By David Swanson, Remarks at Left Forum
Last night in New York City, by my unscientific estimate, two-thirds of the people on the streets had alcohol in them. A young man celebrating his wedding engagement was stabbed to death. A party a third floor apartment to collapse into the second floor. And the NYPD was busy beating the only sober people in town, the nonviolent activists at Occupy Wall Street. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Louisiana National Guard was busy killing people in Iraq. We’ve done something worse than get our priorities wrong when we’ve moved resources to harming people rather than helping people.
The Military Industrial Complex is a banker bailout every year. It’s over a trillion dollars a year through various departments and as much as all other nations’ militaries combined. It’s over half of federal discretionary spending every year. And that’s not counting the sales to foreign democracies and dictatorships that make the United States the top weapons supplier to the globe and allow our military the odd distinction of fighting most of its wars against weapons produced in the Homeland formerly known as our own country. But it IS counting the weapons we give to other countries. Yesterday even the Washington Post said we should stop arming Egypt. It made no mention of Israel. And it IS counting the transformation of our local police forces into mini-militaries. With due respect to Mayor Bloomberg the NYPD is not the seventh largest military in the world, but it thinks it is. And we don’t get the trillion dollars a year back. In fact, we borrow it and pay interest on it, hollowing out our economy, creating a giant trade deficit with China, keeping interest rates super low, and periodically crashing Wall Street and bailing it out. And when we have big wars we borrow and spend more money on top of the standard budget. The trillion dollars is to make us ready in case we have a war, but then the war costs are extra.
And the money, for the war preparation and for the wars, goes in large part to a department free from effective oversight, a department that routinely misplaces, loses, or otherwise cannot explain the location of piles of cash larger than what we spend on most other functions of government. Whatever you think of the recent bombing of Libya, the key fact is not that the President never got Congressional approval but that he didn’t need to, financially speaking. The cost of bombing Libya was covered by spare change lying around in a drawer at the Pentagon. And when the Pentagon spends money, it spends a growing share of it on so-called private corporations through contracts that are increasingly awarded without any pretense of competition whatsoever. And the war profiteers, the 1% of the 1% rake in that loot, but turn around and feed a little pinch of it (it doesn’t take much) to congress members and presidents by funding their campaigns (this is, in large part, who paid for all the TV ads that Marcy Kaptur could afford and Dennis Kucinich could not). And then the profiteers do something else; they build their weapons in little pieces in as many separate congressional districts as possible before assembling them in yet another district. And our misrepresentatives in Washington defend those weapons, even the ones that won’t kill anybody, even the ones designed for 19th century wars, as jobs programs. A Bloomberg News columnist named Amity Shlaes goes so far as to claim that U.S. troops based in over 150 other countries are there as economic aid, and withdrawing them would hurt foreign economies because soldiers buy stuff.
But of course they also kill stuff. Their job is murder, and whether they give the corpses proper Muslim sea burials or urinate on them, the problem is that they’re producing corpses. Other forms of economic aid don’t do that. Other forms of government spending, in fact every other form of government spending, on green energy, on infrastructure, on education, even tax cuts for non-billionaires, produces more jobs than military spending. Military spending is worse than nothing economically. It ought to be the chief target of anyone opposed to poverty, wealth concentration, or economic instability. Yet how many labor unions or child-advocacy groups are taking on the war machine? Military spending also takes money that could have been spent on schools, health, transportation, housing, environmental catastrophe avoidance, and a social safety net and blows it on bombs, drones, aircraft carriers, and billionaires. It is not a series of coincidences that other wealthy nations lacking our level of military spending have a fairer distribution of wealth and have better schools, more sustainable energy systems, and longer life expectancies. Even if you believe the Pentagon is saving your life, it is indisputably shortening it. Military spending should be the top target of anyone who thinks free college would be an improvement over college at the cost of debt slavery.
