Conservative voices have continued to rehash, as part of the Reagan mythology, the military impotent of President Carter a la Iranian Hostage Crisis. They use this as their catch-all justification for and evidence of the evils of a weak military. Advocating for a strong military is the same kind of feel-good panacea as pushing for a strong local police force. Both of them promise security and peace of mind, when what they often produce is neither secure nor peaceful. A policeman on every corner will not necessarily keep young women from being violently attacked and seventeen police cars on the road at all time will not eliminate bank robberies or theft of property. However, many people like to entertain the delusion just the same. The facade of security is much more popular than the reality. For example, a sure-fire way to render yourself instantly unpopular is to propose a sharp reduction in money earmarked for the police department, no matter how justified one might be in requesting it.
In my own place of residence, the city has had to cut back funding for a variety of projects and departments. In particular, the school district has been given a much smaller share of tax revenue then ordinarily allotted it, while a far larger share has been allocated to the police force. As for me, I’d much rather have an informed and educated citizenry of our future leaders than the spectacle which routinely greets me when I’m driving around town—that of bored policemen and policewomen driving around to make their visual presence known, but seemingly not much else. While I do appreciate that most of the police vehicles these days run on flex fuel, not conventional gasoline, I still can’t help reflecting on how many tax dollars are being squandered on the latest state-of-the-art gadget or technique that is funded out of the paychecks of ordinary citizens and will be used infrequently, if at all. Many police purchases I have observed come across to these eyes as nothing more than expensive toys for grown ups.
On this same subject, a former Bush treasury official has stated in the Wall Street Journal that he fears Health Care spending will exceed military spending. Like the good Quaker I am, my immediate response is, of course, “What’s wrong with that?” A sure-fire way to render yourself instantly unpopular is to start talking about war as an immoral agent in direct contradiction to Jesus’ teachings—one that needs to be banished from the face of the earth. I suppose I’d much rather people be healthy and live long lives as free from pain as they can than for us to have the unfailingly depressing capacity to blow the hell out of our latest enemy. Not only that, I might even be enough of a dreamer to believe that improving the quality of life for all might be a far more unifying solution than violently ending lives in an inferno of evil.
To draw a parallel between a city police force and the U.S. military, all kinds of devices are utilized that give the facade of protection and safety. In reality, they are little more than window dressing and wishful thinking. As we have determined, a color-coded terror alert system does not keep us safe. An increased troops presence in Afghanistan has not interrupted the opium trade, nor prevented the reformation of the Taliban. Constant patrols in armed vehicles have not completely eliminated violent acts. Nor has this deceptively insufficient shift of soldiers from one troubled country to another prevented journalists from being kidnapped. My point in identifying these limitations of military force is not to inspire fear, but rather to illustrate a very difficult lesson: complete safety is an illusion.
The President and others have talked constantly about the need to eliminate waste, graft, and corruption in the health care industry as a means to pay for the massive overhaul commonly known as Health Care Reform. I don’t doubt that the program will, as promised, pay for itself if serious efforts towards eliminated frivolity and superfluous procedures are eliminated. Living for the past fifteen years with a chronic illness have provided more than enough examples of that. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t as aware of the absurdity as I am. However, somehow we as a society haven’t quite confronted the subject of waste and needless expenditure as regards military spending. Though noting the negative impact of the military-industrial complex is a start, if we are committed to reduce our deficit and to streamline certain titanic segments of our economy, we might be wise to consider military spending reform, too.
Though I might be an idealist at times, I am far from a fool. If we thought that Health Care Reform inspired incredible hatred and spite from the Right, imagine what kind of missiles would be lobbed at us if we proposed ways to modify the military. The Republican response would be immediate. We’d be painted as soft on terror, soft on defense, and accused of inviting other countries to invade us. Uniformed people at Town Hall Forums would demand that they didn’t want a government-controlled military. The same snidely dismissive charges that greeted Candidate Obama when he advocated at least giving diplomacy with our enemies a chance would resume. In many situations, particularly this one, my spiritual beliefs are tempered by pragmatism. I do recognize that the only way war can be set aside is if every country gets on board and that for, a variety of complex and interlocking reasons, that is unlikely to happen any time soon. Even so, we have a distressing tendency to believe that our military always works flawlessly and that the more tax dollars we add to it, the better it functions. The same people who speak out against government incompetence or are the first to assert that “throwing money at a problem is no solution” notably do not extend these same scathing criticisms to our military.
I suppose could mention Abu Ghraib, enhanced interrogation techniques, Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and others in my own defense, but spin and rationalization will always get in the way of logic. There will always be questions considered too dangerous to be sufficiently questioned or even sufficiently answered. I, for one, believe that there is far more to 11 September 2001 then will ever be revealed in our lifetime. Lest anyone misunderstand, what I am NOT saying is that I believe 11 September was an inside job. What I AM proposing, however, is my firm belief that this country was so woefully unprepared for the attack (strongest military in the world, natch) that the entire chain of command as established in the Bush Administration, on that tragic day, resembled nothing less than a comedy of errors. I believe that Vice-President Cheney and high-ranking insiders, not President Bush, ran our government for several hours, if not for several days in the chaos and confusion that ensued in the immediate aftermath; an embarrassing degree of miscommunication and incompetence reigned. Admitting that to the public and to the world would not exactly show us to be the sterling, confident superpower of which we like to portray ourselves.
Much could be learned from both our mistakes and our network of quick fixes. When we outsource our freedom and health to industries and specialized occupations, we effectively place our collective health and safety in the hands of others who might not necessarily have our best interest at heart. No Republican would ever wish to be labeled an anarchist, but their pervasive and recently adamant refrain that government is the root of evil, whether they recognize it or not, is just that. If conservatives wish to follow this line of logic to its ultimate conclusion, they ought to be finding ways to dismantle government altogether. They won’t do this, of course, because dismantling government includes dismantling the police and the military. Anarchy on one’s own terms is not anarchy at all. Those Republican politicians who believe that government is the problem, not the solution would be wise to question why they have made a career out this supposed cesspool of corruption and terrible things. They have had years to prune government down to some arbitrary, more manageable size and have found themselves indebted to the same corruption, out of control spending, and size-swelling as the Democrats they criticize. Quite hypocritically, they have increased the size of the government they agree with at the expense of the government they do not. This isn’t just hypocrisy, it’s also awful policy. That they can still make these arguments with a straight face might explain why they happen to be the minority party who has to embrace the lunacy of their fringes to even stay relevant.