Our economic and military strengths are the foundations of our way of life. All Americans support a strong and flexible military, ready to protect and defend us anytime and anywhere we need them. It is a proven fact that we have the biggest, best trained, and best-equipped military in the world. We have some ‘hawks and doves’ at the fringes who want more or less, but for the most part, Americans are proud of our military and want to support it. Having said that, surveys also show that most Americans want to reduce defense spending. We want a world leading military, but not a wasteful one. In fact, many of us are angry about the lack of support of the military personnel and veterans while we spend money on unneeded hardware systems and expensive military contractors. We spend too much on Defense and not enough on relieving poverty and promoting Safety and Security. Important fact: The US has not won a war since WWII!
“Cui bono?” Regardless of what we are investigating, the first question that we need to ask is, “Cui bono?”, or “Who benefits?” In this case, we are considering the issue of the greatly disproportionate amount of money the US spends on its military when compared with the rest of the world. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of America’s greatest military leaders and the person chosen to be the Commanding Officer of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) towards the end of WWII. He was later President of the US. At the conclusion of his Presidency, he had some chillingly prescient words for us all. Please read the advice from President Eisenhower closely. He accurately captures what used to be great about America and warns of the possibility of the conditions that we see today. In case you are not familiar with his background, President Eisenhower graduated from West Point. His background makes his cautionary tale even more powerful. He paints a picture of the dangers of not maintaining a social, political, and economic balance. To watch the video of the address, go to the link in the footnote.
Was Eisenhower right? According to CNBC: Military Spending in 2014 was the biggest chunk of our tax dollar — 42.2 cents of every income-tax dollar go to fund the military. Over half of it, or 28.7 cents, goes to pay for the current war and military, 10 cents goes to interest payments on past and present military debt and 3.5 cents is allocated for Veterans’ benefits. If we use the numbers from Whitehouse.gov, the percentage of our tax dollars is still nearly 40. We must spend more on personal security by spending less on national security. Far more people in the US are dying from poverty and its results than from hostile foreign attacks or Terrorism.
America has established a worldwide reputation for defending freedom and human rights, but domestically the rights are eroding. Many of our finest young people have given their lives or been seriously wounded or maimed in our military defense forces. However, the people making the sacrifices today come from a smaller and smaller demographic group — mostly people who have extremely limited options for other careers. We call it a ‘volunteer’ military, but most people with other realistic options are not volunteering. For the most part, the children of people with power or money are not going into the military. Once again, poverty plays a role. People living in poverty and unable to get a job ‘volunteer’ to serve in the military. It is not really volunteering if the only other option is poverty. At the same time, the battles we ask our military personnel to fight are more for political and economic reasons than military defense. I am concerned that America’s military has evolved from the Department of Defense to the Department of Offense.
News Flash — Al Qaeda Has Won! Did our mighty military protect us from an attack on September 11, 2001? Not at all. Who won that day? Who has been winning since that day? Al Qaeda won that day, and the conservatives are their biggest accomplice in their winning ever since! I can make a case that the US lost the war against Al Qaeda — not militarily, but in terms of which side achieved its objectives.
Our country and the lifestyle it used to represent have changed dramatically since 9/11/2001 and most of those changes represent changes for the worse. It all started on that horrible day in September of 2001. Not September 11th, September 12th. On the 11th, we experienced a national tragedy resulting in the loss of far too many innocent lives. As tragic as that loss was, it pales when compared to what we have done to ourselves since then. Our post, “Al Qaeda Won!” illustrates that continuing loss.
Just think about our recent “military” successes. Did they involve major troop activities, fleets of ships, and aircraft? No! They were accomplished by a highly trained and well-equipped elite group of people like Seal Team 6. They gathered intelligence, developed a tactical plan, executed that plan, and eliminated the threat. There was a minimum of casualties on our side, and very few civilian casualties. And the bad guys were eliminated. Sounds more like a SWAT team than a military action, doesn’t it? Additionally, fewer children had to grow up with a parent deployed and far less money was spent; money that could be used for a wide range of domestic programs to fix infrastructure, improve the economy, create jobs, reduce poverty, and restore the middle class.
When I hear a presidential candidate talking cavalierly about war, it saddens me and angers me — mostly because his rabid supporters cheer his rhetoric, without realizing that if he does what he says, more people like them will suffer or die while he just gets richer. “I will bomb the shit out of them!” “I’ll kill their families, their wives, and children!” President Trump actually said this! And people cheer for this?! Seriously?! Does that really make anyone proud to be an American? The America I am proud of stands for just the opposite. We should stand for the moral high ground. We used to be a global leader because of what we stood for — not just because we could and might “bomb the shit out of” people who threatened us. Other countries were proud to call themselves our allies — not just because of our military might, but also because of our moral positions. Leaders around the world are justifiably expressing concern about what they see happening during this current political season.
