The first presidential election I actually remember in any detail was between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
During that election, then Senator Kennedy complained about a missile gap that America needed to fill with more military spending.
In every presidential election since then, there has been one reliable “issue.” Both candidates say we need to spend more money on the military. It was a little different last night, in that President Obama was talking about not raising the spending so fast while Governor Romney chided him for this. Obama’s defense? Military spending had gone up every year of his presidency. That was the brag.
The reason is always the same. We are told that we need to spend, spend, spend on ships, planes, bombs and guns (never, notice our troops) to “keep America safe.”
We have reached a point where military spending on top the table comes to over 50% of our budget. And that’s just the money we know about. A lot of military spending is under the table and off the record. How much of our treasure are we really putting into the military? No one knows.
Let me repeat that: No one knows.
This nation has been at war economically since Pearl Harbor in 1941. What I mean by that is that we have been maintaining a wartime military capable of defending us in an all-out world war on multiple fronts against massive enemies for 70 years. Not only that, but we have set ourselves up as the guardians of the world. Our many military bases around the world are a critical part of the economies of a large number of countries. We are draining our economy and sustaining their economy to maintain a vast network of military bases and installations all over the globe.
Is it any accident that we have also found reasons to actually be at war for most of the past 70 years?
Look back in history at the effects that decades of war has on the economies of the nations who engage in it. Consider the 100 years war and what it did. So far as economics are concerned, America has been in a 70-year war, so that’s not an outrageous analogy.
My question: What are the dangers to the people of America if we continue to blindly believe that we have to keep on increasing our military budget year after year, election after election, into perpetuity? Where is this kind of thinking leading us?
I would like to offer you a few thoughts on that matter. These are not absolutes. They are just thoughts. But I do think we need to at least start a conversation about these things. We are Americans. This is our government, and since it is a democracy, we have a responsibility engage in the questions government raises. We are tasked with thinking things through rather than just blindly accepting the rhetoric of political candidates and pundits.
1. Would we have invaded Iraq if we had a universal draft? When we went to war in World War II, President Roosevelt had sons in uniform. Wealthy and powerful men like Joseph Kennedy had one son who was killed in combat and another who was permanently disabled as a result of injuries from combat. Who does our fighting now? My kids. Your kids. The people who are making money from these wars are totally disconnected from the cost in terms of human life and suffering that our children pay for their profits.
This began in Viet Nam. I came from a poor school. It seemed for a while that all I did was go to the funerals of my friends who a few months before had been driving their cars down the strip every night and now were soldiers killed in action. I didn’t realize at first that this was not happening at the wealthier schools. No one was dying who went to those schools. No one was even serving in the military at all. And this was a time when we did have a draft. But it had become corrupt. If you had money, you could get out of it.
A few years ago, I was at a meeting about how to help the kids in my district. It was convened by then Father, now Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock. People from many walks of life were there. One of them was a recruiter for one of the military services. He said to the kids who were at the meeting, “Would you rather join the military and go to Iraq and die a death with honor, or die on the streets here with no honor?”
What he said resonated with these kids. They saw it as true.
Is that the America we want? Is the new American dream a dream where the “opportunity” we offer a large segment of our population is a choice between death with dishonor on our streets or a death with “honor” in an unnecessary war that was started under false pretenses?
2. How can we spend so much on “defense” and still not provide adequate care for our troops? Our soldiers tell me they don’t have adequate equipment in the field, such as body armor, that many of the sophisticated weapons they are given malfunction in actual combat conditions with dust, rain, heat and cold. They fight one war over there and come home to fight another war for treatment for their injuries here. How can we spend so much money and not take care of our troops?
3. Does “privatizing” military services amount to graft and corruption; to giving contracts to your pals so they can make even bigger bucks off our wars? I know what my answer to this will be. I believe emphatically that this is what is happening.
4. How can we balance the budget if we won’t even talk about cutting in the area where we’re spending over half of our money? How much are we willing to impoverish the American people to finance our military? When does the money we’re spending on it start doing us more harm than good?
5. Does all this vast expenditure of our capital on war making actually keep us safe, or does it endanger our economic survival while keeping us at war with somebody all the time? The young people I represent are fighting our wars. They are not getting rich. But somebody is making money beyond the dreams of avarice out of their service.
I am not advocating that we disarm. I am not a pacifist. I believe in self-defense, both for individuals and nations. But I do not want to see my sons killed and my country bankrupted for wars of empire that serve to advance the interests of multi-national corporations.
That is not self-defense. It doesn’t keep my country safe. It endangers us all.
I haven’t discussed the moral issues involved in all this. But they are some of the most important and least discussed of any moral issues facing this nation.
Last night’s debate was predictable in that no one talked about or was even asked if being economically in a world war for 70 straight years might be harming our economy. No one suggested that wars which are fought by kids from the poor neighborhoods while everyone else sits home safe, fed and fat are not democratic wars. I didn’t hear a peep about the graft and corruption involved in military contracts.
Not one word.
All I heard was the usual electioneering blather about who was spending the most to “keep America safe.” Maybe it’s time we at least asked other questions that demand different answers.