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Kick the Habit: Fund Our Communities, Not War

Like a crack addict reaching for the next hit, unable to envision or take steps toward a regimen of health, too many of our political leaders are embracing their roles as hostages of what President Eisenhower termed the military-industrial complex.

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Question to Rev. Ulises Torres (former tortured Chilean political prisoner): “When do you know if you have a military government?”

Answer: “Look at your national budget.”

Like a crack addict reaching for the next hit, unable to envision or take steps toward a regimen of health, too many of our political leaders are embracing their roles as hostages of what President Eisenhower termed the military-industrial complex. Nationally, Lockheed-Martin and other weapons manufacturers have threatened to put an election year political gun to Congress’ head. They’ve announced that they will have to send layoff notices to all of their employees unless Congress reneges on the Budget Control Act of 2011, which would cut roughly 12 percent of the Pentagon’s gargantuan budget over the next decade. They haven’t expressed similar concern over the act’s $600 billion to be slashed from essential and already underfunded social services.

As far as these arms dealers are concerned, House of Representative Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s vision for America, government spending essentially limited to maintaining our foreign legions and gulags that already hold two million prisoners, most people of color, would be just fine. Meanwhile, here in my home state of Massachusetts, like Chicken Little, our lieutenant governor is warning that thousands of jobs and billions of dollars would be lost to the state’s economy if military bases in the Commonwealth are closed.

Would that they would take a few moments to read the recent University of Massachusetts study, “Military Spending and Jobs in Massachusetts.” Similar to other studies, it informs us that “job loss would be approximately 15-20% greater if non-military programs were cut instead” and that “if federal dollars coming into the state were shifted from military to education, construction, healthcare or clean energy some 27% to 134% more jobs would be created.”

After more than a decade of nationally self-defeating wars, the near doubling of the Pentagon’s already out-sized budget, our economic meltdown and the loss of essential social services from fire fighters and police to teachers and those who maintain our 20th century infrastructure, you’d think that we’d be thinking more critically. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the national budget crisis is not an act of God. It’s a legacy of our self-identified “war president” George Bush, who doubled military spending as he led the nation into two disastrous wars and revised national tax policies to take from teachers and cops so that billionaires could double and triple their fortunes.

While too much of the media uncritically echoes the dire warnings from Lockheed and the right-wing think tanks that any cuts in military spending will leave us vulnerable to terrorists, China and perhaps even Venezuela, the reality is that US military spending equals that of the world’s seventeen next biggest military spenders – combined! The Pentagon’s research and development budget alone is roughly equal to China’s entire military budget! Despite his announced commitment to creating a nuclear weapons-free world, in order to win Senate ratification of the New START arms control treaty with Russia, President Obama agreed to increase spending for nuclear weapons and their delivery systems by $185 billion in the coming decade. And then, there’s the trillion dollars the Pentagon plans to spend to build and operate the new F-35 jet fighter that is as outmoded as the cold war.

I was never a fan of Republican President Eisenhower. After all, it was Ike who threatened to initiate nuclear war against Korea, China and even Lebanon, and who brought on the Vietnam War. But he was pretty much on point when he began his presidency with post-WWII economic revitalization as his priority. He taught the American people 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 not clothed … This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.” As he left office, it was Ike who warned that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military industrial complex” whose “total influence – economic, political and even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.”

Fifty years on, that complex has become a state within a state, undermining our real security.

As we have been reminded by the Arab Spring, Burma’s turn toward democracy and the Occupy movement, democratic change to address real human needs and affirm our rights and dignity requires a bit of chutzpah. Instead of kowtowing to the Daddy Warbucks of our era, it’s time to press our political leaders to learn from the University of Massachusetts study and to have the courage to speak truth to power, prophetically showing us and the nation the way. We need real job creation, not more nuclear weapons, missiles and outdated fighter aircraft.

Today, Germany is regarded as having the healthiest, if most obstinate, European economy, far healthier than ours. One reason is that they spend only 1.5 percent of their gross domestic product on their military, not our 4.06 percent, according to “The CIA World Factbook CIA World Factbook.” They recognize that a nation’s future lies in educating its youth and guaranteeing that every qualified student gets a college education without taking on crippling financial burdens. And like other advancing nations, Germany is investing in the infrastructures and technologies needed to compete in the 21st century.

For real security, we need an end to foreclosures. We need schools with enough books for all of our children. We are entitled to the knowledge that we will not die prematurely for want of medical care and access to the Internet equal to that of … South Korea!

Instead of pleading to waste still more tax dollars by holding onto redundant military bases and deploying Rumsfeld’s Prompt Global Strike weapons systems, new nukes and more missiles, it’s past time to demand that we fund our communities – including job training and creation for displaced military-industrial complex workers – not war. With campaigns like Massachusetts’ Budget for All referenda, it is time to resist, not embrace, the military-industrial complex’s extortion. Just as Massachusetts’ political leaders were sent to Congress to oppose slavery a century and a half ago and to lead the 1980s nuclear weapons freeze campaign, it’s time for them to say, “Enough!” We deserve real security.