03/12/2013 12:28 pm ET Updated May 12, 2013

In Defense of Defense Cuts

David Whyte, author of The Heart Aroused, a poet turned corporate consultant, mused on an audio-tape decades ago that one might measure the defensive nature of a culture by its defense budget. By that measure we are a super scared nation, about 12 times more afraid than the rest of the world combined. Why is no one jubilating that we are finally mature enough and secure enough to let down some of our uptight defenses? Here's why: it is not PC because we picture empty buildings, shut-down weapons factories and the hardship for displaced families and workers. What if we rather considered this a sudden boon in terms of freed up resources for the good? How about picturing the move from swords to plowshares? After all we seem to be spending more than half of our tax revenues on military stuff and that has been increasing by about 9 percent per year in the last decade. We can afford to open up a little and apply some creative thinking. Military folks know how to do this.

Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, has a neat line, something like: "appreciated resources appreciate in value." She tells the story of a community dying in the African desert for lack of water. She arrived in a dust storm on a mission to see what can be done and asked to meet with the women (not the "deciders" in that culture).They complained to her that the men would not listen to their advice to dig for water. So, impressed with Lynne's western accoutrements, they dig...and sure enough, they were sitting on an underappreciated resource: an aquifer with plenty of water for the community to flourish.

Couldn't all the military personnel and resources contribute phenomenally to the fabric of their communities, like a new aquifer? Couldn't the federal government give up its land, buildings and equipment and literally donate it as a resource for the local community? Couldn't there be contests and the winners with the best ideas would become the stewards of these resources?
Picture charter schools and community colleges flourishing on former military bases. Progressives can thank the Republicans for the blossoming of such schools around the country freeing thousands of children from the obsessive/compulsive testing disorder that plagues our standard public schools; and freeing teachers from the myopic focus on test scores so that they can work holistically within the context of healthy all-around child development.

The concept behind Paul Newman's brilliant success as a businessman should not be forgotten: use under-utilized resources! So Newman began with a cell phone and discovered empty warehouses, redundant trucks, work-forces threatened with possible lay-offs and so he put these "resources" and other natural ingredients together and made...salad dressing!

This is the ingenuity we need in this time of down-sizing government. Let's not be shy about celebrating the reduction of the defense budget and get down to examine what "plowshares" are needed today. What a relief this could be to our national psyche: instead of storing up weapons to train on the world or sell to other military regimes to boost our GDP, we could be using the resources to make a positive impact at home in our communities. Military security has its place, but one secret in the back-rooms of Washington, I am guessing, is that everyone knows the military industrial complex has simply out grown itself, they just can't talk about it. The cuts had to be automatic so that no one or everyone could be blamed at once.

A piece on the Armed Services Committee website refers to a letter to Senators McCain and Graham by Leon Panetta before he left his post at the Pentagon. According to Panetta the cuts would mean:
• The smallest ground force since WWII
• The smallest Navy since before WWI
• The smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force
• The smallest civilian workforce in the history of the Defense Department

The implication is that this is bad news. Let's turn this around.