Let’s recall that the United States, a.k.a. Uncle Sam, is home to around 4.4 percent of the world’s population, yet somehow accounts for over one-third of all military spending. That spending may have something to do with how 4.4 percent of the world’s population is able to consume, on average, about a quarter of the world’s various resources, but that’s another issue.
Instead, let’s look at China. Considered to be something between a cordial competitor and a full-blown adversary, China is home to approximately 20 percent of the world’s population (about five times America’s share), but it only spends about one-quarterof what the U.S. does on its arsenal. Still, that makes China the world’s second biggest spender with a budget of $151.43 billion for 2017. Frankly, that’s dwarfed by America’s $700+ billion. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Compare the two side-by-side (thanks to globalfirepower.com) and you might start thinking of Uncle Sam as a committed gun nut.
For example, Uncle Sam has 20 aircraft carriers … and China has one, with one on the way. Uncle Sam has 41,062 armored fighting vehicles … and China has 4,788. Uncle Sam has 6,065 helicopters … and China has 912. Uncle Sam has 2,785 attack aircraft and 2,296 fighters. China has about half of that with 1,385 attack aircraft, 1,271 fighters.
The Chinese do have about 600 more tanks and a bunch more small naval craft, but that’s more a function of their geographical challenges than some willy-nilly binge by the world’s third-strongest military. After all, they do have land borders with historically hostile powers. And Uncle Sam does continue to pressure them at sea. Apparently, it’s Uncle Sam’s job to control what the Chinese do in the South China Sea.
It’s also quite telling to make these same comparisons to Russia. It is the world’s “second-strongest” military and, according to the drumbeat of conventional wisdom-makers, it is Uncle Sam’s main global competitor. Home to less than 2 percent of the world’s population, Russia is “now the world’s third largest military spender,” according to a grabby headline by CNNMoney.
Sounds ominous … that is, until you see that it only takes $69.2 billion for Russia to secure the third spot. For perspective, that’s less than the amount ($80 billion) Uncle Sam’s added to this year’s budget over last year’s budget. That’s also less than the amount of money ($75.9 billion) Uncle Sam made for the defense industry this year by selling weapons to other countries.
Still, Russia is fairly well-armed. Unlike Uncle Sam, Russia is not surrounded by two oceans and two friendly, militarily weak allies. Quite to the contrary. In fact, Uncle Sam and his proxies have crowded Russia with forces to its West, South and East. U.S. forces also encircle China, but let’s stay on target.
As a result of their geography and history, Russia is heavier on tanks (20,216) and armored fighting vehicles (31,298) than Uncle Sam. Yet, the Russian Bear lags on attack aircraft (1,428), on fighter aircraft (806), on helicopters (1,389) and it is way behind on power-projecting aircraft carriers with just one “notoriously rickety” ship.
Russia does have 7,300 nuclear warheads, but it is nowhere near America’s capability to deploy forces through its vast network of approximately 800 bases and facilities in more than 70 countries. On the other hand, scholar David Vine estimates that “Britain, France and Russia … have about 30 foreign bases combined.”
These significant imbalances probably account for Russia’s recent move into “non-violent” forms of hybrid and asymmetrical warfare. It’s one way to close current and future gaps. And both Russia and China are making inroads on drones, but neither has the reach of Uncle Sam’s fleet … which is advancing and growing all the time. So far, neither China nor Russia has demonstrated a willingness to use drones as roving kill machines in other people’s countries. That remains Uncle Sam’s gun-slinging claim to fame … as does the unchallenged ability to dwarf the next eight biggest military spenders combined.
Let’s face it, Uncle Sam is, globally speaking, an armament “super-owner.” Like many of America’s civilian “super-owners,” it could be said that Uncle Sam just likes guns … or that he’s just an avid collector … or that guns are not just his hobby, but also his business. And that’s true, too.
As a matter of fact, Uncle Sam has turned foreign policy into a great big, rolling gun show. He often attends actual, government-sponsored military “trade shows” like the bi-annual Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi. Each year there are dozens of these military-themed events and air shows around the world. These glorified gun shows are golden opportunities for the State and Defense Departments to attract buyers to America’s growing supermarket of weaponry.
America used to be “the Arsenal of Democracy.” Now it is the “World’s Gun Shop,” and Uncle Sam is selling everything from THAAD missile defense systems (Stock Tip: buy Lockheed Martin) to boondoggled F-35 jets (still buy Lockheed). And in an amazing bit of gun nut symmetry, the “Trump administration is preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers,” according to Reuters.
