Should Military Use Our $$ to Sponsor NASCAR Teams?

Is the ideal military recruit an independent thinker who refuses illegal orders, an obedient automaton who does anything he’s told, or a vicious sadist eager to rape and kill?  Is courage more important or strength? Does it make the slightest difference if a soldier is gay?

We can agree to disagree.  But most people are going to agree that the ideal recruit is not a drooling idiot who announces, “I want to join up because the military sponsors NASCAR drivers.”  Yet, the U.S. Army says that’s how it gets a third of its recruits — from motorsports sponsorships.  Recruitment stations at racetracks help.

The U.S. military spends billions of dollars every year on recruitment and advertising, producing video games and movies, flying jets over football games, taking gas guzzling vehicles and inflatable soldiers to picnics, etc.  I’m not even talking about military bands, which have a massive budget all their own.  I’m talking about the campaign to make killing look like a cool and painless sport, a campaign funded in the way that a campaign to save our climate would be properly funded if we had one.  We spend enough money attracting and recruiting each new recruit, that we could have hired him or her, and some of their friends, to do something useful.  I say “we” because it’s our money. 

We spend $80 million a year on military sponsorships of sporting events, primarily NASCAR and primarily through the innocent-sounding National Guard.  New recruits into the Guard are often falsely told they won’t have to go to war.

Here’s military spending on professional sports sponsorships in the past two years, in millions of dollars:

                        FY11       FY12
Army               $18.7       $16.1
Nat’l Guard     $67.1       $53.9
Navy                 $3.7         $4.2
Marines            $2.5         $2.3
Air Force          $2.5         $2.6
Air Guard         $1.6         $1.2
Total               $96.1       $80.3

A bipartisan measure in Congress has passed through the House Armed Services committee that would stop this.  The effort has been led by Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D, Minn.) and Congressman Jackson Kingston (R, Ga.).  This is a case of the more progressive Democrats lining up with the Republicans who actually mean some of that talk about cutting spending, and against the Congress members of both parties who give funding the war machine top priority.  That latter group includes House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) who is fighting to restore the funding.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whom the National Guard has paid $136 million over the past five years to put a National Guard sticker on his race car and wear the logo on his uniform, predictably agrees with McKeon.  Yet McKeon has not agreed to wear the logo of any of his war profiteering campaign funders. (Attention: graphic artist needed to produce that image!)

Congress members funded by weapons corporations are intent on avoiding the minor cuts imposed by last year’s Budget Control Act, much less the serious cuts needed to benefit our economy, the environment, our civil liberties, or the nations at risk of facing our bombs.

The Army on Tuesday appeared to see the writing on the wall, announcing that it won’t sponsor NASCAR next year.  But we need Congress to ban all military sports sponsorships by law.  The National Guard is a far bigger funder than the Army.

If we can’t cut this, then what can we cut?  And if we can cut it, we will have estabished that military spending is not sacred.  At that point, perhaps we’ll be able to address the much larger problem.  We are dumping over half of federal discretionary spending into war and war preparation, while funding is cut for education, infrastructure, fire departments, food stamps, and everything else.  Pro-war progressives like to claim that cuts are bad, period.  Yet, if we were to cut a few hundred billion out of war spending and put it to good use, we could lead the world in all those desirable categories where we’re trailing, like education, security, happiness, … and I’d say health too except that we’re spending twice what we need to on that already — the trick there is to get rid of the for-profit insurance companies that are swallowing our dollars.

Sports without militarism would open up enjoyment of sports to people who dislike killing, and it would take away a powerful marketing strategy for those trying to convince us that killing is just another sport.

No Military NASCAR could be the start of a cultural demilitarization, if we follow through.


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