I’ve been fond of December 1st ever since I was born on it. I later found out that it had been on a December 1st that Rosa Parks had sat down and refused to stand up or move to the back of that racist bus in Montgomery. Later still I found out about a December 1st that had happened still earlier.
It was on December 1, 1948, that President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the military of Costa Rica. He didn’t “cut” its projected dream budget by a teeny fraction that sounded bigger if multiplied by 10 and announced as a reduction “over 10 years.” He didn’t cut it in the ordinary sense of actually cutting it. He abolished it. Costa Rica put its military in a museum and a museum in its military headquarters. It turned its military bases into schools. It turned its military budget into a fund for useful projects. In 1986, President Oscar Arias Sánchez declared December 1st the Día de la Abolición del Ejército (Military Abolition Day).
Without a military, Costa Rica has not been a perfect paradise on earth, but it has avoided invading or being invaded by other countries. It has avoided military coups and civil wars and CIA interventions (although a coup in Honduras in 2009 involved flying the president to Costa Rica).
Costa Rica is not rich, but its people have a higher life expectancy than we do in the United States. Costa Rica provides a social safety net and of course provides everyone healthcare, spending less per capita than we do but providing superior healthcare than is provided by the wealthy United States. Costa Rica is ranked by the Happy Planet Index as the #1 best place to live for happiness. The United States comes in at #150 out of 178. U.S. elections have 50% turnout and somewhere around 98% disgust. Costa Rican elections have 90% turnout and enthusiastic participation. And Costa Rica’s way of life is far more sustainable than ours, one of the most sustainable in the world.
It’s not a coincidence that our super wealthy country spends as much as all other nations combined on war preparations and ranks pitifully low in measures of health, education, environmentalism, happiness, and well-being. We imagine that without a big military other nations would attack ours. But why would they? Simply because ours frequently attacks others? That’s a projection, not an observation.
We imagine that without the largest military ever seen, we couldn’t attack other nations for their own good and the good of the world. But the tradeoff we’ve chosen is not one of sacrificing for the world’s safety. If the United States didn’t spend $1 trillion every year on war preparation and war, it could spend that money on its own people and the world’s. We could have turned Afghanistan into Costa Rica over the past decade. We could have built schools and hospitals and green infrastructure. Does anyone seriously imagine that the people of Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen would hate the U.S. government more if it bought them a better life rather than raining its hated missiles from the sky?
Libertarians in the United States may not want to help the world, or even our own country, but they at least want to stop investing in killing. Liberals, on the other hand, want to keep the war preparations money flowing while taxing millionaires to help pay for it. Every “progressive” group in the United States right now is demanding that we protect what’s left of our safety net, tax millionaires and billionaires, and (through careful silence) leave military spending right where it is or where it’s headed. Costa Rica has made progress beyond the imagining of our progressives, and it hasn’t done so through progressive taxation. Costa Rica has chosen not to make large-scale murder its primary public purpose, or any purpose at all.
In the United States, peace groups sometimes mark the International Day of Peace. But virtually everyone ignores Military Abolition Day. It’s time we changed that.