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Synthesis/Regeneration 50   (Fall 2009)

An Economy that Depends on Endless War

by Mary Beth Sullivan

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 All Souls Church, New York City. It is good, and right, and I would add, holy, that you have gathered here tonight to remember that 63 years ago our government dropped nuclear weapons onto the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am honored and grateful to be here with you.

To frame my comments, you need to know that I am a social worker. Various jobs have introduced me to disabled children, women receiving welfare, and homeless people. I have made eye contact with people who have had to make a choice between eating and taking their medications. Can you imagine that choice? In the richest nation of the world? What's the right answer when your question is, "Should I use my limited resources for food, or for the medication that helps me manage my diabetes, or my mental illness?" What I have to say tonight is very personal for me..

For years now, the Global Network has been making copies available of the US Space Command's Vision for 2020. Let me read from the introduction: "US Space Command - dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict."

"Future Trends: ...The globalization of the world economy will continue, with a widening between `haves' and `have nots'... Space superiority is emerging as an essential element of battlefield success and future warfare." Modern weapons...To control and dominate...

Yesterday's New York Times had a front page story about the many who, years after Katrina, are still stuck - unable to create a new, independent life for themselves. The social workers in this room, if you've worked with a low-income population, you know these folks. It's the people who tell us: "If I didn't have bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all!" The reporter introduced us to a few individuals with significant issues that prevent them from "making it." In describing one gentleman, the reporter noted that he made a series of "bad choices," including buying a car (with money he was taking in from the government) so that he would have access to better paying jobs. Unfortunately, the car he bought didn't run.

I scratched my head when I saw the "bad choices" judgment from the reporter, as I tried to weigh this unlucky fellow's decisions to some others that have been made, also with Americans' tax dollars. For example:

How about the $150 billion in the research and development of Star Wars systems? Or the creation of these systems that require tests that cost $100 million a pop? Or the deployment of systems that have never been tested? Is there a Star Wars system that was ever developed on time and within budget? That's not even expected anymore. I'd say that there are some pretty expensive "bad choices" being made there..

I'd call it a bad choice for a government to tell its cash cow - oops, I mean its taxpayers - that Star Wars is about defending our country from a nuclear attack from a rogue nation. When in truth, it is an offensive system, is being used to surround China and Russia, and is intended to give the US global control of natural resources. But then again, if we knew the truth, would we continue paying our taxes?

Here's another bad choice for you: How about the $5.5 trillion we have spent on the development, research, construction, maintenance, and now "modernizing" of nuclear weapons in this country, while leaving the toxic mess - and the bill to pay - to future generations?

Maybe it's a bad choice that the Pentagon has put 750 - or is it 800, or could the number be as high as 1,000? - US military bases in foreign countries? I surely know that this community here in NY City has worked hard to prevent the addition of one more military base in the Czech Republic!

I'm guessing that the people in this room know what the number one industrial export of this country is? Weapons. What a legacy..

You'd get many more jobs if you took that military money, and put it into construction for home weatherization.

So here is my nomination for the winner of the "bad choices" category about which I wish some reporter somewhere would write a story. It's a "bad choice" that has been made over and over again, by every president, by every congress, Republican and Democrat, since World War II in spite of President and General Dwight Eisenhower's admonition against it: We have turned our industrial base over to the Pentagon. The Military Industrial Complex provides jobs in most Congressional Districts, guaranteeing public support for continued military spending. Never mind that, to keep the production lines flowing, we need endless war! And in spite of the fact that research shows that military production is capital intensive: one billion dollars spent on the military creates half the jobs than if that billion dollars were spent on building a mass transit infrastructure. You'd get many more jobs if you took that military money, and put it into construction for home weatherization.

Seymour Melman, the late professor at Columbia University, and the grandfather of the movement toward economic conversion, identified these "bad choices" 25 years ago. He noted that we had created a "permanent war economy." In fact, he pointed out this important fact: military operations is the largest, single, sustaining activity of the US government.

So let me tell you this story Melman reported, which perhaps some of you know. Back in the late 1990s, New York City's Transit Authority had between $3 billon and $4 billion to spend to begin replacing its subway cars. City government put out a request for bids. Not a single American company responded! Why? The industrial base in this country no longer manufactures what is needed to maintain, improve, or build our infrastructure. We don't even have the tools anymore! Instead, NYC contracted with companies in Japan and Canada to build its subway cars. Melman estimated that such a contract could have generated, directly and indirectly, about 32,000 jobs in the US.

Let me be so bold as to prescribe some "better choices" that we could have made in this country. Do you remember that when Jimmy Carter was president, he put solar panels on the roof over the West Wing of the White House? And of course, what did Ronald Reagan do? He took them off.

