By: Mike Svob
As the dreaded “fiscal cliff” draws near, with the prospect of hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts in defense and domestic programs during the next decade, the political wailing grows louder by the day.
Most of all, the massive “sequestration” cuts that loom before a feckless Congress on Jan. 1 have raised the fear that our military will be crippled, thus increasing our vulnerability in a dangerous world.
Instead of a Chicken Little reaction to the possibility of defense cuts, we should consider the situation as an opportunity for reassessment of our gargantuan commitment to militarism.
Thanks to the steady drumbeat of American exceptionalists and the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about, the United States has turned its “national defense” system into a bloated, colossally expensive and self-perpetuating sacred cow.
Despite our self-image as a peaceful beacon to the world, we have historically been inclined to pursue American interests by force of arms.
It began with our near-annihilation of Native Americans and has continued with a long list of aggressions that include the brutal seizure of half of Mexico, countless military “interventions” in virtually every Latin American nation, the repeated dispatching of soldiers to China, Indonesia, Hawaii, the Philippines, Lebanon, Haiti and many other countries, and most recently the disastrous wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lessons of our addiction to arms are apparent.
The fear that causes us to arm against every danger, real and imagined, leads other nations (such as China) to react in kind.
Enormous expenditures on the military add to our national indebtedness and drain resources from aspects of our lives that are much more important, such as health care, education, infrastructure and social programs.
When military personnel, equipment, and materiel are available in abundance, there is a tendency to use them whenever there is a perceived need to “protect national interests” or to assert our self-appointed role as international moral arbiter and disseminator of democracy.
Spread redundantly across the planet with hundreds of military bases and installations, our military requires an annual budget well over $700 billion (closer to $1 trillion when military pensions, Veterans Affairs and other costs are added in) – a grossly disproportionate share of the total spent on defense by all of the governments of the world combined.
Worse than the expense is the unspeakable toll of deaths, wounds and other suffering incurred not only by our military personnel but also by the countries that we impose ourselves upon.
At best, the existence of the military establishment is a necessary evil, an entity that must be maintained at a reasonable level sufficient to defend our nation from foreign threats.
How welcome it would be (but, alas, unlikely) if at least a sizable portion of the defense budget were redirected to real human needs. Imagine the millions of jobs that could be created in health, education, construction, energy and other productive fields to replace positions that are now involved in the service of war.
Mike Svob, a retired professor of language and literature and an administrator in several colleges and universities of Illinois and Indiana, is active as a volunteer in numerous Tucson agencies.