The cost of taking the easy way out
During the recent season of political campaigning, the issue of military spending once again came to the fore. Some candidates — often the challengers — try to “out due” their opponents by showing more resolve and promising ever more spending “to keep America safe.” Other candidates may try to rein in military spending knowing that they run the risk of looking weak in the eyes of some voters.
Perhaps some examination of the facts would be helpful at this time. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (and supported by other similar studies), the United States spends 45 percent of the total world budget on military defense. Depending on what is included as part of the military budget, the U.S. is spending about $975 million a day, or about $11,000 per second, for all expenditures related to maintaining its military.
John Paul II once declared that war is the most barbarous and least effective way of resolving conflict.
In his book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, Andrew Bacevich notes how some politicians, as well as some Pentagon leaders, love redundancies. He cites the Strategic Air Command (SAC) as an example. During the Cold War, the U.S. had land- and sea-based missiles aplenty. Did the U.S. also need bomber-based weapons which came with an enormous price tag? (The missile gap during the Cold War was in the favor of the U.S., not the Soviet Union.)
War is easy, peace is a challenge
Americans need to consider much more carefully how and why to go to war. Iraq is a glaring example. Factoring in the cost of caring for wounded vets for decades to come (as well we should), this will be America’s first trillion dollar war, much of it financed by China. (The decision to enter two foreign wars and, at the same time, cut taxes will have implications on the budget deficit for generations.)
Worse yet, every rationale offered for the Iraq War proved to be a falsehood. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein, while a nasty character, had absolutely nothing to do with September 11. No nation should ever go to war on a hunch.
Today wars are fought differently. Is it possible that we don’t need all this manpower and costly equipment? (It now costs about $1.2 million a year just to keep one soldier combat-ready on foreign soil.)
Today warfare is high tech, with drone missiles whose operators are on airbases in Arizona or New Mexico. If needed at all, wars should be fought with a scalpel, not a meat ax. Boots on the ground will always be necessary, but what is the point of waste and overkill?
Finally, how should the U.S. deal with its enemies? John Paul II once declared that war is the most barbarous and least effective way of resolving conflict. Another commentator declared, “War is the coward’s escape from the challenges of peacemaking.”
Think of the billions of dollars wasted. This money could be better spent on addressing the issues of poverty, illiteracy, sub-standard housing, better schools, health care, and disease at home and abroad.
Being a moral superpower known for its care of the world’s hurting people may make us a safer nation than all the bombs and rockets that can be built. As always, our Lord offered great insight when he declared “would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)
Paul L. Harrington is pastor emeritus of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church (ELCA), Apple Valley, Minnesota. He is vice president of the Metro Lutheran board of directors.