and it’s taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but it is doing so from the underside of a Lockheed L-1011 airplane named Stargazer. They’ve been doing this particular spacecraft model since 1990, first with other aircraft, and then with the L-1011 a few years later.

It says something about all the work going on in space that we don’t notice, partly because it was just unmanned satellites, but also because it had become more-or-less routine.

The Stargazer boost aircraft is named after the USS Stargazer, which was Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s previous ship in the Star Trek universe. No kidding. It got the name informally at first, and then it stuck. Another interesting thing about Stargazer is that the company flying it bought it used.

Update: December 15, 2016

After the initial December 12 launch attempt was scrubbed, they had a successful launch today, December 15th:

“We Pledge Allegiance”

I’ve been watching the various preview videos for season two of The Man in the High Castle. There are a number of them.

If you’ve been on safari for the last few years, this is based on the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Both the book and the TV series take place in an alternative 1960s America where the Allies lost WWII. And lost it badly. The U.S. was partitioned between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Here’s one of the videos via YouTube, which I believe is the opening scene of this second season:

The show is produced by Amazon and available online. The first episode of season 1 is available free. The trailer to this second season is here. From there you should see links to other clips.

In any event, this scene is interesting in another way: It shows the students of this school reciting a Nazified version of the Pledge of Allegiance. One might think they would be using a Hitler salute rather than the conventional hand over the heart. They don’t until the very end. In reality, what we think of nowadays as a Hitler salute was also called the “Bellamy salute,” after Francis Bellamy. That’s the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.*

Bellamy salute, 1941

Bellamy salute, 1941

This was, in fact, how most people used to do the pledge. It only changed in 1942, for obvious reasons. Now, people find it funny that Nazis did it without realizing how common this salute had been for decades.

My guess is that the show’s producers either didn’t know this history, or decided it would be better to use the form that most people know about. There are reasons to give the audience what’s more familiar. That would make it feel more real even if it’s less.

* Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the writer of 1888’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887.

A very special Star Trek Continues

Embracing the Winds

Embracing the Winds

I’m late but I wanted to review the latest episode of Star Trek Continues: Embracing the Winds. It’s basically about equal rights for women, a big subject in the ’60s and ’70s. Those “Winds” in the title must be the winds of progress.

(If you’re new to Star Trek Continues, you can read my first post on the topic, which has links to the episodes. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.)

Let me say right off that I generally detest TV’s “very special episodes.” Their morality lessons always come off as patronizing, pandering and smarmy. That’s because they are. Always. Few people believe they write these things for our enjoyment. Ten percent of the time, it’s to teach viewers whatever they think we need to learn. The other ninety percent: they want to win awards from their colleagues. And all this time, those colleagues are trying to out-patronize, out-pander and out-smarm each other with their own very special episodes.

Star Trek Continues (STC) gets away with it a little bit because they’re doing it for a different purpose. They’re not really trying to teach us this lesson. (And if I’m wrong, somebody needs to drag Vic Mignogna — best Kirk since Shatner — to the asylum on Elba II.) They’re trying to do 1960s TV, while at the same time trying to explain away Starfleet’s rule (from the episode “Turnabout Intruder“) that women cannot be starship captains.

By the way, don’t blame naval tradition for this. Commanding a warship required experience on those ships, and that’s where the barrier was. This shouldn’t be a problem on Starfleet’s Enterprise, which has plenty of women.

STC blames the rule on diplomatic problems with some member planets opposing women’s rights. Although it’s a clever bit of retcon, I don’t think this works. Other species had their own ships on this show. And besides that, in real life, captains of capital ships aren’t selected by field tribunals.

The problem here is that this show is supposed to be as from the ’60s. That’s just the way they were back then. Things weren’t changing that fast.

The first Star Wars was almost ten years later: Smuggling and blockade running was still a man’s game. Remember that hangar at the rebel base, and all those ground personnel preflighting the fighters? Men. The pilots? Men. Yes, the princess did some intelligence and courier work, but she stayed at the base when the climactic battle began. Men did the fighting. I don’t even need to mention the Empire.

Same story with the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica. Its versions of Starbuck and Boomer were guys.

That Galactica did have women pilots — in one episode. They needed to learn to fly when the men were sick. I don’t remember the details, but it was probably like when Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife got sick, and Thelma Lou and Aunt Bea had to defend Mayberry from mobsters.

On the other hand, Buck Rogers did have a woman pilot around that same time as Galactica. But Wilma Deering was in the original 1928 book as well, although as a soldier, not a pilot.

Anyway, Star Trek didn’t have a problem only with women captains. I don’t remember any women in security either. That’s just the way things were.

I often think Star Trek’s status on the vanguard of civil rights is overblown, but I’ll give Roddenberry some credit here. As seen in the pilot (“The Cage”), the first officer was originally going to be a woman. As the story goes, he had to back down when the studios balked. That would have changed everything. Since executive officers are generally in line to become ship captains, it would have followed that the rule wouldn’t have existed anymore. The writers would have had to come up with another motive for the crazy lady in “Turnabout Intruder.”

As for the episode itself, it was fun after the very special groaning. Not their best, but always better than the latest movie. Look for Erin Gray as Commodore Gray. She played Wilma Deering in the ’70s version of Buck Rogers. This was her second appearance on STC.

The rest of the performances are also top notch. In particular, watching Chris Doohan as Mr. Scott is a treat for any real fan of the original series. This is an “amateur” production in the same sense as the Japanese government calling its military the “Japan Self-Defense Forces.” The label understates their true power. In other words, they’re professionals, and it shows.

This episode is also available on YouTube:

(Okay, I made up the Andy Griffith episode.)

Working to undo a stupid idea

I signed a petition via OldNFO J.L. Curtis:

Restore the Traditional Navy Rating Specialty Titles Disestablished on 9/29/2016

For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating”. The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition. One only has to visit Navy social media pages to see the disgust and outrage of current and former personnel. One by one current leadership continues to erode the very things that set the Navy apart from the other services. Mr. President, I and the others signing this petition request you use your authority to restore to our Sailors what they have earned.

Basically, a Petty Officer Third Class would normally have been referred to as Gunners Mate Third Class (or whatever their rating happened to be). Now they would just be Petty Officer Third Class. Tradition is a big deal in the Navy. You’d think they’d understand this.

Stars and Stripes mentions the petition and indicates that the brass is not thinking of changing their minds.

Interesting fact: Navy ID cards only give the rank, e.g. PO1 (for Petty Officer First Class), and not the rating. The reason for this is that the Geneva Conventions require that you present your ID card to the enemy upon capture, and you’re not supposed to tell them what your job is.