US defence spending in the year two thousand and two was three hundred and forty-three billion dollars. That is, three hundred and forty-three thousand, thousand, thousand. Three hundred and forty-three and nine noughts, or three hundred and forty-three times ten to the power of nine (I think).
Correct me if I'm wrong.
This is as much as the whole of the rest of the world put together. Every army of every country, from Russia, to China, to North Korea, to Vietnam, to Cuba, to Iran, to Syria. In fact, you name an "enemy", and we'll take a measure to find out where the real threat lies.
There are currently one point four million battle-ready, active American troops in this world. That's not to speak of the backup crew, or of the civillian administrators, nor of their extravagent equipment: fighter planes, tanks, cruise-missiles, daisy-cutters, battleships, aircraft carriers, personnel carriers, rocket-propelled grenades, machine-guns, night-sights, helmets with earphones, computer moniters, body-armour, helmet-mounted digital-cameras, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
To call this degree of battle-readiness "defence spending" is a euphemism, like describing the act of unleashing one's bowels as "spending a penny". How many pennies do you have to spend in order to let go of your waste by-products?
"Offence spending" would be a more appropriate term. It certainly offends me.
That three hundred and forty-three billion dollars, by the way, is also the average spending of the United States on strategic offence in all the years since nineteen forty-six.
Between nineteen forty-six and nineteen ninety-four, the United States spent a total of fourteen point five trillion dollars on offence.
At an average of three-hundred and forty-three billion dollars a year, that works out at eighteen trillion, two hundred and seventy-three billion dollars, total, until today.
Give or take a little here and there.
How else can I say it?
That's nine trillion, seven hundred and seventy-four billion, two hundred and sixty-four million, two hundred and forty-six thousand pounds sterling.
I just went over the road and asked the Sri Lankan manager of my local Premium Mini-Market to weigh ten pound coins for me.
They weigh ninety-five grams.
In other words, the entire United States offence budget between the year nineteen forty-six and the year two thousand and five, if weighed in pound coins, would amount to ninety-two trillion, eight hundred and fifty-five billion, five hundred and ten million, three hundred and thirty-seven thousand grams, or ninety-two billion, eight hundred and fifty-five million, five hundred and ten thousand, three hundred and thirty-seven kilos, or, to put it more graphically, forty-six billion, four hundred and twenty-seven million, seven hundred and fifty-five thousand, one hundred and sixty eight point five bags of sugar.
We'll let them off with the half bag of sugar. It will only spill all over our nice clean surfaces, making a horrible, sticky mess.
Or, to put it another way: to count up to this figure would take three hundred and nine thousand, nine hundred and forty years.
I still don't think we are getting anywhere near an understanding of the meaning of these numbers, however.
Big numbers like this just tend to run into each other till they stop making any sense whatsoever.
So try this.
How many days is it since the supposed birth of that eponymous culture hero after whom our current era is named?
Two thousand and five years is seven hundred and thirty-two thousand, three hundred and seventy-five days.
That's not such a long time, is it?
Thus the US offence budget between the years nineteen forty-six and two thousand and five can be reckoned at thirteen million, three hundred and forty-five thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three pounds sterling every day - every day - since the birth of Christ.
Say the number again to yourself, and then think about it.