Why the Deafening Silence on Cutting the Military Budget?

By Harvey Wasserman, David Swanson, Bob Fitrakis

Bernie Sanders’ common sense proposals for dealing with universal health care, college tuition, restoring the infrastructure, confronting poverty and more have encountered predictable scorn from “fiscally responsible” corporatists.

They all scream about the “deficit spending” and tax hikes that might be required to pay for these vital programs. From predictable right-wing corporatists to Hillary Clinton (“free stuff! free stuff!” she mocks) to fictional “left-leaning economists” invented by the New York Times, numerous voices scorn Bernie’s agenda because his proposals “cost too much.”

But nowhere do we find anyone willing to take on the biggest imperial welfare program of them all, the most obvious source of revenue for the programs needed to heal our nation: the military budget. If Sanders were willing to cut the military budget he’d encounter no criticism for raising taxes, because he’d have no need to raise taxes.  We hope that he’ll no longer pass up this opportunity to tell us how he would cut into a military budget that exceeds nearly all the rest of the world’s combined, and that largely has nothing to do with fighting terrorism (and so often makes it worse).

It’s not that Bernie doesn’t have a good answer for how he would pay for everything. He does, and it’s plenty clear and simple for an intelligent fourth grader, and possibly even Donald Trump, to grasp. But just try squeezing the following into a sound byte television response to “You want to raise my taxes!”


Even this lengthy list does not seem to straightforwardly explain that Medicare for All could raise your taxes, but would give you net savings as you dropped your health insurance payments.

For those who can get past sound bytes, Sanders’ proposals are good, and the taxes all needed for the sake of equitable sharing of wealth and power. But cutting the oceans of cash going to the armed forces is also needed for the purpose of slowing down the military industrial complex and its penchant for creating wars.

And there are projects that the United States and the world desperately need that aren’t listed above. Rather than more wars and occupations, the United States has a moral responsibility to begin a massive investment in actual humanitarian aid to the world, a world beginning to suffer from climate change driven more by the United States than any other nation, with the possible exception of the much, much larger nation of China.

The United States is currently extremely stingy in foreign aid by global standards, and a Marshall-Plan scale investment could work wonders in transforming world opinion about the U.S. government. A similar investment, much more than $100 billion per year, is needed in the United States for green energy. The possibility of creating a Solartopia is slipping away from us, while the cost of the Iraq war alone would have been enough to halt climate change.

Here are some simple, obvious ways to pay for all those programs Bernie advocates, and much much more:

  1. There are various plans afoot to “upgrade” the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, with price tags in the range of $1,000,000,000,000 and more. Why don’t we just get rid of all of them and use the money to pay for much of the above?
  1. There is talk of a replacement fleet of a dozen “Ohio Class” nuclear submarines at a (currently estimated) cost of up to $8,000,000,000 each (which is bound to soar), with construction to begin in 2021. These are perfectly designed to protect us from the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, and will do nothing except bankrupt us, making us more vulnerable to the likes of ISIS, which was created by our intervention in Iraq.
  1. The United States currently maintains at least 900 bases outside its borders, with troops stationed in 175 foreign nations and waging or threating war in some of the handful of nations that do not have U.S. troops (Syria, Iran). The financial cost is over $100 billion a year. The bases, in many cases, generate an enormous amount of popular resentment and hatred, serving as motivations for attacks on the bases themselves or elsewhere — famously including the attacks of September 11, 2001. Why continue to pay for this?
  1. The military spends millions every year advertising itself as a career opportunity, with fly-overs at football games, saturation TV spots, marching bands (the military is the nation’s leading employer of musicians) and more. In fact, it has an entrenched interest in keeping college tuitions high, as a key incentive for young people to enlist is to be able to afford tuition. Yet while the armed forces are heavily over-staffed, and recruitment ads for the National Guard depict the bringing of aid to natural disasters, the reality is that a major effort to aid those at home and abroad impacted by climate change or disasters like the methane gas leak at Port Ranch, California, doesn’t exist and would be a prime step toward guaranteeing a true global peace.

