The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Former defense secretary says military could operate with half its budget

Chris Miller praises and criticizes the military during his interview at W&L’s Mock Convention
Jordan Hoover
Former Secretary of Defense Chris Miller.

Chris Miller, former secretary of defense and the closing act for Friday’s session, was not deterred by a thinning Friday night crowd. He came out flexing, literally – walking on stage with student interviewer Will Martin, ’24, arms up like body builders.

Miller enlisted in the military at the age of 17 and served for 31 years. He took part in planning and participated in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. With his extensive expertise in defense, Miller said he believes the military budget could be cut in half. 

“An F35 costs $180 million a year. That is going to be shot down within the first nanosecond of a major war,” he said. “You can make small drones that are capable of delivering explosives with precision for $10,000.”

Miller said the answer lies in autonomous weapon systems. He said they are relatively cheap but “create enormous mass that the enemy can’t defeat.”

But the U.S. military isn’t shifting their money.

“The machine,” Miller said, “isn’t interested in doing that, because there’s [an] economic interest at stake.” 

Miller was asked in 2020 by then-President Donald Trump to serve as secretary of defense for the last 73 days of his term. Miller sarcastically joked that “not a lot” was going on at that time.

The crowd was lively despite its size. Miller reclined in his chair, with blue socks with peace signs on them – a perhaps ironic touch. 

“Obsessed,” Claire Richey, ’24, said. “[My] favorite speaker.”

After decades in public service, Miller entered the world of business where he is now the chief revenue director of design technologies. Miller said that he would take combat over business any day.

 “The military is the most egalitarian meritocracy in America, I think,” he said. “It doesn’t matter your race, creed, color, what kind of car you drive, how rich your family is, it matters if you can do your job.” 

Politics is easier than the military, Miller said.

Being the secretary of defense requires life and death situations, “but they paled in comparison to the decisions I made when I was younger in combat,” Miller said. “You are picking who will live and die.”

Miller both praised and criticized the military during his interview.

“We brought vengeance on our enemies” after 9/11, he said, by wiping out Al Qaeda and ISIS.

But since the U.S. has pulled out of Afghanistan, Miller said the military has let the hold on terrorism slip.

“You might not be interested in terrorism,” he said, “but terrorism is interested in you.”

Miller said that those in the audience give him hope for the future.

“So, it’s over to you guys now,” he said. “Mic drop. Gotta go home. Figure it out.”

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