The United States has wealth and power. That it should act on the basis of “enlightened self-interest” nationally and internationally would be a reasonable hope. Its people are the country’s most important resource. But we continue to learn of the drastic financial constraints curtailing intellectual/academic/vocational attainment, physical development and appreciation of the arts-constraints affecting early childhood through university levels.
The country’s infrastructure needs repair. According to the Associated Press, “a federal agency says the cost of a new Tappan Zee Bridge in the New York suburbs has been trimmed to $5.2 billion.”
In 2001, we went to war in Afghanistan; in 2003, we attacked Iraq. We invaded two countries that presented no military threat to the United States, causing the death of tens of thousands of civilians-displacement, destruction, untold suffering.
Over 6,000 U.S. military volunteers have been killed. The average monthly cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq this fiscal year, as of July 30, is $11.6 billion according to the Pentagon comptroller’s office. Isn’t there something wrong here? Those countries suffer; we suffer. Is there not a better use for these billions of dollars?
It continues and expands. A Sept. 16 New York Times article, subtitled “Dispute Over Latitude in Using Lethal Force Against Militants,” dealt in part with “the unresolved question…whether the administration can escalate attacks if it wants to against rank-and-file members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and the Somalia-based Shabab.”
In making recommendations regarding this matter, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is on the Armed Services Committee, said, “This is a worldwide conflict without borders. Restructuring the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn’t deter people who are on the fence.” We know we have bases-over 800-around the world. Is a worldwide conflict without borders to be our future?
Views that express reservations about aspects of the military are seldom focused upon in the popular media. However, such views have been expressed by some senior military managers and they deserve deep consideration by all of us, especially by young people considering military service. Here are a few such views:
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a speech at Duke University on Sept. 29, 2010, said that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first protracted large-scale conflicts since the American Revolution to be fought entirely by volunteers, but with a force of 2.4 million of active and reserve members that is less than 1 percent-the smallest proportion ever-of the population it serves.
He said it is junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground combat and support who have borne the brunt of repeat deployments and exposure to fire. He asked, “How long can these brave young shoulders carry the burden that we-as a military, as a government, as a society-continue to place on them?”
Andrew J. Bacevich, retired colonel and professor of history and international relations at Boston University in his book “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War,” expressed the view based on his experience that those who are powerful decide for themselves about the truth and about how it is told. He referred to the strong opposition to President George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and in this connection he noted he found it to contradictory that “an ostensibly peace-loving nation” should commit itself to a “doctrine of preventive war.”
Well known is President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Jan. 17, 1961, farewell address to the nation, in which he said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
General Smedley D. Butler (at the time of his death in 1940 the most decorated marine in U.S. history), in his book “War is a Racket,” emphasized that in war, profits are tallied in currency and losses are tallied in lives. War, he said, is “conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the very many.” He also wrote of his own stark fear in the battle zone.
We know that some high school students, after talking with recruiters, believe that military service may be a good avenue for expressing their patriotism, pursuing career development, obtaining funds for college or other further education. But there are nonmilitary avenues as well, which can be found in the leaflet “Options for Life After High School,” compiled by www.codepinknyc.org and www.grannypeacebrigade.org.
I was 8 years old in December 1941. When we arrived at school on Monday morning, Dec. 8, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, we were told we were at war and were sent home. We ran home.
Scared, I crawled under the dining room table. I think I have never been as scared since. Children in the Eastern Hemisphere were also scared. War was waged. Bombs fell there but not here. Are we callous in part because this continent has not known modern warfare?
And now in modern warfare, the battlefield is the town, the village, the home. How many of us have seen “Fallujah in Pictures,” “Afghanistan in Pictures”? Awful! There has to be another way for major conflicts to be resolved. And shouldn’t there be examination of cause and effect; action and reaction? Shouldn’t there be oversight to eliminate opportunities for war profiteering?
Several decades ago, matriculation at the colleges of the City University of New York was basically free. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell knows this, I know this, as do friends of mine-we all attended city colleges. Can we not again have financially accessible public colleges and universities and reasonable arrangements for financial assistance for those attending private colleges and universities?
Access to higher education is just one of the major national areas of concern. On what are our priorities based? Does “enlightened self-interest” matter?