Ben Stein's Diary

The View From Torrey Pines

Defense now, defense forever, for America.

By 11.15.13

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What an amazing day I had. An episode of The Twilight Zone. My driver, the capable Mr. Baha, picked me up in Beverly Hills at noon. We zoomed down the 405 and then the 5 at speeds so fast it was as if I were in outer space. I slept, of course.

When we got to Del Mar, we pulled over for sushi at a little dive called Sushi-Ya. It is in an immense shopping center but don’t get fooled (again). The sushi is fresh and delicious and the chicken teriyaki is the best I have ever had. Yum. Sushi is one of nature’s great gifts.

Then just a few minutes away in Torrey Pines was the elegant “Lodge at Torrey Pines,” set just east of a golf course overlooking the foggy Pacific. I was there to speak to a group of genius scientists, medical men and women, investors, venture capitalists, men and women who are super men and super women.

I went into their reception and started to visit with them and I thought my brains would jump out of my head. These guys and gals were so accomplished, so out of control smart, it made me feel as if I were with geniuses from another earth.

One of them has helped to make a tiny device, one third the size of a grain of sand, that is inserted into the human blood stream. It has a sensor in it that can tell by sampling cells in the blood stream whether or not the host human is about to have a heart attack. Then the damned thing can radio to your doctor and tell him to put you in the coronary ward.

“How does it get its power?” I asked. “A micro tiny battery?”

“No, from the blood itself. Blood itself has energy. Did you know that?”

Well, no, I didn’t.

Another man said he and his team had invented a device that plugs into the kidneys and can, in some way I do not understand, greatly reduce blood pressure, virtually eliminate strokes, and save lives far better than blood pressure–reducing drugs.

Yet another man had invented some form of bariatric surgery that greatly reduces the incidence and effects of type 2 diabetes.

My head was swimming. Plus, they were great guys, brimming with friendliness and self-confidence. I think they were also about the handsomest, most fit-looking men and women I have been around since high school.

I am telling you, these guys are amazing.

I guess properly, brilliantly done health care venture capital is about as good a job as there is: you make money by saving lives, by making life more pleasant, by changing the character of existence itself. The health care inventors of drugs and devices also make money by making human life better, safer, longer, more pain free. Small wonder these people looked so happy.

They were a great audience group, too. They got all my jokes, asked extremely thoughtful questions afterwards and generally shone in my eyes.

A great night.

I slept all of the way back to Beverly Hills.

I have met my soul mates. They are from a trade association in Washington that represents defense and aerospace contractors. Like them, I am OUTRAGED by the sequester and the cuts in defense. In the name of microscopic (on a percentage basis) cuts in federal spending, the government is cutting drastically into our military readiness. Our Navy is shrinking to the point where we cannot defend ourselves at sea. Our Air Force is not getting the new planes and missiles and avionics it needs to do its job. The Army has not got enough armor or artillery and the Marines are always the whipping boys.

Why are we surrendering our military supremacy? Because we want to cut government spending. Fine. We all want to cut waste, fraud, and abuse. But why, in a world where we face extreme danger in every corner of the globe, would we cut defense? No trivial saving in the deficit, no meaningless supply-side tax cut gimmickry, is worth denuding our nation’s defenses.

It would be different if our nation faced imminent financial ruin or if great nations died from having a deficit of a certain size. But there has never been a great nation that ceased to be because its deficit was too large. There are plenty of great nations that lost their freedom because they did not spend enough to defend themselves.

Why, why, why? Suppose there were some infinitesimal good to come from cutting the defense budget.... How does it stack up against the possibility of the collapse of the U.S. as an independent actor? What if, on some horrible day, North Korea attacked South Korea and bombed Tokyo, and on the same day, Iran attacked Saudi Arabia, and Cuba attacked Costa Rica and Venezuela attacked Ecuador? What would we do except huddle in the corner and cry? What if on that same day, Russia decided it wanted Ukraine back?

Would we say, “Never mind. We just achieved 1/1000 of a percent savings on the debt to GDP ratio, so we’re all set”?

Smaller government is a great idea. Inadequate defense is a terrible idea. Why do we need a big defense, as big as the whole rest of the world? Because in the event of big trouble... there is no one else out there to even help us. We have lots of competitors and possible enemies. But, the only other pro-U.S. country with a meaningful military is tiny little Israel, and we have kicked them in the teeth as hard as we could under Obama anyway.

Do you know that in the 1950s we routinely spent about 10 percent of GDP on defense and we flourished? Now, we spend about 3.2 percent and we are at risk. If we even raised it to 4 percent, we would be a lot safer and who would miss it over at the Office of Management and Budget?

Somehow, our beloved GOP Tea Party friends have gotten this a bit wrong: deficits are a problem, but inadequate defense is a possible catastrophe.

Do we really want to play games with survival? Will we really be so foolish as to gamble with our freedom in order to achieve… nothing?

These are frightening times. We have a military for a reason. We face real threats. We cannot meet them with tax cuts. We have to meet them with the best possible military. Somehow, we have to explain this better. There is just too much at stake.

An adequate defense really must be a crusade. The freedom of our children and grandchildren is at stake.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.