Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer Blog
September 10, 2012
Don’t Forget to Remember: Amnesia about War Costs is Costly
Americans like to think of the United States as a uniquely blessed and noble nation. Chants of “USA, USA” or “We’re # 1” are commonplace at international sporting events, party conventions, or impromptu celebrations following the killing of arch-villains like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. And yet when we measure and compare important social welfare indicators of the United States to that of other developed countries it turns out we aren’t number 1. In fact our nation does very poorly relative to others.
The United States has higher incidences of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and gender inequality; greater anxiety, fear, and stress; lower life expectancy; higher rates of infant mortality, child poverty, and incidences of obesity; greater social stratification and concentrations of poverty; poorer educational performance and lower literacy rates; more teenage births, violent crime, and homicides; poorer health outcomes and higher costs; higher imprisonment rates, prison population, and more punitive prison practices; less generosity, including fewer funds for foreign aid; and, lower social mobility.
The United States does rank high in two categories that explain its poor showing above: It is among the most unequal of all developed countries in terms of distribution of income and wealth (equity is closely associated with positive social outcomes and inequality with poor outcomes); and, it spends almost as much money on militarism and war (“national security”) as the rest of the world combined.
Consider the following:
•In 2012, Congress devoted 59 cents of every dollar of federal discretionary spending to military purposes.
•The cumulative budget shortfalls of 48 states in 2011 totaled $130 billion, $40 billion less than the U.S. spent that same year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
•The United States will spend more on the war in Afghanistan in 2013 than the entire U.S. budget for food stamps.
•Many small towns, cities and rural communities in Minnesota and elsewhere have laid off police, firefighters, and teachers, and slashed essential services in response to cuts in state aid and/or federal cuts to Community Development Block Grants.
•Minnesota taxpayer spending for war far exceeds the state’s budget deficits with Minnesotans having spent nearly $5 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghan wars in 2011 alone, bringing total Minnesota taxpayer spending for these wars to nearly $40 billion.
•In addition to these costly wars Minnesota tax payers are spending more than $16 billion in 2012 for our share of the base Pentagon budget, a budget that increased from $290.5 billion to $526 billion between 2000 and 2011.
We would do well to remember Martin Luther King’s prophetic warning that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death;” and President Eisenhower’s insights that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…”
Election years are dominated by competing claims about which political party or candidate is most responsible for the nation’s economic problems and competing promises about solutions. Claims and counterclaims are echoed by the mainstream media and through an endless stream of misleading ads. These ads are financed by millions of dollars from “Super PACs” and from nonprofit “social welfare” organizations that can spend unlimited funds without disclosing the identities of donors. This corporate-driven, money-constricted system means our democracy is sick. It has infected both major parties with illnesses that are crippling. In fact, if U.S. democracy were a patient then it would be fair to say it is in critical condition, on life-support, with no guarantees of return to health.
The fact that we have a money-driven political system doesn’t mean that there are no meaningful differences between the two major parties. What is surprising, however, is how little attention is being directed at the bipartisan support for the militarization of federal budget priorities and war spending that hurts the economy and undermines the social fabric of our nation.
As we arrive at the 11th anniversary of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it is clear that our nation desperately needs to better balance its approach to national security to include the economic, social, and environmental needs of our communities, state, and nation. If we are to do so we will need to see connections between federal spending priorities that privilege war and unmet needs in our local communities.
In October the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (http://www.mnasap.org) is partnering with other groups throughout the country to call attention to the high costs of militarization. We are encouraging individuals and local groups to bring a simple resolution before local city councils (or to start a resolutions process). In Minnesota what we are asking is simple:
Therefore be it resolved that we, (insert name of city council here) call on Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Representatives Walz, Kline, Paulsen, McCollum, Ellison, Bachmann, Peterson and Cravaack as well as President Barack Obama, to shift federal funding priorities from war and the interests of the few, to meeting the essential needs of us all.
For information on how you can be part of this city council resolutions campaign visit http://www.mnasap.org or http://newprioritiesnetwork.or…