That final bit of salesmanship is probably a response to the sharp decline in domestic small arms sales after Trump replaced President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Under President Obama, federal gun background checks increased for 19 straight months. By the end of Obama’s tenure the gun industry had grown by a staggering 158 percent and the “total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry in the U.S. increased from $19.1 billion in 2008 to $49.3 billion in 2015,” reported Forbes. It rose to $51.3 billion in Obama’s final year.
This buying binge was stoked by gunmakers’ de facto sales reps in the National Rifle Association and in the Right-Wing media … who told gun-loving Americans that the first Black President was coming to take their firearms. So, they went out and stocked-up before Obama and George Soros could deploy an army of U.N. gun-grabbers in powder blue helmets deep into the blood-red heart of America. The grabbers never came, but the profits spiked handsomely for Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, Smith & Wesson and seven more of America’s leading gunmakers.
Ironically, the party ended when the NRA’s most beloved candidate of all-time took the oath of office. Trump purposefully and quite effectively ran as a defiant gun nut. He repeatedly touted his love of guns and his admiration of his sons’ love of killing animals with guns. And when he won, gun-lovers stopped hoarding guns at a record pace. For them, the prophesied “gunpocalypse” had been avoided, so they relaxed a bit. But the collateral damage of America’s exceptional gun-nuttery keeps on mounting, both at home and abroad.
The Independent (UK) found that “nearly 1,400” people were shot around America in the week following the Las Vegas massacre. That’s just one week’s worth of shooting. Even more daunting, they determined that “24,862 [Americans] have been injured and 12,208 have been killed as a result of gun violence” so far this year. It’s a bloody, but sadly unsurprising addendum to the ponderous aftermath of the “worst mass shooting” in U.S. history.
At the same time, Americans remain largely ignorant of the “mass casualty event” that’s unfolded around the world over the last 16 years. Fortunately, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University has done the thankless job of keeping tabs on Uncle Sam’s Global War on Terror. Their “Costs of War” project estimates that Uncle Sam’s wars are directly responsible for 370,000 deaths, responsible for another 800,000 indirect deaths and that some 200,000 civilians died “at the hands of all parties to the conflict” America instigated.
And like those solitary super-owners who spend freely on guns without batting an eye, Uncle Sam seems decidedly nonplussed by the $4.8 trillion “price tag” for his post-9/11 wars.
Even more telling, this prolonged, costly slaughter has done little to slake Uncle Sam’s thirst for more guns. In fact, one of the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s candidacy was not just his full-throated praise for the NRA, but his constant claim that America’s military had been “depleted.” Of course, he promised a Paddock-like spending spree to make it bigger than ever before. Trump essentially presaged Heritage’s lament about Uncle Sam’s supposed military weakness. And it set up a spike in defense spending that will ensure that America stands alone as the world’s sole “super-owner.”
All of which points to some obvious, if seldom asked, questions: Is the Heritage Foundation’s report on the U.S. military really that different from the NRA’s repeated exhortations to individual gun owners? Don’t the makers of weapons big and small both profit from the thinly veiled salesmanship of Heritage and the NRA, the collateral damage be damned? Really, what’s the difference between Smith & Wesson and Lockheed Martin? Or between bystanders being shot with lead bullets or struck by a high-tech Tomahawk?
Aren’t we as a military power much like those 7.7 million super-owners who stockpile arms like a paranoid survivalist who sees boogeymen and gun-grabbers around every corner? And don’t we as a globe-trotting nation differ little from the individual Americans who “open-carry” guns into a Wendy’s or Walmart … as if they are not just looking for a chance to flaunt them, but also for a reason to use them?
Sadly, though, that’s not where it ends because just like Stephen Paddock had his outsized arsenal of weapons stashed in his homes and his car, so too does Uncle Sam have his arsenal dispersed in caches strewn around the world. And the only logical reason to build up an arsenal well beyond what’s needed to protect your personal safety or national security … is because you intend on using that arsenal to kill people. That much is clear about Stephen Paddock. Isn’t it also clear about Uncle Sam? It is certainly clear to millions of people around the Muslim world.
Ultimately, is Uncle Sam really that different from Stephen Paddock? More to the point, if we are looking for answers to the Las Vegas shooting, perhaps we should ask if Stephen Paddock is really that different from Uncle Sam? Because the truth is that Uncle Sam — the collective “we” also known as America — is the world’s paragon of gun-nuttery. He is the author of many senseless slaughters with inexplicable motives and unclear ends. And it seems unlikely that we’ll ever be able to explain Stephen Paddock’s gun-craziness until we finally make some effort to look in the mirror and examine Uncle Sam’s exceptional role as the world’s leading gun nut.