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American Militarism

There is a massive deception campaign in the US, and in its global propaganda, which seeks to portray the United States as a poor set-upon nation that would like world peace but just has to keep a military stationed around the globe to “police” all the world’s “trouble spots.”

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

That truth is that the US is the biggest war-monger the world has ever known.

Let’s start with its budget. The US, in fiscal year 2012, budgeted a total of $673 billion for the military, plus another $166 billion for military activities of other government departments, such as the nuclear weapons program, much of which is handled by the Department of Energy, or the Veterans Program, which pays for the care and benefits of former military personnel. There’s also another roughly $440 billion in interest paid on the debt from prior wars and military expenditures. All together, that comes to $1.3 trillion, which represents close to 50% of the general budget of the United States — the highest percentage of a government budget devoted to the military of any modern nation in the world — and perhaps of any government of any nation in the world.

That spending represents also the world’s biggest percentage of national gross domestic product devoted to the military (GDP is a measure of all economic activity in a nation). Looking at the other countries with big militaries — China, Russia, Britain and France — not only does not one come even close in terms of the percent of GDP spent on its military, but taken together, all of their expenditures on their military combined total less than half what the US spends by itself.

Since the late 1960s, the US government has engaged in a sleight-of-hand to hide the scale of its military spending from the American people. It has done this by adding to the federal budget the amount of money spent on Social Security, the nation’s retirement program, and Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. This is not a correct accounting however, because both of those programs are actually funded by a separate payroll tax paid by employees and employers, and the resulting trust funds are actually dedicated to the citizens who receive or will receive benefits from the programs. Using that fraud, the government and the politicians are able to claim that the US “only” spends 24% of the budget on military. Even that would be far above what is spent by any other nation in the world, but it is actually only half of what the US really spends as a share of its general budget.

One reason the US military budget is so huge is that the US operates some 900 bases abroad, in what amounts to a program of global empire. It is estimated that the cost of keeping those bases operating is about $250 billion. Empire costs a lot more than that though. There’s also the cost of operating a global fleet of ships, including incredibly costly aircraft carrier battle groups. That cost, surely in excess of $100 billion when the cost of the ships is factored in, doesn’t get broken out by the Pentagon.

Then, there is another way the US is the world’s biggest war-monger. This is in its role as the world’s biggest arms merchant. In 2011, the US sold more than $66 billion in arms to the rest of the world, often, as in the case of India and Pakistan, or India and China, or Israel and Egypt  and Saudi Arabia, selling weapons to countries that are mutually hostile to each other or even, as in the case of India and Pakistan, in a state of active conflict along their border. That $66 billion — an all-time record for the US — was an astonishing and depressing 78 percent of the global arms market for the year.  Russia was the second biggest arms dealer, selling only a paltry $4.8 billion in weapons to the rest of the world.

None of these weapons the US is selling makes either the US or the world any safer.

Indeed, two of the biggest recipients of US military “aid” and weapons sales are Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi regime last year purchased $30 billion in arms from the US that year. Meanwhile the US has been providing Israel with $3 billion in outright military aid each year for years. Israel also buys billions of dollars in weapons from the US each year. Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship and a promoter of instability within Syria, while it also props up dictatorships in countries like Yemen and Bahrain. In other countries, like Israel or Colombia, US aid encourages military actions which could lead to conflicts that would inevitably draw the US in as a participant.

The truth is that none of America’s military spending makes the US safer. While GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, caught in some bizarre time warp, may think Russia is America’s “biggest enemy,” the reality is that there is no nation on earth that poses any military threat to the US itself, and to the extent that terrorism might constitute a threat of some kind, America’s trillion-dollar military is virtually useless against such small scale secret actions, which call for a police response, not a carrier battle group or a nuke.

There’s a good reason one doesn’t see fanatics traveling to Brazil or China or New Zealand to blow things up: Those countries aren’t stationing their troops within other countries’ borders, and aren’t selling weapons to countries that threaten their neighbors.

The US government tells Americans that all that money they are spending on the military is designed to “protect” them from harm. In fact, the evidence over the years is that it is making Americans more vulnerable and less safe. Not only that, but the wars that the US has started over the years — in Indochina, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere –have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of young Americans (and of course to the deaths of millions of people in those countries, most of them civilians).

History has shown that a country that spends half of every tax dollar collected from its citizens on its military cannot hope to prosper. As President Dwight Eisenhower, a former top general in the US military who led US forces in World War II, once famously stated in a 1953 address to a group of newspaper editors:

“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. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Most of the rest of the world isn’t fooled by American government accounting tricks. Being at the barrel end of the gun, people of other countries know how US military spending is a primary cause of war and terror in the world. But we Americans ourselves need to wake up to the massive damage that our military-obsessed political system is doing to our country, lest it ultimately destroys us.  There is a clear reason that social programs in the US are threatened, that the economy is in a prolonged depression, that our education system is collapsing, and that our standing in the world has plummeted. It is our militarism, and the incredible amount of the national wealth that is being spent on it.

Dave Lindorff is a  founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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