Congress on Thursday, June 18 voted to authorize a $106 billion military supplemental appropriation, largely for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is in addition to a 2009 defense budget already in excess of $500 billion.
This supplemental is just the latest way in which the “permanent war economy” is being perpetuated. The PWE has its roots in the World War II plans to keep alive the partnership of corporations, the government, and the military in the post-war world. The PWE was the way to maintain demand for goods and services that would continue economic growth, capital accumulation, and enormous profits for the biggest corporations in the world.
The PWE required demonic enemies, “threats to national security,” to justify the expenditure over the next forty to fifty years of three trillion dollars. The “communist threat,” “the war on drugs,” the threat of “terrorism” and the mystical Al-Qaeda, has kept a pliant public in a state of fear ever since. By the time of the Korean War, the U.S. government, as a national security state, was premised on the prioritization of military spending over spending on any other public issue.
Along with the security threat, Americans have been told that there is a connection between continuous military spending and a robust high job, high wage economy. By the 1960s, one in ten jobs was directly or indirectly connected to military spending. The economies of whole communities were based on corporations engaged in the arms industry. Further, economic recoveries from recessions in the early 1960s and 1980s were largely the resultant of huge boosts in military spending and adventurism abroad.
In the end, United States foreign policy has been significantly driven by this PWE. The impacts on people everywhere has been horrific. At least 100,000 U.S. soldiers have died in military actions since the end of World War II and three or more times that figure disabled from participation in war. Almost ten million citizens from countries in which the U.S. had some military operations died, from the Greek civil war in the 1940s, to Korea, Vietnam, to Guatemala, and Iran in the 1950s and 1960s, to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, and Cambodia and Afghanistan in the 1980s, to Serbia, Somalia in the 1990s, to Afghanistan and Iraq in this century.
Along with the death and destruction and perpetual fear, the PWE has failed in its promise of economic growth. A whole array of studies have shown that public and private investments for non-military purposes, education, health care, transportation, consumer goods, and environmental protection for example, would have led to more secure jobs, research and development, and improved quality of life than investment in war. Looking at the history of the last several decades bursts in military spending used to have short term economic stimulation. That no longer is the case.
The National Priorities Project, http://nationalpriorities.org,
provides data on the costs of military spending for wars on Iraq and Afghanistan by nation, state, and congressional district. In addition, they estimate what non-military comparable funding would provide for such political units.
For example, residents of the Fourth Congressional District of Indiana (represented by war-hawk Steven Buyer), paid $1.7 billion for wars on Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. This money could have provided residents of the district the following instead of investment in the PWE:
496,529 people with health care for one year
1,593,167 homes with renewable electricity for one year
26,094 music and arts teachers for one year
224,694 scholarships for university students for one year
17,550 affordable housing units
250,705 head start places for children for one year
29,362 elementary school teachers for one year
And, of course, the transfer of some of this money from the military to these other programs would mean much less unemployment than the 9.2 per cent currently experienced by residents of Lafayette, Indiana, the largest city in the district.
The War Resisters League has a sensible list of demands that would reduce the threat to national security, help overcome the current economic crisis, and begin the process of environmental rejuvenation. Their list includes:
-Slash the military budget
-End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
-Close foreign bases and bring troops home
-Dismantle nuclear weapons and related systems
-Adopt a foreign policy based on multilateral negotiation and not military might”
In sum, thinking about the PWE necessitates thinking about the fundamental interconnections of military and foreign policy issues with those involving education, health care, the environment, transportation, and economic growth. Also, thinking about the PWE involves thinking about the fundamental connections between global, national, and community policies. Progressives must begin to make the connections between policies and issues, and between problems in different geographic spaces.
These connections are clear in ethical terms as well. As Dr. Martin Luther King suggested: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”