About Sticks and Stones

This newsletter is about how militaries fit into our society world-wide. Societal attitudes and media coverage of wars range from outright glorification to despondency that we’ll ever reach a state of peace. What is often missing is a deeper understanding of the depth and breadth of military spending and its resultant impact on our economy, our media, and our communities. The goal of Sticks and Stones is to widen our exposure to what we’re paying for and why: we owe it to ourselves and the people around us to make informed decisions.

I’m a Buddhist, but not a monk. I want World Peace, but I also have enough of a sense of reality to know that we are a long way from that. Countries will continue to need effective military interventions against state and non-state actors that interfere with their interests. 

Personally I find myself caught between the amazing technological progress brought forth by military advancements and a sense of dread with what they can do. I once visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio and was equal parts amazed by the SR71 and Valkyrie and saddened by the room full of ICBM’s.

I’ll do my best to make my essays agnostic of peoples or countries or sides: if I can tease out why a country spends X% of it’s GDP on military spending then maybe we’ll be better informed about the choices they make.

A note about the word ‘defense’, as in ‘defense spending’. Often we hear people, companies, and governments hide behind this word. In some cases it’s valid but I always find it problematic: militaries are used in both offensive and defensive ways and we should be up front about that. Sometimes a bigger gun is enough to prevent an attack, but it’s still a gun designed and used to implement deadly force.

Why ‘Sticks and Stones’? Those are pretty much the original weapons, used both to attack and to prevent an attack. Through story, this newsletter tells us about the industry of providing us newer and better sticks and stones.

My AI-generated image of two cavemen fighting with sticks and stones
My AI-generated image of two cavemen fighting with sticks and stones, courtesy Midjourney


I was inspired by reading Priya Satia’s “Empire of Guns”. It opened my eyes to how intertwined military spending is with our past and our society.

I enjoy NPR’s Throughline podcast because at it’s core it makes us think about how things are tied together from past to present. They tell great stories from that and I aspire to do the same.

I’m inspired by guys like William Gibson and Cory Doctorow continually pointing out out-of-control money and power, albeit in different ways.

Finally I’m inspired by Ike’s farewell address to the US nation, especially the “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” part. As a man whose service was to both his military and his country at the highest levels I think we can trust that he knew what he was talking about.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations. Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

— President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell speech

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Sticks and Stones explores the impact of military spending on our society worldwide. We shed light on the depth and breadth of military spending and its effects on our economy, media, and communities.


Brad Dobson

Wordsmithery, triathlon, writing partially for therapeutic reasons. Recreational coding on github @bdobson01. 3-time Ironman finisher. Once made the Kessel run in 12e+9 parsecs.