Every year we celebrate Pearl Harbor Day, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic occasions; and pay tribute to the members of the military and their families who suffered and died in military service. In all cases, the recognition is richly deserved. I am proud to be a veteran who served during the Vietnam War. Many of my friends’ and classmates’ names are displayed on that shining black granite wall memorial on the National Mall. We can all be proud of the patriotism, bravery, and commitment that the members of our armed forces demonstrate every day. At the same time, we can be dismayed that most of the casualties from the current engagements are not gaining us anything. “Why Can’t The World’s Best Military Win Its Wars?” provides a thorough analysis of our military ‘failures’ since WWII. In case you haven’t heard, we haven’t ‘won’ a war since WWII in 1945 (more about that later).
Many military and civilian leaders agree that there was no reasonable military solution to the situation in Afghanistan or other countries in the region. After all the human and economic costs from over ten years of fighting, within a year of our departure the only evidence we had been there is whatever survived from the infrastructure we built. Politically, economically, culturally, and educationally, they are gradually falling back to their old ways.
Now, consider an alternate universe. Instead of invading them militarily, we could have worked with our fellow members of the United Nations and formed an international police force and gone after the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11. Treat them like the organized criminals they are. They are not an army. They are a rag-tag bunch of zealots, thugs, and gangsters. At the same time, we could have saved about 80% of the money we spent on a military invasion and occupation (and thousands of civilian lives) and used a portion of it to send in people to assist the Afghani people in creating a modern economy with the complete infrastructure to support it.
We do not start with trying to convince them to give up several millennia of cultural and religious beliefs. If we do a good job of improving living conditions and providing a quality education system, gradually they will increase their level of interaction with more developed countries and realize that there may be room for modifying some of their traditional practices (e.g., the role of women in society). During this program of activities, the boots on the ground are not military. They are truly civilian advisors from all over the world. At first, there will be some danger, but nothing like an armed invasion force faces. A small international police force will protect both the locals and the advisors. Over time, the local people will learn to value the presence and investment that the advisors are bringing and will actively protect them. As the local economy grows, the advisors will be able to leave. Unlike the previously described military pullout, when the advisors leave, there will be a lasting difference for the better in the lives of the Afghan people. Meanwhile, the international police force will benefit because of the civilian economic advisors’ efforts. The locals will recognize that the police force is on their side and the terrorists are their enemies. The locals will make it easier to bring the terrorists to justice.
Why is it that whenever two countries go to war, the leaders, who make the policies that create the situation that leads to war, get to sit back in relative safety while the soldiers and civilians have to fight and die? When all is said and done, what have we really gained? How many people died in Iraq as a part of US retaliation? Classified US military documents released by WikiLeaks in October 2010, record Iraqi and Coalition military deaths between January 2004 and December 2009.The documents record 109,032 deaths broken down into “Civilian” (66,081 deaths), “Host Nation” (15,196 deaths),”Enemy” (23,984 deaths), and “Friendly” (3,771 deaths).
We can do the math if we want to, but we do not need to add up the totals to appreciate that an outrageously large number of people were killed because of the US military response to the acts of 12 religious fanatics on 9/11/2001. Now ask yourself, ‘What have we gained?’ Is America any safer than it would have been if no people had died because of our retaliation? There was no standing army of terrorists waiting to follow-up on the 9/11 attack, no armada of ships waiting to transport their forces to attack our shores, and no air force filled with bombs fueled and ready to attack.
From another perspective, if you were living in the Arab World, how would you perceive the US? When you walk to your neighbor’s home and worry about being blown up by a drone-launched Hellfire missile, would you be thinking of America as a protector, or as a predator? Eliminating a specific terrorist leader is a ‘targeted killing’ according to the US. However, Britain’s Reprieve human rights group calculated that it takes about 28 innocent lives to take out a single terrorist leader, often with multiple drone strikes. Meanwhile, the US has spent trillions of dollars for “National Defense” and “National Security” while suffering at home with crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools and social programs, and a disappearing American Middle Class. We must do better.
Let’s look at why those 12 fanatics flew those four planes into their targets. Was it personal? Not at all. There is no indication that any of the fanatics knew any of the people they killed that day. Some zealous religious/political leaders convinced them they should do it. Note — the leader did not join them on their mission. He stayed behind to send more loyal followers to their death.
Why did the US attack Afghanistan? Our political leaders told us that it was because the country allowed the Al-Qaeda organization to exist and train terrorists. The Taliban and Al Qaeda were a hostile force occupying the country against the wishes of the people and we were going in to ‘free’ the people from these occupying forces. But wait, what did these occupying forces look like? They were a rag-tag bunch of hungry fanatics inspired by a charismatic leader. Their organization and weaponry were loose and primitive.
