Why not merge the Departments of Education and Defense?

Why not merge the Departments of Education and Defense?
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President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE recently proposed merging the Departments of Education and Labor to streamline and strengthen workforce training programs. Most people don’t think it will happen, but as long as we’re fantasizing, let’s be a little more provocative.

How about merging the Departments of Education and Defense? In a world where cyber warfare is the biggest threat to American security, education is the defense industry of the 21st century. It’s also the offense industry of the 21st century.

An army of hackers can do more to disrupt our enemies than all the smart bombs in the world. Russia spends one-tenth of what we spend on defense and, for a couple of million dollars, was able to deftly interfere with our 2016 presidential election with a goal of swinging it to President Trump. Russian trolls are still sowing discord across America.


We have never lost by betting on American ingenuity. On the other hand, we keep losing wars. As we see in the Middle East today, and should have learned from the Vietnam War, the occupying army is unsustainable. It’s a failed strategy the Pentagon utilizes to feed the military-industrial complex. And U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history — with no viable exit strategy.

Instead of a frenzied arms race with no winners, we’d have a contest of brains and ideas — and we would win, especially if we recommit to America’s longstanding policy of welcoming hard-working immigrants. Today, Indian-American students dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee and Asian-Americans make up the largest share of degree-holders in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.

We could convert our military bases into schools and colleges. And if it’s better job-training that President Trump wants, who better than the military to provide it? They already run many career education programs, training most of our airline pilots, for example.

Instead of gunboat diplomacy, we could repurpose our planes and ships for humanitarian missions and send legions of young people across the world to feed, house and educate the needy and help manage refugee crises across the world.

Combine the budgets for Education and Defense and we would have about $4 trillion over the next five years. With that money, we could erase the national student debt and make college more affordable for everyone outside the top 10 percent of income-earners. We could enable millennials to buy homes and save for retirement. The economy would thrive.

We could equalize funding between poor and wealthy school districts and boost teacher salaries in states that are lagging. We could provide early learning for every child and tutoring for every student who needs it.

We could give every teacher a $500 gift card for classroom supplies and give every poor kid a laptop. We could modernize science labs, music programs, art studios and libraries.

Does American security really require sprawling armies camped out in foreign deserts and vast armadas patrolling the high seas? Do we need 800 military bases across the world and thousands here at home? Can’t small teams of highly-trained Navy Seals and Green Berets better address most regional threats? If full-scale war breaks out, couldn’t we scale up quickly, just as we did in World War II?

We could shift $400 billion from defense to education and still outspend China — the second-biggest military spender in the world. Meanwhile, China is sending 350,000 young people to American colleges each year. They’re taking over the world without firing a shot.

A combined agency focused on education and defense would tap into core values such as civic engagement, public service, diplomacy, economic security, intellectual leadership and political freedom. It would force America to rethink its 20th century role as the world’s policeman and challenge our allies to step up and meet their own security needs.

Of course, the idea is crazy. The Deep State would never allow it. The military-industrial complex would mobilize a battalion of lobbyists. Threatened with base closings, a shrinking defense industry and job loss, every member of Congress would fold like an accordion.

Education advocates would panic at the idea of generals weighing in on school policy, but the fact is, they already do. They are concerned that 70 percent of young people today don’t even qualify for military service. Meanwhile, in our democratically elected government with civilian oversight of the military, the educated class sets military policy.

So, let’s make it official and create the Department of Defense and Offense. Let’s play at both ends of the court.

Peter Cunningham is the executive director of Education Post, a national network of education advocates, and a former assistant secretary of education in the Obama administration (2009-2012).