By S. Brian Willson
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense [sic] than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
- Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time To Break Silence,” April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
On a recent visit to my neighborhood library in SE Portland, Oregon, I was asked outside the entrance if I would sign a petition to place a public school bond measure on the fall ballot. Though I support full funding of public schools, I balked. Knowing that Portland libraries are also planning to place a taxing district on the same ballot, I felt fury building up inside of me at how obscene lawless military spending is sucking our nation’s resources dry. I told the person asking for my signature that I would only sign such petition when and if the Portland School Board, Portland City Commissioners and Mayor, and all other City and County entities become part of an active anti-war movement to stop the looting of our Commons by the Military-Industrial-Banking-Congressional-Presidential Complex.
DIRECT Costs Are FELT Only By A Small Percentage of the Public At Large
The US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc., are, in reality, only viscerally experienced by a small percentage of the US American people. No direct taxes on the people have been assessed to fund the wars. They are funded instead by debt. And the absence of general conscription (a military draft) relieves the vast majority of the population from the emotional burden of worrying whether a family member will be forced into military service.
A de facto economic draft does exist whereby those unable to find adequate employment in our economically depressed society are offered a subsidized job track in the military, and trained as combatants or placed in any number of supportive roles in imperial adventures around the globe.
But most members of US society have gone about their lives business as usual, experiencing little anxiety or hardship, indeed, hardly “feeling” the wars.
INDIRECT Costs Severely Affecting the 99 Percent
However, even though the direct, experiential costs of US wars have been largely absent in popular discussion and politically unaccounted for, the resulting residual costs are enormous. The national resource base has been so severely drained by war costs that we are in domestic “austerity” budgeting. An audit of the Federal Reserve has revealed $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out US American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. That is equivalent to our National Debt. That amounts to more than $50,000 for every man, woman and child, enough to revive a healthy main street. Meanwhile four million homeowners lost their homes to foreclosures due to massive collusion between Wall Street and banks in granting fraudulent mortgages. Every foreclosed homeowner could have been publicly refinanced instead.
As of September 11, 2012, the National Priorities Project (NPP) estimates the actual cost of US wars since September 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan at nearly $1,372 Trillion dollars [http://costofwar.com/]
Other studies estimate total war costs will reach $4.4 Trillion (Cost of war at least $3.7 trillion and counting, by Daniel Trotta , Reuters, Jun 29, 2012) or even $6 Trillion (Misery Rising: American Freefall by Paul Craig Roberts, CounterPunch, July 09, 2012).
These are non-human costs. The human costs in Iraq and Afghanistan lives, not to mention public and private military forces and mercenaries from the US, is immense. The website, unknownnews.org/casualties.html, estimates total Iraqis killed (murdered) since the US invasion in 2003 at about 895,000, with another 1,646,000 injured (maimed). The comparable figures for Afghanistan are 17,400 killed (murdered) and 41,625 injured (maimed). US public and private military and mercenaries, plus “Coalition” troops and journalists killed in Iraq is slightly over 5,800, with nearly 45,000 injured. The comparable figures for Afghanistan are 2,230 killed, and 8,164 injured. Thus, total war casualties are nearly 2,670,000 - over 920,000 killed; nearly 1,750,000 injured.
In the last ten years nearly 2.5 million US soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They come from every town, city and rural area in the country, but reports suggest a disproportionate number of the dead and wounded come from small town USA. Up to 50 percent of those deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or have been victims of military sexual trauma (MST). Treatment costs for returning veterans are immense. Over one million have applied for compensation for injuries.
Suicide among soldiers and veterans is staggering. In 2012 alone, as of early June, 154 active duty soldiers committed suicide, more than were killed in combat during that same period. [“Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops,” NYT, June 8, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/us/suicides-eclipse-war-deaths-for-us-troops.html/]. The suicide rate is 38 per 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, compared to 11.5 for the general public. Eighteen veterans of all wars commit suicide on average every day [“18 veterans commit suicide each day,” Rick Maze, Army Times, Thursday, April 22, 2010].
