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The USA has the world’s largest military budget – by far. But this alone cannot protect us. We need to be concerned how likely it is for people around the world to want to help defend or kill us.
The military budget is starting to bankrupt the country. It’s got so much in it that’s well beyond any rational military purpose. It equals just less than half of total global military spending. And yet here we are, stymied by two of the smallest, poorest countries on Earth. Iraq before we invaded had a GDP the size of the state of Louisiana, and Afghanistan was certainly one of the poorest places on the planet. And yet these two places have stopped us.
An interesting thinker
Chalmers Johnson, a former U.S. Navy officer and supporter of the Vietnam war, is now very critical of America’s military policies. An academic for 30 years at the University of California, he’s published several books that question our foreign policy. One of the best know is The Sorrows of Empire – Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.
Johnson believes that militarism is bankrupting the United States while also increasing opposition to the USA worldwide.
He may be overly isolationist in our interconnected world, but he has some important points. If we could ever safely be isolationists, September 11, 2001 clearly showed that time is past. But Johnson is right that military power alone will not save us.
Since the end of the Cold War, he argues, the United States has neglected diplomacy, international law, economic aid and multilateral institutions to achieve our foreign policy goals. Instead, we rely too much on bluster and military force.
How much of the world sees the USA
Johnson is not alone is his opinions. The administration of president Bush has been very strongly criticized for this, by many Americans and all over the world.
Billions of people see the USA as overly militaristic and materialistic, selfish and insensitive to major global injustices. Some of that may be from envy of our successes. And it often shows the success of totalitarian leaders in deflecting resentment of how they’re exploiting their own people.
Still, we Americans are only doing a fraction of what we could to make our world better and safer. And much of what we do is of questionable effectiveness.
All this matters: Terrorists do not recruit in a vacuum.
What’s wrong with some conservatives
I think it’s particularly sad to see many religious people in the USA and elsewhere support excessive militarism. They favor hundreds of billions of dollars for weapons of destruction. But when it comes to the social justice and environmental protection we so urgently need, the same people – if they show any concern at all – only support a fraction of such expenses.
It’s strange, they’ve read the same Bible I did. It’s filled with examples of how trust in military force is not the source of victory. The Bible – and to me, common sense – are very clear on this. Justice is needed.
A promising development
In the last few years, some very religious people are getting more interested in social justice.
One example is Rick Warren, author of the bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Perhaps the most influential evangelical Christian in America, he uses some of his great influence and wealth to attack global poverty, illiteracy and disease. Pastor Warren has an international network of millions of individuals and 400,000 churches to help achieve this worthy goal.
Though I’m Jewish, I am very impressed with such promising developments.
Some thoughts on faith based charity
Warren has been criticized for using his influence to secure favorable tax breaks for pastors and other workers in faith-based charities. This legislation does not give these extra benefits to non-religious workers who do equally valuable work.
That seems unfair. Although I believe in God, I value the work of all people of good will, whatever their beliefs. I think our government should follow a policy similar to Hearts & Minds, to neither oppose nor favor religion.
At its best, religion does encourage people to think and act deeply on concern for others. But you certainly don’t have to be religious to value social justice. Government tax breaks can encourage more giving. But a better basis for tax breaks would be the value of a program, not how religious its members may be.
The limits of weapons
You don’t need to believe the Bible to see that weapons alone don’t save empires. Rome, Nazi Germany, fascist Japan, imperialistic Britain and the Communist Soviet Union are just a few examples.
Great leaders in the USA have warned against excessive militarism. This includes George Washington’s farewell address and Dwight Eisenhower’s criticism of the military-industrial complex.
I think we need a strong defense. It’s a matter of the effectiveness and efficiency of our armed forces, and how our military fits in a much larger, global picture.
We need a visionary campaign
Getting to the roots of terrorism, poverty and environmental destruction is our best defense against these threats to us and all future generations.
You can e-mail Bill directly: [email protected]