There is an old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The US has tanks, Humvees, rockets, bombs, drones, etc.. Given these options, how should the US have fought the Taliban? In our typical fashion, we threw everything at them.
It is now over a decade later. Did we win? In a larger sense, when was the last time America won a war? Don’t get all patriotic about it. Consider the facts. How would you define winning? If we killed more of their people than they killed of our people, does that mean we won? Try telling the families of the Americans that were killed that they won. All they know is that they lost a loved one, and they hope and try to believe it was for something important.
At this point, we probably need to have a discussion of what it means to win in a war. One definition is that we preserved our freedoms. Our precious freedoms are worth preserving, but is going to war the best way to achieve that? Do we need to send our innocent sons and daughters off to kill innocent sons and daughters of another country to preserve our freedom?
The only way a war is ever won is if both sides stop killing each other. Everybody wins! Did we win the Vietnam War? In the sense that both sides stopped killing each other, yes. However, by any military or political standard, nobody won; or the North Vietnamese did. President Nixon’s political label for the bombing of Hanoi was to achieve “peace with honor.” To achieve that, in December of 1972, the US dropped over 20,000 tons of bombs, killing more than 1,600 civilians. The Vietnam War cost over 58,000 American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives. The US Navy authorized me to wear the Vietnam Service medal. [I was technically in the “War Zone’’ for about a week and never in any danger.] However, I am not convinced that my service or their sacrifice gained our country anything.
What about the Korean War? Nobody won! Thousands of people died and then we stopped fighting. North Korea is still there, trampling on the human rights of its citizens. Look at Afghanistan and Iraq. Who won? Nobody. Some hawks say we should put more boots on the ground. Then we could win. We cannot win either of those wars — mainly because they are not our wars in the first place. All we are achieving in that part of the world is providing our enemies with minor victories by being there. Our presence and the collateral damage we have caused, and continue to cause, have created a major resentment towards the US — feeding the terrorist splinter groups with a steady stream of recruits. Not only that, but our internal response back here at home has been to change our way of life to protect ourselves from the terrorists. The bitter pill is that we gave up some of our freedoms and liberties in the name of homeland security.
In every war I can think of, we went to war because our leaders and their leaders chose to go to war. If another country commits what we consider an act of war, is the best response to retaliate with a military attack? Who is killed in a military battle? Not the people who decided to attack us. Innocent soldiers and civilians from the attacking country are killed (We’re good at retaliation!) along with some of our troops.
The Russian attack on Ukraine is an example for trying a justice versus military response to an attack. Thousands of innocent citizens and misled soldiers are dying and killing in Ukraine because of one megalomaniacal war criminal — Vladimir Putin. What is the world’s response? Send more planes, tanks, bombs, and bullets for more killing and dying! History is clear. Nobody wins that type of war except the people who profit from the Military Industrial Complex — the people who make and sell the bombs and bullets.
The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. As I have grown older, I have realized that the country is very secure, but many of its citizens are not. Anyone living in poverty is not feeling secure. It’s time to redefine National Security to include personal security. If people cannot safely walk through their neighborhood, then they are not feeling secure. If they are living in poverty, they are not feeling safe and secure.
We are at a unique point in history. There is overwhelming global sentiment and irrefutable evidence that Putin’s actions are war crimes. Even other autocrats are less than enthusiastic in their support because they know that bombing women and children is indefensible. It is time for the United Nations to step up, take control over, and fix the problem by arresting, prosecuting, and punishing Putin and his inner circle of war criminals. Any other approach will place more innocent soldiers in a position of killing each other for nothing.
The UN should establish an international Tactical Team with the specific mission to bring Putin to justice at the World Court without fighting a traditional military action. It might start with a global information campaign that makes the Russian people aware of the true situation. The Russian and Ukrainian people should not be fighting. They are historically friends and family. The Russians have been deceived into believing that they need to attack Ukraine. Fixing this requires information, not weapons. The program must also include humanitarian programs to rescue and restore Ukraine using money seized from Russia and its oligarchs as determined by the World Court. Perhaps if the maniacs responsible for the war are made to pay for it, other oligarchs and autocrats will have less incentive to initiate future aggressions. We don’t need war; we need justice. And we need it now!
On Memorial Day weekend, let us truly honor our brave, dedicated past and present military members and their families, not just with sincere words of thanks, but by committing to a path that puts fewer of them in harm’s way in the future.
That wraps up my rambling thoughts on the topic of war and the military. I invite you to share these thoughts with others to get more people to think that war is not the best answer to anything. If we could get to that point, then there are countless other things we can work on here at home to truly become the great nation we were and could be again. In fact, we can be better than we ever were. We must start thinking of National Security as more than National Defense. Homeland Security is meaningless to people living in extreme poverty. We need to find a better balance. We need a war on poverty.