War IS a LOCAL issue
War drains domestic financial and mental capacity to address critical needs for health care, education, social security, etc., in every community. The outrageous amount of money being siphoned into the military industrial complex, with wars feeding obscene profits to its architects, seriously threatens assurance of resources for a healthy society. US citizens should be assured of a social safety net for all. Instead, US Americans are guaranteed a debt in perpetuity. Meanwhile, the rich get richer; the poor get poorer.
Despite the lack of national discourse on military spending, war is always on our minds. It is promoted in holiday festivities such as Memorial Day, Armistice Day (now called Veteran’s Day), Independence Day and Patriots Day. There are fund drives for soldiers, homecomings, recruitment ads, military band concerts, war video games in every town and city, army-sponsored race cars, war movies and television shows, and war toys. Numerous colleges and universities receive millions in funding from the Department of War (euphemistically called “Defense”) for academic research.
And money for the military and wars totally dominates the entire national budget which in turn deleteriously impacts every political jurisdiction and local economy in the country. Ironically, our extravagant military budget is rarely questioned but cuts for domestic programs are constantly discussed.
The argument that military spending creates jobs is a red herring. A report conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute reveals that every billion dollars of government spending on the military creates 12,000 jobs. But a choice to create tax cuts for the poor would stimulate personal consumption and create 15,000 jobs. The same billion dollars would create 18,000 jobs in assuring health care, 25,000 jobs in education, 27,700 in mass transit.
In effect, grotesque war spending means less money for:
(1) elementary & secondary education;
(2) grants in aid to states and localities;
(3) home energy assistance for low Income households;
(5) community block grants;
(6) special education and assistance for the disadvantaged;
(7) school improvement;
(8) loss of funds for vocational and adult education;
(9) supplemental nutrition WIC program;
(10) children and family Services;
(11) Head Start;
(12) rental assistance vouchers;
(13) children served by child-care assistance;
The NPP estimates of actual cost of recent US wars at over $1,372 Trillion dollars can be broken down for each community.
For Portland, Oregon (http://costofwar.com/state/OR/city/portland/ ) the cost is nearly $1,794,000,000 (Billion). The 2012 US Census estimates Portland’s population at 600,000. Thus the cost of the wars for each man, woman, and child in Portland is about $3,000, with costs continuing to escalate. If the estimated, projected higher national costs reach $4.4 Trillion, or $6 Trillion are calculated, costs to Portland could reach $5,700,000,000 ($9,500 for each Portlander), or perhaps nearly $7,800,000,000 ($13,000 for each Portlander).
Fifty million US Americans now live in poverty with one on every seven requiring food stamps to survive each month. Over 125,000 of Portlanders, or over 20% of the city’s population, are on food stamps. Over 15,000 people in Portland experience homelessness during the year.
The National Debt now stands at nearly $16 Trillion, or $50,000 for every man, woman and child. Each of us is in perpetual debt.
And the disparity between Haves and Have-Nots is felt globally as Occupy has protested austerity measures being felt by much of the world. A study by the Green Party of England discloses that the same global capitalist economic policies that are polluting the planet while depleting its finite resources, have allowed a mere 400 billionaires to acquire assets equal to the combined wealth of 45% of the world’s population.
Immoral and Illegal Wars Created by a Corrupt Political Economy
In addition to direct and indirect costs, these US-led wars are illegal on their face. They make a mockery of our moral and legal authority as a nation, and reveal that in fact we are a nation of (lawless) men, not of law. Over 2,670,000 human beings have been killed or maimed as the consequences of these recent criminal wars in violation of international law, staining further our national character.
The illegality and immorality of these wars, conducted with no accountability or plausible justification, breed a corruption at the top political levels of society that permeates into every aspect of society. Our corrupt economic institutions are profiting obscenely from policies of mass murder.
No war was declared as required by the US Constitution. The United Nations (UN) Charter to which the US is a signatory, allows military action in only two instances: (1) if authorized by the UN Security Council, or (2) if undertaken in self-defense against an existing or imminent armed attack. Neither of these conditions were met or sought. Under Article VI, Clause 2, of the US Constitution, the provisions of the UN Charter are incorporated into the Supreme Law of the Land of the United States, and therefore the US violated both the UN Charter, and its own Constitution.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004 publicly declared that the US invasion of Iraq was and remains an illegal act contravening the UN Charter. [“Iraq war illegal, says Annan,” BBC, Thursday, 16 September, 2004]. Richard Perle in 2003, when a senior advisor to the Department of Defense Policy Board, admitted that the Iraq war was illegal because the U.S. had broken international law, behavior not consistent with the rules of the UN [“War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal,” Oliver Burkeman and Julian Borger, The Guardian, November 20, 2003].
