Then there are classical symptoms of Catullan otium: societies that become leisured like ours grow complacent (otium et reges prius et beatas perdidit urbes). They see military activity of all sorts coming at the expense of social redistributive programs: each dollar in aid campaigning abroad comes at the loss of one less new expansion in Medicare or Medicaid. Why then spend money overseas, when we could redistribute it for bread and circuses at home? A cruise missile is not seen as a wise investment in deterrence, but as a boondoggle that means one less Head Start center.
In postmodern America, we are all removed from mayhem, the killing of game for dinner, the sight of blood altogether. War is something “they” do, not our far more sophisticated selves, who have far greater claims on the federal treasury. Given that the therapeutic society of iPhones and Facebook believes that human nature has transcended violence, and no longer is prone to Thucydidean irrationality like fear, honor, or perceived self-interest, we believe that Libyan rebels are sort of like errant protestors of Occupy Wall Street, or the sometimes corrupt Chinese communist apparat that can be persuaded to be nice to Tibetans. That means war no longer involves good and evil, much less the elemental dirty means of using the former to destroy the latter.
But wait, we are $16 trillion in debt, with serial $1 trillion budget deficits. Indeed, we are $9 trillion more in debt than when we went into Afghanistan. Any intervention now requires us to borrow the money from someone else. The truth is that for years we have been like Rome around AD 300 or Britain circa 1950—lots of supposed responsibilities, not enough money budgeted to fulfill them. The idea of a nation gearing up to smash an enemy when it has borrowed over $16 trillion on mostly social entitlements and pay-outs makes war a bad, if not absurd, investment.