At a time when we regularly offer our wishes for peace on Earth, it’s worth considering whether our priorities as a country truly match our hopes for the season.
For a country that likes to talk of peace, America spends far more than any other country on war. The American war machine is unlike anything that has ever existed in world history, and it comes at tremendous cost, both in resources expended and in opportunities lost.
Earlier this month, as Americans began to gather to sing songs of joy and peace, our representatives in Washington approved a new defense bill authorizing spending $770 billion for the 2022 fiscal year. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking a budget allocation of $270 billion for next year. Combined, that’s a total of $1.04 trillion that America is expected to spend for its military next year.
That dwarfs every other country on Earth. Indeed, it surpasses the military spending of the next 11 largest militaries combined, including China and Russia. At least the Chinese and Russians can point to realistic national security threats, since they both maintain extensive borders with multiple countries, some without friendly relations.
That, of course, is not the case with the United States, which is isolated by vast oceans and maintains borders only with friendly nations that spend little on weapons of war. In terms of the traditional view of national security, there are few nations on Earth as secure as the United States, simply by the fact of its physical size, large population, and remoteness from potential enemies, yet we spend vast sums purportedly for national defense.
We’ve already seen that all that spending yields little in terms of enhanced security. It turns out there is no military solution to terrorism, for example, since it’s a method of warfare that we remain ill-equipped to address more than 20 years after the 9/11 attacks. We spent more than a trillion dollars and wasted tens of thousands of lives in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, and we ended up right back where we started, with the Taliban in charge.
As tornados ripped through the country’s mid-section earlier this month or as COVID-19 killed more than 800,000 Americans over the past 20 months, it should be obvious to all that a gargantuan military machine has no value in addressing the real threats we face as a nation.
We face a nearly existential threat from climate change, which has the potential to devastate U.S. food production, flood our coastal cities, worsen pandemics, and make much of the southern U.S. uninhabitable. Yet, members of Congress can find any number of objections to levels of spending to address this threat that would be mere rounding errors to the Pentagon. Our nation’s infrastructure was neglected for decades because we poured unimaginable resources into a bloated Defense Department that has long been the nation’s single biggest contributor to climate change.
It’s no coincidence that America is the only developed country without some form of universal health insurance. It’s the same thing with a host of safety net investments that could make life so much easier for middle class Americans, and which most of our European cousins take for granted. Far from discouraging work, as some Americans have been told to believe, such safety net programs have engendered a higher workforce participation rate, higher job and life satisfaction, and greater upward mobility in European and Scandinavian countries than in the U.S. Other countries can afford to invest in retraining their workers and retooling their communities for economic vitality because they aren’t saddled by a military-industrial complex that sucks vast sums every year from their nation’s budget.
America is a poorer, less happy, and less dynamic country because we have fallen victim to the machinations of a powerful industrial sector that ensures its lavish excesses through its propaganda that keeps the American public living in fear when we are, in reality, the safest country on Earth, with or without our massive military. What threats we do face are, more often than not, the direct result of our military’s heavy-handed tactics around the world. We kill innocents by the thousands and chalk it all up as collateral damage. We overthrow democratically-elected governments if we don’t like their policies and then wonder why other countries view our intentions with skepticism.
America will never live up to its ideals, or even its rhetoric, until we recognize the truth in the words of former General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Truer words were never spoken by an American leader.
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