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Children at “March For Our Lives” events carried signs saying, “I am more important than your gun.” This is a potent message regarding gun control. It is also a message that should be applied to our nation and its spending priorities. People are more important than guns. People are more important than war. People are more important than our obsession with national “security.” But many politicians don’t understand that guns don’t make our schools, or our communities, safe. Neither do guns make the world safe.
Our huge, excessive spending on war, and preparation for war, does not keep us safe. It does not keep us free. It does not prevent terrorism. It just kills people, destroys countries, and wastes money. We have been spending over half our annual federal budgets on national defense since the end of WW2. We have by far the most powerful and most expensive military in the world. But all that power did not prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After 17 years in Afghanistan we are loosing. It is ludicrous to claim we have done anything good for the people of Iraq. We are repeating the mistakes in Syria.
One of the many costs of war is the value of everything we could have done with the resources spent on war. Back in 1953, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower said,
“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 huge amounts we spend on national defense could be better used for human needs that actually sustain people, our communities, the economy, and the planet we live on.
We would be safer if the United States of America was the world leader in mediation rather than military intervention. The world would be more peaceful if the U.S. was the number one arbitrator instead of the number one arms dealer. We could be leading the world to ban nuclear weapons, landmines, and cluster bombs. Instead we are the major hindrance to these sensible steps toward a safer world. A small faction of the dollars wasted on war could have made many friends around the world, mitigated many problems, and built many diplomatic bridges.
World Beyond War has a short video that discusses these issues. Entitled “What can you get for $2 trillion?” (http://worldbeyondwar.org/moneyvideo) this 10 minute video is a must see.
The $1.3 trillion budget just passed by Congress continues the pattern. This budget increases military spending $81 billion this year. The Department of Defense budget will be $700 billion. This is double the current budget of the State Department. It is larger than the entire military budget of any other country except China.
How big is $700 billion? For most of us these big numbers don’t mean anything. We can’t understand the magnitude because we have no experience using numbers this large. As William Hartung of the Center for International Policy points out,
“Most Americans are probably aware that the Pentagon spends a lot of money, but it’s unlikely they grasp just how huge those sums really are. All too often, astonishingly lavish military budgets are treated as if they were part of the natural order, such as death or taxes.”
Let’s put the numbers in perspective. If we let one inch equal $1 billion, $700 billion in Pentagon spending would be over 58 feet high. All other discretionary spending would be less than 6 feet high. The State Department and its important diplomatic work is only 3 ½ feet high. The Centers for Disease Control is only 7 inches!
These perverse spending priorities are not about “supporting the troops.” Most of the money does not go for personnel support or costs. It goes to weapons programs, overseas bases, and war costs. It supports an estimated 600,000 defense contractors all over the world. The planned trillion dollar “modernization” of nuclear weapons includes money for new missiles, long range bombers, ships, and submarines. Military. com, an online magazine for military personnel, says the increased spending will buy the Navy 14 new ships, including another aircraft carrier. The Air Force adds 56 F-35s. The Army gets 17 Apache and 11 Lakota helicopters. The Marine Corps receives 24 vertical landing F-35Bs. The Coast Guard, gets a new icebreaker.
All this is what Martin Luther King was talking about when he said,
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Liberals are not the only critics of excessive military spending. Listen to Dan Caldwell, USMC (Ret.) and Executive Director for Concerned Veterans for America,
“If we are going to effectively tackle the long-term national security threat posed by our national debt, then we need to seriously examine how our defense dollars are being spent. Waste and inefficiency within the Pentagon not only contributes to our nation’s debt and deficit, it also diminishes the effectiveness of our nation’s armed forces.”
There are many ways to save money on defense and not hurt national security. We must demand more fiscal responsibility and reject endless military spending increases. We only short change ourselves, our communities, and our future when vital public services are neglected to pay for more guns. People are more important than guns.