The story of one intern’s experience at a defense company
I can’t help but feel guilty that, despite all of those who lost so much from 9/11, there were a few who gained, myself being one of them. The defense field is often described as feast or famine. Having the sole breadwinner of our household be one of the managers of a branch of General Dynamics, the fifth largest defense contractor in the world, means that the past 10 years have been, without a doubt, a feast. Yet, despite having parents that can afford to feed me and pay for my college tuition, I have often been tempted to bite the hand that feeds me.
The U.S. spending on defense and Homeland Security has exceeded $7.6 trillion since 9/11; 58 percent of our 2011 discretionary budget goes toward defense; and in 2010, 39 percent of taxpayers’ money went towards military spending while only 6 percent went toward supporting he economy.
“Personally, it bothers me that my money is paying for two wars that I don’t even agree with,” said Kristen Mendoza, a kindergarten teacher in the Buffalo Public School District, who believes more money should be going to education. “It drives me nuts how much money we are spending in Afghanistan and Iraq…I want us out of there now. It’s just going nowhere.”
In the best interest of the U.S. populace, our global image and just plain common sense, I had always firmly advocated for trimming down our military budget. Then this summer happened.
I needed money, so I took an opportunity to work at my dad’s company as an engineering intern on robotics systems. Though these robotics are designed for the military, they are never designed to kill, but to save lives by means of scouting ahead of troops or searching out possible mines. I had many opportunities to see these vehicles tested, and watching a car sophisticated enough to navigate civilian areas on its own blew my mind. It had me thinking: Could we use this technology for UPS trucks, public transit or even in our own commercial vehicles?
“Whenever we go through a funding ramp up in the technology of military needs, there is always a payoff in the work of military activities that is applicable to non-military things,” said Terry Cummings, vice president for the Kengya Group, a company that does systems engineering and strategic planning for the U.S. Department of Defense.
I wondered if they were to trim down the budget, would they cut a program that could actually be good for the general public?
My question was soon answered. Toward the end of August, on my way to work, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the golden “feasting” era for defense approached, it was announced that the deficit deal would include some cuts to the military. That same day, within the first few hours of work, a mass email went out announcing that the Army had issued a stop-work order for the program engineering the military robots.
The company I worked for completely revolves around this robotics program, and so the tension in the office was stifling. You could see in their eyes a fear of joblessness — a reality that came true for many within just a couple of days. Fear quickly turned to anger and frustration, and I heard many employees muttering about the misdirection of government spending as they walked by my cube.
These workers lives had become completely dependent on war. Never before had it been more evident that our economy, set up to reap tremendous profits from militarization, in just a moment, could pay that price back in terrible layoffs. In fact, the U.S.’s biggest employer is the Defense department, which employs 3.2 million Americans — 1 percent of the population. Though most defense workers were upset at this turn of events, there were some who embraced it as necessary.
“Personally, I believe that the future systems that the government was trying to develop were far too expensive for the need that they were trying to fill,” said Seth Abbott, a retired engineer and production manager for BAE, another defense company. “I believe the reality of our financial system and the threats of the future will really reduce the amount of money spent and the direction of that spending.”
Though it is a shame that such amazing technologies will have to be cut, it is even more of a shame that these technologies can only be developed through such expensive military operations and benefit so few of the populace. Robots can save lives, but they also have no life to give. Perhaps with the waning of the ten-year military boom, money can now be directed toward the real problems in America. Now, even with this summer under my belt, any internal conflict I experienced regarding militarization is gone. The ten years are up, and in the best interest of our country, it’s time to put the money where we need it and bring the troops home.
Anjali Patel is a sophomore exploratory major who is not fully enjoying her feast. Email her at apatel1[at]ithaca.edu.