WAR, INC. — The military addiction

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According to the War Resisters League, the United States will spend $1.36 trillion of income tax revenue for 2013 on “defense.” That comes to 47 percent for costs of past and present wars. Why is a nation that once saw standing armies as a form of tyranny spending more on its military than every other country in the world combined?

Not for protection. That level of spending has been needed to prop up the economy for decades. These days, it’s not enough.

Permanent hostilities. George Orwell’s 1984 depicts a terrifying future government that impoverishes its people with endless military campaigns against faceless enemies. In many respects, this regime of fear and continuous war is echoed in the U.S. today.

The United States was the only major power to emerge from the Second World War almost intact. While Europe and much of Asia and North Africa lay in ruins, the U.S. seized the opportunity to become the top imperialist power.

Using as justification the “communist menace,” it waged an arms race against the USSR, and wars in Korea and Vietnam. A gigantic expansion of military bases, covert wars and interventions followed.

Bolstered by war spending, the U.S. economy soared to great heights. Yet prosperity flowed directly from the exploitation of weaker nations. It also depended on brutal oppression of people of color and blatant inequality of women at home.

And the economic boom proved to be only temporary. Beginning in the late 1970s, the ruling class cut its taxes, shifting most of the burden onto working people. Funding for social services declined steadily. But military spending continued to explode. So did the national debt.

Now boom has turned to bust. Sky high war spending failed to ward off the devastating economic crash of 2008.

This is because the fundamental characteristic of the permanent arms economy is theft: both from the lives that are damaged and stolen in war zones and from the working people whose taxes are directed away from social needs to be squandered on wars and occupations.

According to the National Priorities Project, 57 percent of the discretionary budget in 2013 is dedicated to military spending. Discretionary spending does not include earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare that have their own funding, or things like unemployment insurance, whose levels depend on how many are jobless.

All other parts of this budget pale in comparison to the military. Education, at 6.35 percent, is the next best funded. This means the U.S. spends nine times more on the military than on educating its children. At 1.17 percent, food and agriculture is the worst funded; no less than 49 times more is spent on bloodshed than on farms and nutritional assistance programs. In between, piddling amounts go to housing and community programs at 5.48 percent, energy and the environment at 3.2 percent, science at 2.57 percent, and transportation at 2.38 percent.

Neither of the capitalist political parties challenge these twisted priorities. In the current debate over sequestration, a fancy word for across-the-board budget cuts, Washington talking heads bemoan reductions in the fat “defense” budget. They are unconcerned with massive gashing in the social safety net.

In place of the sequester cuts, President Obama has offered serious cutbacks to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. No matter that they are not responsible for the debt in the first place. Simultaneously, our Democrat president blatantly pursues the imperial agenda. He is presiding over America’s “pacific pivot,” ramping up a new Cold War with China, and expanding U.S. intervention in Africa.

How war kills the economy. Beginning with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush, and continuing with Obama’s secretive CIA-run drone program, war has been pushed as far as possible out of the public eye. No longer do images of the dead flicker on the 5 o‘clock news. Nor are the streets lined with onlookers as homecoming heroes bask for a moment in the limelight.

Undoubtedly this practice of pushing wars under the rug is intended to obscure the real reason why they are being fought and hide their corrosive effect on the economy.

When activists accused the Bush administration of fighting the war in Iraq for oil, they understood that the expansion of empire is essential to enriching capitalists. The United States claims to win other countries to “democracy,” but it is really freeing up new lands for exploitation by U.S. corporate giants. War is necessary first of all because of capitalism’s built-in need to expand.

Yet war spending is tremendously harmful overall. Guns, bombs, and missiles are made to be blown up. Military hardware has no constructive use. Their main purpose is to inflate profits.

The military is still tremendously lucrative for behemoth corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Haliburton, and private military contractors like Blackwater. They gain much, if not all of their profits directly from war.

Yes, some jobs are filled by the war economy, and some communities are wholly dependent on killer companies like Lockheed Martin.

But the costs of war divert massive revenue away from productive industries that make things that provide for human needs and produce usable wealth for the community.

This is the ultimate theft perpetrated by the military-industrial complex.

The country could reach full employment by funding education and the sciences, but employs a few in high tech military industries instead. It could add great wealth to society by investing in roads and bridges, railroads and levees, instead of dropping bombs.

Right now, instead of being at the mercy of war-profiteers, the U.S. needs to invest in mass transit, renewable energy, schools, hospitals and environmental cleanup and restoration. Only by building such industries can the country add to its — and the world’s — real wealth.

Workers can turn it around. Due to the enormous wealth siphoned from social programs and productive industries to foot the bill for war, solidarity with those suffering worldwide from U.S. militarism becomes not only ethically right but a practical necessity for the U.S. working class.

While capitalists and their marionettes in Washington take us down the path of war, an organized working class can chart the road to prosperity and peace.

Because the U.S. war machine relies on the people to carry out its sinister deeds, workers and soldiers have profound power. They can shut down the military machine and bring U.S. imperialism to a screeching halt. Now that’s something worth fighting for!

Schuyler Kempton is a high school activist and writer in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He co-edits the Hudson Valley Radical newsletter at hvradical.blogspot.com. Contact him at leftunited@gmail.com.

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