What if our nation had made different choices? What if the $150 billion we've devoted to weaponizing space had been spent on creating alternative energy systems? Wouldn't half the roofs in NYC have solar panels on them today?

Back in the 1980s, Denmark made a commitment to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. They set a goal to have (I think) 20% of their energy use generated by wind power by the year 2010. They have already reached that goal, and are now attempting to double it.

In my home town of Bath, Maine sits Bath Iron Works (BIW). Since the 1990s, it has been owned by General Dynamics, and its history of making commercial ships has given way to building naval destroyers. While the congressional delegation in the state, both Democrat and Republican, seeks ways to guarantee twenty more years of building naval destroyers, we are asking a simple question: Who is our naval competitor? If US naval destroyers are being used to shock, awe, invade and occupy another country for its oil today, what resources will we be after in 10 years? Whose resources will we need to maintain our way of life? Whose "interests and investments" will these destroyers, outfitted with Star Wars systems, be out there "protecting?"

We've been holding signs outside BIW for years now with the message like: Make Windmills, Not War; Conversion Produces More Jobs. They used to laugh at us. A friend who works at BIW last week shared an article he found: investors are taking seriously the notion of putting thousands of huge windmills six miles off the shores of Maine. They need a production facility. They predict 10,000 jobs. BIW is the only existing facility in the state large enough to manage the size and weight of these windmills. I have no idea what will happen at BIW but I'm thinking they're not laughing now..

As activists, we must continue to respond to pending wars (I'm sure you've taken action against the bombing of Iran), and the current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must stand up to resist this violence.

But we can also choose to become the visionaries for the 21st century.

We need to join our energies with labor and unions. Let's speak the truth about the consequences of a permanent war economy. Let's share the research about the numbers of jobs created when we replace military jobs with jobs that will sustain life on this planet for future generations.

We need to join with environmental activists. Sit in circles. Share. Generate consensus to support labor in advocating for union jobs that create an infrastructure for the 21st century based on clean, renewable energy.

I'm tired of watching those of us who serve the elderly be pitted against those serving children, or the homeless...

Let's join with faith communities, social justice committees, social workers, health care workers. I'm tired of watching those of us who serve the elderly be pitted against those serving children, or the homeless, or those with mental illness, or veterans, or low-income families. We see the ever shrinking piece of the pie we are all expected to share as we do our work.so our advocacy becomes fighting to take care of one population at the expense of another. We need to be joining forces and singing in unison: we don't accept this diminishing pie. We know we can't afford guns and butter, and we know that the guns are destroying us all, so hand over those military dollars and we will create real Homeland Security:

Let me close with two human stories:

I have a friend who is a navy veteran. She was 24 when she served on an Aegis Cruiser made in Bath, Maine. It was her job to keep this ship in position so that it could launch the first tomahawk missiles into Iraq for the "shock and awe" bombing on March 19, 2003. Hours later, she left the deck of the ship and went below to see images of Baghdad burning on CNN - images that are burned into the head and the heart and the soul of this sweet, gentle woman.

We have damaged this young woman's life. A civil engineer who went to school to build bridges and roads is haunted by the full capacity of destruction she helped unleash on a populated city. We have failed this young woman, and this generation of young people who are looking for meaningful, satisfying, life-sustaining jobs.

But then again. last spring I visited with a friend who lives in New Orleans. She told us that, since Katrina, a number of high schools have organized to send student work crews down to do some of the physical labor of rebuilding. This year, applicants to colleges in the area grew at a rate never before seen. I was heartened to hear this because I believe what the people in this country want to do is to build. To care for each other. Not to destroy. We want our neighbors to be safe. We were appalled by the images of how our neighbors in New Orleans were left behind. Our young people want to make it right. They found meaning in caring for their neighbors. They want to recreate that feeling by being there.

We must work to create a vision. A different economy. A caring economy. The funding source is there: it is the Military Industrial Complex. Let's join together to demand a conversion process that creates meaningful jobs that are about building a collective future.

The funding source is there: it is the Military Industrial Complex.

I used to wonder: If I had lived during the time when Andrew Jackson was forcing the Cherokee off their lands through the Trail of Tears, what would I have done? If I had been a German during Hitler's reign, where would I have put my body? Would I have taken action? What would it have looked like?

My friends, we are living in dark and difficult times. This is our trail of tears. This is our Nazi Germany. Our country, our people are enslaved to an economy that depends on endless war.

Now is the time for courage. Now is the time to act.

Mary Beth Sullivan is the outreach coordinator of Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. She can be reached via mail at PO Box 652 Brunswick, Maine 04011, via telephone at 207-443-9502, and via email at www.space4peace.org.

[26 oct 09]

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