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As the U.S. military enjoys enormous budgets ($718 billion this year, rising possibly to $750 billion for 2020), Americans are told not to dream big. There might just be a connection here.
Due to budget deficits (aggravated by the Trump tax cut for the rich), Americans are warned against big projects. Single-payer health care? Forget about it! (Even though it would lead to lower health care costs in the future.) More government support for higher education? Too expensive! Infrastructure improvements? Ditto. Any ambitious government project to help improve the plight of working Americans is quickly dismissed as profligate and wasteful, unless, of course, you’re talking about national security. Then no price is too high to pay.
In short, you can only dream big in America when you focus on the military, weaponry, and war. For a democracy, however, is that not the very definition of insanity?
Consider the words of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic worker movement. She wrote in the early 1950s about poverty as a form of grace, that she was “convinced” America needed such grace, especially at a time “when expenditures reach into the billions to defend ‘our American way of life.’ Maybe this defense will bring down upon us the poverty we are afraid to pray for,” she concluded.
Speaking of “defense,” the title of a recent article at The Guardian put it well: Trump wants to give 62 cents of every dollar to the military. That’s immoral. As Joe Biden once said, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value. The U.S. government has made that plain: more weaponry and more wars. By wildly overspending on the military and driving up deficits, we just may find the grace of poverty that Dorothy Day spoke of. It will indeed come at a very high price, one that will be paid mainly by the already poor and vulnerable.
How to cut the colossal Pentagon budget? It’s not hard. The Air Force doesn’t need new bombers and fighters. The Navy doesn’t need two new aircraft carriers. The Army doesn’t need new tanks and similar “heavy” conventional weaponry. Get rid of the “Space” force. No service needs new “modernized” nuclear weapons. America should have a much smaller military “footprint” overseas. And, to state what should be obvious, America needs to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere while ending the bombing currently in progress in seven countries.
A sane national defense is probably achievable at roughly half of current spending levels. Just think what the U.S. could do with an extra $350 billion or so each year. A single-payer health care system that covers everyone. Better education. Improved infrastructure. A transition to greener fuels. Safe water and a cleaner environment.
But today, the only people lustily singing “Imagine” have changed the lyrics: they’re not dreaming of peace but of more nukes, more weapons, and more wars. And they’re winning.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history who has written for TomDispatch.com, Truthout, History News Network (HNN), Alternet, Salon, Antiwar.com, and Huffington Post among other sites. He is the author or co-author of three books and numerous articles focusing on military history as well as the history of science, technology, and religion.