In fact they are Nuremberg-type crimes, meaning they are the worst of the worst in terms of national and political criminality.
I know a bit about this criminal pattern. In 1969 I was commander of a US Air Force combat security unit in Viet Nam where I witnessed a series of atrocities from the air resulting in the intentional annihilation of entire inhabited and undefended fishing villages. These were international crimes committed by both US and South Vietnamese forces under US command. That war cost US taxpayers nearly $740 Billion in today’s dollars [http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22926.pdf] as it diabolically claimed more than 5 Million lives, 99 percent of whom were innocent Southeast Asia peasants.
Additionally, torture and inhumane treatments have been well documented in US-run prisons in Iraq (Abu Ghraib), Afghanistan (Bagram) and Guantanamo (located in Cuba against the wishes of that country). This behavior constitutes grave breaches of the Geneva Convention; the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ); the Nuremberg Principles; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The seven leaked confidential British Downing Street Memos, dated from March to July 2002, disclose a US and British drive to war a full year before the March 2003 invasion. “War was now seen as inevitable,” while “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” seeking “regime change” without any “basis under international law.” The memos also declared: “There is no recent evidence of Iraq complicity with international terrorism…There is no credible evidence to link Iraq with Usama Bin Laden.” Regarding Iraq’s possession of WMD, the “intelligence is poor.” [“The Downing Street Reader: a cheat sheet on the memos behind the scandal,” The Rolling Stone Blog, June 22, 2005].
The US has been in a virtual permanent war economy since World War II. Increasingly the political economy requires permanent enemies, and functions to assure their creation. Thus, the entire US American system has a vested interest in a permanent state of tension.
The citizens of the US, in their participation through their Congress, President, and their huge military industrial complex, spend more money on their military than any other nation – 45% of the entire world’s expenditures, more than the next 14 nations combined.
The impact of inequality on individuals and society is well established. Social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson concludes that “the quality of social relations in societies is related to the scale of income inequality –how big the gap is between rich and poor. More unequal societies tend to have higher rates of violent crime and homicide, and that people living in them feel more hostility, are less likely to be involved in community life, and are much less likely to trust each other; in short they have lower levels of social capital... Inequality is deeply corrosive...Greater inequality is perhaps the most significant obstacle to the development of an environmentally sustainable level of economic activity.” [Richard Wilkinson (a social epidemiologist), The Impact of Inequality, The New Press, 2005, pp. 24-30].
The Nation is Now Paying the Price; Localities Need to Become Part of Anti-War Movement
The US has doubled its national debt during these wars, making every US American alive today indebted in perpetuity. The domestic budget is being severely cut, requiring draconian cutbacks in education, libraries, medical care such as it is, all social safety net programs, fire and police departments, all city services, etc. Portland’s Fiscal Year 2012-13 budget is nearly $2.85 billion, 3.8% less than the previous year. “Austerity” budgets are being imposed all over the US (and the world) largely due to siphoning of national wealth into wars and the military industrial complex.
This is why every political leader, and all citizens in every jurisdiction – towns, cities, counties and states, and every functional entity within cities, counties and states such as schools and libraries, need to become ardent and loud opponents of the national war and military policy that is enriching the military industrial complex at everyone’s expense. Local communities desperately seek new funds through bond issues and new taxes as programs are being cut. The local people are being asked to pay for the war boondoggles of the rich – private profit, public decay.
Unless everyone gets behind a national popular movement to end the wars, and to severely restrict the Pentagon budget, we as a nation will simply keep eroding into what we call a “Third World” country where a very tiny minority control the lives of the vast majority. A neofeudalism, if you will. Fewer and fewer local residents will be able to afford increased property taxes imposed by bond issues or other local tax increases to keep local jurisdictions afloat as the war economy sucks the nation dry.
War is a local issue! If and when people understand this we the people possess a political opportunity to reclaim our people’s republic. Short of that, we collapse while on our knees with hardly a whisper.