CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While people have been focusing on whether our nation will, like a runaway train, go over a “fiscal cliff,” major media and public attention suddenly shifted to the slaughter of children in Newtown, Conn., and the subject of guns.
The reported discovery that the weaponry used in the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School was “similar to weapons used by troops in Afghanistan” was disturbing to say the least.
Sad but true, too often it is a tragic event, one involving bloodshed, that surfaces important questions about subjects that need attention but are avoided. Newtown prompts a national discussion in search of answers about violence.
A lively discussion is already in progress. Do we need stricter gun laws, a ban on certain weapons? Should we be addressing mental health issues to thwart future violent episodes? Is excessive media coverage of violence contributing to the problem? Are violent movies and video games to blame? Is God punishing us, through the barrel of a gun, because we are a sinful nation?
There is one question, however, that has not surfaced. Is there an underlying connection between the violence in Afghanistan and the violence that erupted in Newtown? My answer is yes.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw the connection between homegrown violence and war. Speaking at Riverside Church in New York City just one year before he fell victim to a bullet in Memphis, teaching young people about the power of practicing nonviolence in their communities, he said they confronted him with the observation that their own nation was using massive doses of violence in Vietnam. Dr. King then came to the awareness that he could not address violence at home “without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
Washington, once past the fiscal cliff debacle, will face a budget loaded with huge military expenditures. The $100 billion proposed cut may sound like a lot of money, but it is minimal when the full extent of military support is considered.
Consider the outdated Pentagon approach to military deployment. Our nation has more than 1,000 military bases scattered across the world, many of them in place since World War II and the Cold War. The Pentagon says we spend $22.1 billion a year in support of those bases. In fact, when the hidden costs surface, the annual total is about $170 billion. That on top of the $1.38 trillion wasted on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One budgetary answer searching for political support is to reduce the expenditure by closing bases and bringing troops home, not redeploying them to new military sites. Case in point, the Pentagon is shifting weapons like the B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers and Global Hawk drones to the Pacific from the Middle East and southwest Asia as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Look for a Marine deployment to Australia in the spring.
Then there is the matter of a wasteful Pentagon and the military outsourcing. Retired Army officer Andrew Bacevich writes about “the mountain of evidence showing that Pentagon Inc. is a miserably managed enterprise: hidebound, bloated, slow-moving and prone to wasting resources on a prodigious scale — nowhere more so than in weapons procurement and the outsourcing of previously military functions to contractors.”
Blowback is another issue. In Newtown, Adam Lanza turned the very weapons his mother had put into his hands back on her. Likewise, exported military weapons get turned back on us. We spread weapons years ago in Afghanistan, and most recently in Iraq and Libya, that were then aimed at our troops and other Americans. Shudder at the fact that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden once were armed allies.
Money that flies under the radar is a huge issue. Congress talks about cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and social programs vital to the most vulnerable Americans, but, as Forbes magazine points out, “You won’t hear a word about the huge eavesdropping satellites the military has been launching, the biggest satellites ever built. You won’t hear about the intelligence missions that U.S. submarines are silently conducting in the eastern Mediterranean and Yellow Sea. You won’t hear about the sprawling complex near Baltimore that monitors billions of emails every day.”
Flying under the budgetary radar is the money allocated to our government’s 17 bloated, repetitious and disconnected intelligence agencies engaged in the “global war on terror.” Consider the shadowy presence of the drone warfare being carried out secretly by our CIA with money impossible to detect as military expenditures.
And always there are the lobbyists. It is no secret that the corporate lobbying system undergirds our nation’s political establishment. This is particularly true when it comes to the military industrial complex — those companies producing weapons. For example, Israel’s 19 F-35s, the most technologically advanced stealth fighter jet ever made, at a cost of $2.75 billion, are purchased directly from Lockheed Martin by Israel with U.S. money. Sales from U.S.-based companies accounted for over 60 percent of all arms sales by the top 100 producers in 2010, with Lockheed Martin topping the list at $35.7 billion.
Slaughtering children with military weaponry here in the United States is unacceptable. Likewise, scattering U.S. troops, money and weaponry all over the world in order to establish peace and security is unacceptable. It is a cliff we must avoid.
The Rev. Lewis is an Episcopal priest in Charleston.