If the military were scaled back even a little, in the direction of a purely defensive operation, we could create such a modern civilian conservation corps and, among other things, put solar panels on the rooftops of every building on earth.

There is, of course, much more that could be done to cut the military budget and pay for what we really need.  The vast bulk of military expenditures today have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. In many cases, the clumsy bludgeonings of our over-stuffed military actually promote it.

Yet this kind of discussion has not yet made it into the mainstream. We look forward to either journalists or brave nonviolent event disruptors inserting this topic into the endless election coverage.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org.

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of the upcoming THE STRIP & FLIP SELECTION OF 2016  FIVE JIM CROWS & ELECTRONIC ELECTION THEFT.

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  • exomike

    The Military Industrial Complex is not above blackmail and other criminal acts. Bernie, whose state depends on a lot of MIC welfare, is smart to keep his mouth shut about this until he is elected President. Otherwise if the .mil warfare queens suspect he (or anyone for that matter) appears to be a threat to their cash flow (gravy train) all kinds of things can happen, none of them pleasant.

    So, you can see from his budget what has to happen down the road. If Bernie is by then Commander in Chief he will still have to play his cards carefully but he will be Commander in Chief. Being CINC is very important and will be more so as he identifies the officers who are loyal to the oath they took. Untangling the real military from the corporate support system will be the most difficult part. A real Army used to be able to operate independently without resupply for a period of months. Now the supply system is privatized and it looks like we have given corporations a choke point or a choke collar to rein in independent operations that might not be to the liking of the Halliburtons inter alia, of the world.

    • jadan

      Any politician who confronts the Pentagon will quickly understand that “…all kinds of things can happen, none of them pleasant.” You boys, Swanson & C0, do not seem to understand that we live in a banana republic. Do you believe you will be able to carry on your anti-war propaganda when Generalissimo Trump climbs into the saddle? Stop counseling Sanders to commit suicide. You are so damn naive….

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    The problem with Bernie’s plan is it assumes too much.
    Such as raising taxes will raise sufficient revenue to fund all his free stuff.It won’t.
    Also that government taking over all healthcare and education will be great.It won’t.
    Just look at public schools and the V.A. hospitals.They are pure Garbage.
    And social security is not awesome.First they stole it and people getting it today are getting it from incoming payers.Can you say ponzi scheme.It’s been proven if you saved the money they take out for social security and you put it in safe mutual funds yourself,you would retire a millionaire vs living in poverty from month to month waiting for your s.s.check.Government is a crappy business model.
    The solution are free markets and getting the government out of picking winners and losers like they do when they prevent competition between state lines for insurance policies and how they prevent generic drugs from competing with big parma drugs.Allow doctors to compete for your business and start paying for regular routine treatments instead of insurance paying for everything.Insurance is for catastrophes only and there should only be high deductible plans unless you want to pay for full coverage.
    Imagine what the cost of home owners insurance would be if they not paid for a fire or a flood but also for every single expense,repair or renovation of your home?
    It would cost as much as healthcare or more.

  • Silverado

    Oh sure. Do any of this and all we’ll be hearing is the sound of the military industrial complex voting on this through a Patsy manned rifle firing their votes off at the speed of 3500 feet per second aimed at the guy who’s brilliant idea he was voted into political office on. I believe John F. Kennedy was the last American President to attempt something like this so we know where this can lead and how it will end UNLESS one deals with that…threat first.
    I think that destroying the currency would do and accomplish the same thing and there would be no group or single person that would make themselves a target as described above. So perhaps that should be the strategy as it appears that nature is about to…run her course and do just that anyway. The military industrial complex financed with unbacked printed paper dollars made by their bankster brothers that made all their mischief possible will have met their match and resulting timely demise. And maybe all without firing a shot either from them…or at them.