By NANCY HOUSTON As my husband and I were taking our daily walk in Roger Williams Park the other day, our route took us past the statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, founder of the U.S. Cavalry. He cut a heroic figure with one arm outstretched,
As my husband and I were taking our daily walk in Roger Williams Park the other day, our route took us past the statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, founder of the U.S. Cavalry. He cut a heroic figure with one arm outstretched, brandishing a sword, eyes raised facing resolutely forward, astride a handsome horse and it occurred to me that our nation glorifies war.
We put up statues to war heroes, we include the military in our parades, we have multiple national holidays to celebrate members of our military living and dead, past and present: Memorial Day, Armed Services Day, Veterans Day. We use metaphors of war to address such disparate problems as poverty and drug abuse when we speak of the war on poverty or the war on drugs. We spend billions each year to support our military. And we do all of this to our detriment.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the brave men and women who risk their lives to serve. My own father was a WWII Navy veteran. My grandfather served as an army medic on the front in France during WWI. Further back my ancestors served in the Union Army and the Revolutionary War. Rather, my displeasure is with the politicians who repeatedly get us embroiled in overseas conflicts which are doomed to fail (Vietnam and now Afghanistan) and who authorize spending on wars they neglect to oversee as the Constitution requires of them. It is we, ordinary Americans, who pay the physical and economic price. It is we who fail to hold those politicians accountable. It is we who do not speak up for alternatives to military engagement.
Non-military interventions exist. We could invest in enhanced diplomacy and country-led development aid for a fraction of what it costs us to support the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned against. We could work with other nations and use the International Criminal Court. We could engage in cultural exchanges, expand the Peace Corps, etc. One thing is clear, war is not the way to put an end to war.
Our founding fathers had the wisdom to deliberately put the power to declare and oversee war in the hands of Congress, not the hands of the President. They felt that committing our troops to combat was too grave a power to be placed in the hands of any single individual. But for decades members of Congress have been MIA. They have shirked their responsibility by passing open ended authorizations for the use of military force thereby abdicating Congress’ war making powers to the Executive.
As a result, our own communities are becoming more militarized as personnel and equipment passes from the military to local police forces. It is no surprise that much policing in this country now follows a warrior rather than guardian model of policing. And the billions spent on the military? Brown University’s Cost of War project estimates that approximately half our defense budget, which is over half of our discretionary spending, goes to defense contractors and weapons manufacturers who have more lobbyists than there are members of Congress. Think about that: they are paid with our tax dollars and use some of those same tax dollars to lobby for yet more military spending. They also donate to the campaigns of those same congressmen who will decide how to allocate our money.
Imagine if our definition of defense included defending against the negative impacts of climate change so recently brought to our attention by Hurricane Ida, floods in the middle of the country and the fires out west; or if it included defending us against disease and pandemics like COVID-19. Imagine if instead of buying more hideously expensive weapons systems that same money was spent on improving our roads and bridges or invested in education, new technology and research to prepare for and counter the next pandemic.
As President Eisenhower so presciently said:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.” (From his “Chance for Peace” address delivered before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953)
And: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” (From his farewell address to the nation)
Imagine, and then speak up. Call on Congress to reduce military spending, repeal the authorizations for military force, take back their Constitutional responsibilities, and have the courage to debate each and every time the members of our armed forces are sent into conflict before another generation grows up in the shadow of endless war. Nancy Houston, a resident of Cranston, is a member of the Providence Area FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) Advocacy Team.