An Open Letter to Our Congressional Leaders on Military Budget Cuts:
On the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, I'd like to call attention to the closing line from his Second Inaugural Address: "...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Given that the U.S. still accounts for nearly half the world's spending on war, and preparations for war--given that we lead the world in arms sales--given that we have far and away the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons--and given that the Federal government still spends half its discretionary budget on war, and preparations for war--can we honestly say that we are living up to Honest Abe's charge?
And if not, shouldn't we be discussing what we might do differently?
During this week's crucial stimulus battle, the newspapers have been filled with discussion of the "high cost" of the Democratic leadership's recovery package(s), with the usual pundit fear-mongering over the deficit, with editorial applause for last-minute cuts in weatherization/school reconstruction/health care, and with comments on the supposed need to find equivalent "savings" in other domestic programs, perhaps even Social Security and Medicare.
Yet there is one budget topic that is rarely discussed inside the D.C. Beltway--our massive, unstable, and unsustainable war economy. This seems like a huge oversight, since this is one of the few places remaining where real money can be found to fund the programs that President Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership promised during the 2008 campaign, including a new "green jobs" economy, health care for everyone, and union jobs with good wages and benefits.
We know the military budget--plus the war spending--skyrocketed during the Bush/Cheney years.
So why don't we look across the Potomac River to the Department of Defense, which has enjoyed those massive Bush/Cheney funding increases? After all, it's been two decades since the Berlin Wall and the Cold War collapsed, and six years since everyone but Dick Cheney admitted that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq--so do we really still need all the entire, expensive DOD wish list?
We just cannot afford the many costly weapons systems our war economy now desires--first, because we need the money for domestic programs; and second, because military spending does not create nearly as many new jobs as does spending on weatherization, mass transit construction, education, or health care.
So, for example, if we need to find hundreds of billions of dollars to put America back to work, provide health care for those left out, and build a sustainable new "green economy" that makes Mideast oil obsolete, why would we ever continue down the F-35 runway, spending massive amounts on one of the most expensive weapons system ever? We should cancel the delayed, not-very-stealthy, way-over-budget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with its estimated hundreds and hundreds of billions--perhaps even one trillion--dollars cost!
Think about the F-35's cost for a minute. Over its life cycle, the Joint Strike Fighter is now expected to cost just about as much as the stimulus package deal announced yesterday. Does that make any sense, in a time of economic--not military--crisis?
Can we afford the next allotment of F22 Raptors, which still have no mission? Would Honest Abe Lincoln approve of the V-22 Osprey, which even Dick Cheney once tried to kill? Can anyone tell me the strategic purpose of either the DDG-1000 destroyer or the Virginia class submarine?
No, I didn't think so.
If we want to turn the page on the recent past, and show the world the new face of America, we must end the occupation of Iraq, as the President and the leadership in the Congress have promised. We should remember the tragedy of LBJ & Vietnam, and refuse to fall into the trap of a larger war in Afghanistan. We should release all documents from the Bush/Cheney secret files and let the legal chips fall where they may, in keeping with our new President's commitment to the U.S. Constitution and to transparency. We should shut off dangerous and costly efforts to militarize space. And we should not only close down the torture camp at Guantanamo, we should shut down several hundred other overseas bases. After all, America was founded in opposition to Empire, not to become one.
Since President Obama has made it clear that he is serious about keeping his promise to reverse the nuclear arms race, the Congress should help him negotiate big cuts in our nuclear stockpiles--it would make the world a much safer place.
And since we know the future depends on developing a sustainable green economy, why not convert our national weapons labs completely to anti-nuclear-proliferation work and to alternative energy R&D? Aren't "loose nukes" and climate change two of our true security threats?
Lincoln's message to us, near the end of a bloody civil war, was that America's leaders should do all that they could to "...achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."
If Abe Lincoln took a look at our spending habits today, wouldn't he have to conclude that America has not heard his message? Wouldn't he be forced to conclude that our hearts and minds are not committed to a just and lasting peace, but instead to a growing and incendiary arms race?
I do not believe that the current Federal budget really reflects where most Americans' hearts are. Our people are not comfortable with spending half our treasure on a military/industrial/petroleum complex while millions of Americans suffer without health care, pensions, good schools, affordable housing, even bridges and levees...
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an open admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. So perhaps it's appropriate to end with a reminder that Dr. King also warned us about an immoral war and the growing nightmare of a permanent war economy.
He called for a "true revolution of values," and worried aloud whether the "giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
America's greatest prophet taught us: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
America's greatest President called on us to "...achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."
So I ask you, the Honorable Majority Leader, Madame Speaker, and all the elected Members of the Senate & House--don't you agree that it's time to pay them some mind?