I was in the grocery store a while back when, after my items were tabulated, the checkout clerk asked, “Would you like to contribute to the Wounded Warriors fund?”
I glanced at the line of people to my left — a little cross-section of America — and feeling a little skeptical about how they’d respond, I said, “No I don’t think so. I’d rather put my money towards some anti-war organization working to try and make sure that there are no more wounded soldiers, and to relief organizations that are supporting the hundreds of thousands of victims of America’s illegal wars abroad.”
The clerk looked a little taken aback and muttered “okay,” but to my surprise, nobody spoke up in the line. I was expecting at least one person to call me out as a “terrorist supporter” or a “commie” or who knows what, but instead there was just silence.
Maybe people were thinking about it. Maybe they just didn’t know how to react.
But in any case I think it’s past time that we on the anti-war left started making it clear that this glorification of American wars, the thanking of people in uniform for their “service,” and the blind acceptance of the prevailing argument that everyone in the military is “defending our freedom,” has to be challenged at every opportunity.
Look at the map of the globe. According to Nick Turse, writing in the Nation magazine and quoting information from Ken McGraw, a spokesman for troops are fighting in the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, US Special Forces are stationed in 177 countries, and on any given day are conducting missions — actual or training missions — in 80-90 of them. As we saw recently with the deaths of several Green Berets in Niger, even members of Congress with a need-to-know responsibility, like those on the Intelligence Committees and Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate, don’t know (or claim they don’t know) where all those operations and those Special Forces are.
As well, US troops are fighting hot wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, most of them completely illegal, like most of the Special Operations actions, and the drone wars in a host of other countries from Pakistan and Yemen to Somalia, Sudan and, of course, Syria again.
Not a single one of those operations involve anything that remotely threatens the security of the United States, nor are those troops — regular or Special Forces — in any way “defending our freedom,” which is not under serious threat by any country in the world which cannot be addressed by foreign and domestic police and the FBI.
There are terrorist groups that might like to blow something up in the US, but actually, the threat of terrorism has only grown exponentially the more war-making the US has engaged in. Even many military experts say that the US drone killings and the special ops attacks abroad, which tend to kill more innocent people than actual “terrorists,” only produce more angry people willing to try to take revenge on Americans within their reach, so that approach is clearly doing nothing to “defend” our freedom or our safety.
Meanwhile, many of the people deemed to be terrorists are actually more accurately described as “freedom fighters” themselves. Take the Taliban. We may not agree with their medieval religious views, particularly about women, but the fact is that they have never sought to attack America as terrorists, foreign and especially domestic, have done, but have been fighting to drive foreign fighters — primarily American, out of their country. (While the US refers to Taliban attacks on US forces and private contractors in Afghanistan as “terrorism” they are actually acts of war by an armed national resistance.) Indeed the Taliban more closely resemble our own celebrated anti-colonial rebels of 1776 than they do the terrorists of Al Qaeda.
Furthermore, if the truth be told, the US, through the Pentagon and the CIA, has long been providing arms and training to Al Qaeda-linked groups in both Libya and Syria for years, and actually created or helped create Al Qaeda in the first place. How is that “defending our freedom”?
National security is a lot of things. The intermediate range nuclear missile treaty negotiated by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 represented a huge improvement in the national security of both the US and the USSR, and didn’t involve any fighting at all. The same could be said about the recent agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and the government of Iran, guaranteeing as it does (at least so far despite opposition and threats by the Trump administration not to honor its commitments), that Iran will not seek to develop nuclear weapons for at least a decade.
The evidence clearly shows that national security is far better achieved by intelligent diplomacy than by war.
The current Korea crisis provides a good example. The fact is that over half a century of overt and aggressive hostility by the US towards the mere existence of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea to Americans) has led not to more security for either the US or its client state, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), but rather to the DPRK’s long and ultimately successful effort to protect itself by becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, with both nuclear bombs and missiles capable of delivering them across the Pacific to US targets. How’s that for “defending our freedom”?
Had the US, years or decades ago, agreed to finally negotiate an end to the Korean War, instead of leaving it in an unstable limbo with no formal conclusion, all the while calling for an end to the government in the north, the government in Pyongyang would never have felt it necessary to achieve nuclear power status.
If we had wanted to convince Kim Jong-un of the urgency of the DPRK’s becoming a nuclear power, we couldn’t have done it better than by launching an undeclared war to oust the leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafy, from power, brutally killing him in the process—a campaign that destroyed one of the most modern states in Africa or the Middle East and left it in a state of bloody chaos, spreading deadly weapons all across the Middle East.
National security also means having a society that functions well for all its citizens, providing them with jobs that pay a living wage, with health care, with education, with a safe, sustainable environment, and with a secure old age. On all those counts, the US is a catastrophic failure. Hell, I just heard a report that 1.5 million school children in this country do not have a home to live in, and are going to school each day from shelters or from the homes of friends or relatives who have taken them in because they’ve lost their homes. This in the richest country in the world!
In 2016, over 40 million of 320 million Americans were classed as food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough food for an active and healthy life. Again, this is in the richest country in the world.
The US is also one of the few developed countries in the world where college is not free or virtually free to all those who are admitted. Instead, we have college grads or people who have had to drop out of college who hold a total of $1.48 trillion (yes that’s a T) in outstanding college loan debt, much of it carrying extortionate interest rates of 6% or more.
The reason we have these outrages in the US should be obvious, but isn’t, because the corporate media never really mention it, and when they do, don’t mention it relates to the above, and other, national crises. It is military spending, which, when fully counted to include Veterans benefits and health care, the huge secret intelligence budget, the budget for the Energy Department, which is mostly for the huge US nuclear stockpile, and of course interest on the debt for the funds borrowed to pay for America’s military and its endless wars, ads up to some $1.3 trillion a year and rising. That figure represents 54% of all discretionary spending in the federal budget.
So no. I’m not supporting private charity funding for America’s wounded soldiers. That is a cost that should properly be borne by the US taxpayer. Nor do I agree that our men and women in uniform are “defending our freedom,” and I feel no need to thank them for their “service.” I would like to tell them I feel sorry that they were misled into joining, and if they were injured, am all the sorrier, but I hope they will warn other young people not to make the same mistake they did. And I do believe that the American public should support adequate care for them, though it would be far better and more cost-effective to achieve this important goal by simply establishing a “medicare for all” single-payer health care system in which all Americans have access to free, taxpayer-funded health care. Countries where such an approach, or something like Britain’s National Health System, don’t need a special Veterans Administration to finance and provide medical care for military veterans. Their veterans simply get first-rate care like the rest of the citizenry.
It’s time to get the US out of the empire business, out of the endless cycle of wars and special operations actions and targeted drone attacks, out of promoting war and insurgency by providing arms to one or both sides of foreign conflicts, and out of the insane nuclear weapons business.
The way to national security is through peace and negotiation, not through war. Let’s tear down the Pentagon and replace it with a small rectangular building, bring home the 200,000 troops stationed abroad, and shrink the US military budget back to a small fraction of its present size — a size appropriate for a country at peace with the world and secure in its borders.
Lord knows that with all the 300 million-plus guns in private hands in the US, no country would ever dare to invade this place! And once we’ve eliminated that deadly and insidious “military-industrial-complex” that the retiring President Dwight Eisenhower so presciently warned us all against, we can start to really tackle the real threats to Americans’ security: poverty, ignorance, disease and climate change.