America is currently at war with between 0 and 134 countries. Constitutionally-required Declarations Of War may be passé, but our war machine limps along vigorously under endless “authorizations for use of military force”. However, war can only be a temporary measure for any society. It may sometimes be necessary but it always costs, and no society can bear the expense forever. Put aside the irreplaceable price in blood… what’s the cost in treasure of our current state of Endless War, what could we do with that treasure instead, and what can we do to turn things around?
How much do we spend on guns and how much butter could it buy? The military budget itself was near $600 billion in 2015 and we’ve spent over $7.6 trillion on war since 2001, but that may be misleading. As Time Magazine noted, while Congress authorized $686 billion for Afghanistan activities the true cost rises to $4-6 trillion when including things like “long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs”. Sticking with the Middle East, Financial Times in 2014 put the cost of the Afghan war alone at $1 trillion and the cost of the Iraq war at $1.7 trillion. The Watson Project on the Costs of War put the total costs of the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq at $4.4 trillion. Not the whole military budget… just those three wars.
Let’s give some money to guns and take only part of it for butter… say $2 trillion. What could that buy here at home?
- We could write a check for $6,172 for each of the 324 million people in the US
- We could pay off about 10% of our national debt at one swipe.
- We’d could pay ALL tuition at public universities for about 30 years, OR ALL post-secondary education across the country for about 20 years, OR ALL EDUCATION across the country including Head Start and pre-school for a year with money left over to buy a LOT of school supplies.
- More than 500,000 people (a quarter of them children) were homeless in 2015. $2 trillion would buy EACH of them a $4 million home.
- $2 trillion would cover the total deferred maintenance of our government-owned infrastructure, 10 high-speed rail lines like the one being built in California, the cost of a Google Fiber network, AND upgrading to a nationwide smart power grid.
- That money could put solar panels on EVERY home in the US.
That’s just six options and we couldn’t have them all; we’d have to choose. But that’s the point… if we had all that money, we’d have those choices. We don’t.
Neither our currently elected leadership nor anyone applying for the job looks likely to change the status quo. Why? Eisenhower’s famous military/industrial complex… in 2012 alone the top 5 weapons suppliers took home $133.9 billion. This money didn’t just fund our military, but also an army of contractors, lawyers, lobbyists to protect the gravy train. In that same 2012, the defense industry spent $136.9 million dollars on lobbyists, who in turn spent it on politicians. And the cycle continues.
We face real threats in the world and a legitimate cost to deal with them, but the military/industrial complex doesn’t stop at “legitimate”. It can’t. We pay a high price in mere dollars and an even higher price in the blood of ourselves and our adversaries, but it doesn’t even stop there. When our values are perverted to the greed of the military/industrial complex we stop being a nation of peace at all; we become the engine of war. The people with our bombs raining down on them aren’t be fooled by platitudes… they’ll be the seed of new generations to hate us. Unless “We The People” stop the cycle.
Take Care and Make a Great Day!