Wars cost money. Lots of money, really – a fair model for mid-20th-century war efforts is that it would cost approximately the same amount that your opponents spend (modulo a field of adjustments, like it being cheaper to defend – but neither America nor Axis powers were in a primarily defensive role in WW2). Few people win wars on the cheap.

Now, America was and is a wealthy country, and Germany started World War 2 out of a type of desperation driven, in some part, by the post-World War 1 poverty they were experiencing. But Germany was a brutal dictatorship – they had less, but everything they had was subject to seizure by the government. Even wealthier countries like the United States needed to experience real sacrifice to prevail.

While PR for the military hasn't been great (don't worry, we'll get to that in this series), I don't truly suspect this dynamic is lost on them. Don't get me wrong, it is a brutal assault on your ego to think you are an essentially interchangeable cog and all real change happens when the purse strings are operated. But it's good practice to imagine you control nothing and exist only to be controlled by broad factors even the people directing you don't control. And given the fights over budget allocation (don't worry, this will get revisited too), I suspect this is a particularly salient element of their service: they try to do the best with the money they get, but the effectiveness of the fighting force is roughly proportional to that spending.

But, given that, you'd anticipate they'd take management of that money seriously. This (and I say this with caution) seems demonstrably false, and a serious abdication of duties that should be seriously considered for formal dereliction of duty charges in the future. Years ago, I was obsessed with these annual reports the CFO of the DoD would publish, saying they can't get even halfway decent accounting records, because, of the dozens and dozens of sub-departments of the DoD, only a handful even attempted to respond to his requests for records (the stakes would be higher if the Secretary of Defense co-signed the requests for records – in that case, you'd have grounds for a dereliction charge, but it's not clear that me whether that happens already, and if not, why not). Of those that did, they were frequently so fraught with adjustments and changes that the yearly accounting adjustments regularly outpaced actual spending by a huge margin.

They can't even agree on the facts, so of course a careful monitoring of spending – and crucially, remember, optimization – is at least challenging, and maybe impossible. Considering that it is reasonable to say the job of senior military personnel is to do that optimization, this is utterly humiliating.

Of course, people have gone about trying to fix this (not just the valiant but frustrated CFO). The DoD recently had their first audit. Remember, this institution has existed for more than 200 years, all of which were at least 200 years after the invention of modern accounting. Audits have been mandatory for public companies since the 1930's, because if the public invests in you, that public trust must be repaid, not just with truthful accounting information, but reasonable protections against fraud. 85 years later, the military attempted their first foray into trying to be as trustworthy as (to set a floor here) Enron. Remember, this is just an audit. Plenty of companies get audited. It's the results that are important.

Of course, the results are basically what you'd think. I encourage you to skim the reports generated yourself – in particular, notice the Inspector General of the Department of Defense issuing their own independent statements about the audit. Obviously, it wasn't going to be all sunshine and roses (this routine task for all public companies took years to prepare for), but I'm glad they're finally bending in this direction. Gone are the days of war bonds and well understood public sacrifice. Now we have debt-financed (relative) peace and even that can hardly be kept straight. It used to be money was so tight that Roosevelt insisted there be no War Millionaires – those days are gone too.