Besides holding Afghanistan and Iraq hostage, the Pentagon today is holding American civilization itself hostage to its imperial designs. That’s because war beggars civilized life and ceaseless war beggars civilization unceasingly. As the great political commentator Walter Lippman put it during the Viet Nam War, “All the plans of the Great Society here at home, all the plans for the rebuilding of backward countries in other continents will all be put on the shelf, because war interrupts everything.” In the American Warfare State that prevails today most of every tax dollar collected goes to wage war and the Pentagon spends more for war than all 50 states combined spend for peace. No better example exists than the protest of 750 scientists at the National Institutes of Health who said their basic infectious disease research had been subverted by spending on bioterror research. War interrupts everything: rebuilding our cities, public schools and community colleges, water-works and sewerage systems, housing, mass transit, hospitals, new business start-ups, and the funding of the fine arts.
Lippman went on to give advice that nearly every occupant of the White House has since disregarded: “We are not the policeman of mankind. We are not able to run the world, and we shouldn’t pretend that we can. Let us tend to our own business, which is great enough as it is. It is very great. We have neglected our own affairs. Our education is inadequate, our cities are badly built, our social arrangements are unsatisfactory. We can’t wait another generation.”
Today, with 30 million Americans unemployed, underemployed, or dropped out of the labor market, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich writes, “America’s biggest---and only major---jobs program is the U.S. military.” If you want to enlist to kill people, Uncle Sam has got a warplane for you to fly; if you’d prefer to make living room furniture, forget it. Adding up 1.4 million troops on active duty, 833,000 in the reserves, and 1.6 million more employed by defense contractors, Reich calls this a “giant undercover military jobs program,” asserting that it is “an insane way to keep Americans employed” because “it creates jobs we don’t need.” “We don’t have an overt jobs program based on what’s really needed,” the labor authority writes.
Instead, workers we do need are losing their jobs by the millions. Calling the job picture “A Horror Show,” Bob Herbert wrote August 10th in The New York Times, “Government workers are walking the plank from coast to coast.” The paper reported the nation lost 133,000 more jobs just in July. And Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics, told the paper that while corporate earnings have been “spectacular” that “the job market just stinks.” What a fine arrangement! Karl Marx could have cited it as proof of reckless capitalists gone mad and that capitalists need wars to survive. Marx would have also pointed to the amazing high profits of the top “defense” contractors.
In an editorial last May 17, The New York Times observed, “There has been a feeding frenzy at the Pentagon budget trough since the 9/11 attacks. Pretty much anything the military chiefs and industry lobbyists pitched, Congress approved---no matter the cost and no matter if the weapons programs were over budget, underperforming or no longer needed in the post-cold-war world.”
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And proving that vaudeville is not dead, Defense Secy. Robert Gates said last week he’d like to shut one military command and reduce the number of admirals and generals to cut spending. This bit of public showmanship will entertain those who do not realize Gates is only switching dollars around. “The funds saved will help us sustain the current force structure and make needed investments in modernization in a fiscally responsible way,” President Obama said, letting the tiger out of the bag.
The Nation magazine got it right when it editorialized last Nov. 9th “The ballooning debt is forcing the administration to match every new expenditure with a spending cut. As a practical matter, that means every dollar we spend on the war in Afghanistan will be one less dollar to create jobs or provide health insurance at home…”
Studies have repeatedly shown that investing money in education, or for that matter, in public works, will create more jobs and prosperity than military outlays, which feed the military-industrial complex. So will investing money in new inventions, in small business startups and in a number of other peaceful, capitalist pursuits. If the economy is limp, if bankruptcies and home foreclosures are setting records, it’s because taxpayers’ bucks that might be fueling full employment and the rebuilding of America are being squandered in the Middle East, whose people are suffering death rates, homeless rates, infrastructure breakdowns and unemployment and poverty as a result of U.S. aggression that the American public can barely comprehend.
Those who have touted war-making over diplomacy have been shown by history to be the scum of the earth. “War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to face it,” said one such warmonger. His name was Benito Mussolini. Pentagon recruiters put it another way, advertising, “Be all you can be.” Unfortunately, the only thing you can be in a grave is a corpse. The promise of America should be loftier than a death wish in some war of aggression.
(Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based writer and former wire service columnist who was also active in the civil rights movement. Reach him at email@example.com)
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