In 1999, Congress designated May as Military Appreciation Month. The resolution calls on all Americans, “to remember those who gave their lives in defense of freedom and to honor the men and women of all our armed services who have served and are now serving our country together with their families.” Events throughout the month include Victory in Europe Day (which was on May 8), Military Spouse Appreciation Day (May 9), Armed Forces Day (May 17) and Memorial Day (May 26).
Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day is the day we commemorate the WWII Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany and the formal surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945. Of course, the war didn’t reach its final conclusion until the surrender of Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. Sept. 2, 1945 was declared the official V-J Day because that’s the date Japan signed the terms of surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri.
Military Spouse Appreciation Day began in 1984, and honors the sacrifices military spouses endure such as constantly relocating to new duty stations, the long absences of their husband or wife, often being the primary parent in the lives of their children, and always facing the possibility of the injury or death of their spouse. Military spouses are the unsung heroes of our armed forces and deserve our thanks and respect.
On Armed Forces Day, we pay special tribute to all those currently serving in our military. Today, we have approximately 1.3 million troops on active duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. An additional 841 thousand serve in the Guard and Reserves.
Signaling the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to remember those who’ve died while in military service. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. Additionally, a national moment of remembrance typically takes place at 3 p.m. local time.
With a ballooning national debt, how much we should spend on defense has been a topic of conversation in recent decades. At the height of the Reagan defense buildup, spending stood at 6.8 percent of GDP, but then began to decline. In 1990, it fell below 6 percent and then below 4 percent in 1996. By 2001, it bottomed out at 3.5 percent, about half the 1985 level. The 9/11 terrorist attacks reversed this trend with spending increasing to 4.6 percent in 2005 and then to 5 percent in 2008 during the Iraqi “surge.” With increased operations in Afghanistan, it peaked at 5.7 percent in 2011. Due to sequestration and the automatic across the board spending cuts in the Budget Control Act of 2011, spending is expected to decline to 4.6 percent in 2015.
The specific amount of spending needed to guarantee our security is a hard question to answer. As author Alan W. Dowd has said, many Americans realize the doctrine of peace-through-strength is the best way to deter war and preserve our national security. He points out that defense spending critics argue this approach is not worth the associated cost while in truth, waging war is far more costly than maintaining a military capable of deterring war.
During World War I, defense spending spiked to 22 percent of GDP and reached 41 percent in World War II. In the Korean War, it peaked at 15 percent and hit 10 percent at the height of the Vietnam War. As pointed out in a report commissioned by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that was released last month, the more than $1 trillion in sequestration-related defense cuts, programmed through 2021, “would significantly increase risks both in the short- and long-term.”
While there’s no question the Defense Department needs to do its share in reducing our national debt, how we go about it is also vitally important. As some have called it, the indiscriminant “meat cleaver” approach of using sequestration in areas of national defense remains unwise.
Back in the 1970s, a popular series of Fram oil filter commercials featured an automobile mechanic making expensive repairs that might not have been necessary had the owner purchased an inexpensive oil filter first. As the tag line went, “you can pay me now or pay me later.” The same can be said of defense spending. You can invest a small amount now to maintain our security or a huge amount later in order to regain it. That’s something to consider during this Military Appreciation Month.
Ken Lynn is a retired USAF colonel. He’s an adjunct online instructor with the USAF Air University