And, as Eisenhower warned 51 years ago, investment in planning for war does not prevent war, but rather builds momentum in war’s favor. And with the wars, we lose our civil liberties. The ACLU is upset that Obama believes he can legally murder anyone anywhere. But the ACLU is not prepared to address military spending. Military spending should be the top target of anyone who’d like to see habeas corpus or the Bill of Rights restored or expanded. And unlike government spending on mass transit or windmills, military spending destroys our natural environment. The U.S. military is our top consumer of petroleum and itself consumes a large share of the oil it fights its wars over. Our country is pockmarked with military superfund sites. The first question every mother giving birth in Fallujah asks the doctor is “Is it normal?” And if those pushing for a crisis with Iran manage to get the Straight of Hormuz mined, the Pentagon has plans to send through dolphins. Military spending ought to be the top target of those who want to maintain a habitable ecosystem. But it isn’t, is it? Have you ever heard of the Sierra Club opposing a war? While fewer U.S. citizens die in war, huge numbers of Iraqis, Afghans, and others lose their lives or see their lives and homes ruined. Refugee crises are a result of war. Military spending ought to be the top target of those opposed to murder. We haven’t eliminated slavery or rape from the world, but we don’t invest our children’s unearned pay in promoting them on a massive scale. Why should war be different? Our own government’s experts know that our wars make us less safe, that if they do not destroy our natural environment they will produce deadly blowback of another form. And as nuclear weapons proliferate, the possibilities for accidental or deliberate Armageddon increase exponentially.
But here’s the good news. If everybody whose dreams and goals are being derailed by out of control military spending were to join together to nonviolently oppose it, it wouldn’t have a chance. And that mobilization has begun as part of the Occupy movement. The defunding of the military has not, however, yet begun in any serious way. Cuts made thus far have been either cuts to future dream budgets or cuts to one department that shuffle money to another. The cuts mandated by the failure of the Super Committee would be actual if minimal cuts, but there is a push coming from both Congress and the White House to undo them for the military and increase them for everything else.
What keeps this madness humming along and makes wars so hard to end once begun is a pack of twisted logic, fantasies about humanitarian war, and perverse partisanship that opposes wars selectively depending on who is president. In a spirit of sociopathic illness I’ve drafted a list of 10 reasons why the United States keeps troops in Afghanistan, and I’ll close with these 10 reasons. And here’s a warning: If you don’t like sarcasm, I’m really really sorry about that.
1. When you’re setting a record for the longest modern war, cutting it short just increases the chances of somebody breaking your record some day.
2. When Newt Gingrich and Cal Thomas and Donald Trump turn against a war, keeping it going will really confuse Republicans.
3. If we pull U.S. troops out after they have shot children from helicopters, kicked in doors at night, waved Nazi flags, urinated on corpses, massacred villages, and burned Korans it will look like we’re sorry they did those things.
4. U.S. tax dollars have been funding our troops, and through payments for safe passage on roads have also been the top source of income for the Taliban. Unilaterally withdrawing that funding from both sides of a war at the same time would be unprecedented and could devastate the booming Afghan economy.
5. The government we’ve installed in Afghanistan is making progress on its torture program and drug running and now supports wife beating. But it has not yet mandated invasive ultrasounds. We cannot leave with a job half-finished.
6. We have an enormous prison full of prisoners in Afghanistan, and closing it down would distract us from our essential concentration on pretending to close Guantanamo.
7. Unless we keep “winning” in Afghanistan it will be very hard to generate enthusiasm for our wars in Syria and Iran. And with suicide the top killer of our troops, we cannot allow our men and women to be killing themselves in vain.
8. If we ended the war that created the 2001 authorization to use military force, how would we justify our special forces operations in over 100 other countries, the elimination of habeas corpus, or the legalization of murdering U.S. citizens? Besides, if we stay a few more years we might find an al Qaeda member.
9. A few hundred billion dollars a year is a small price to pay for weapons bases, a gas pipeline, huge profits for generous campaign funders, and a perfect testing ground for weapons that will be absolutely essential in our next pointless war.
10. Terror hasn’t conceded defeat yet.