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War is Killing Massachusetts

April 18, Somerville Journal

Paul ShannonLast year, Massachusetts taxpayers sent $19.9 billion to the Pentagon to fund the trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustain more than 800 military bases in Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Afghanistan and other countries all around the world, and “improve” our vast stockpile of nuclear weapons -- among a number of other very expensive projects. Next year’s proposed budget will ask Somerville taxpayers alone to send more than $174 million to the Pentagon.

Massachusetts also gives much more than money: 105 Massachusetts soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 600 have been wounded. Hundreds of military families, friends and neighbors are left in pain and turmoil.

As if all of this was not a large enough burden, Massachusetts is now facing a budget deficit of $2 billion, which will result in laying off even more working people, raising fees to use public services, and cutting back on education and on important services we all need. All of this will deepen the economic and unemployment crisis we now face and undermine our children’s future. School budget cuts in Boston alone are $63 million this year.

The $19.9 billion Massachusetts taxpayers paid the Pentagon last year equals 72 percent of our state’s entire budget for everything. It’s almost like funding another entire state. It is enough to cover our budget deficit 10 times over. In fact, the deficit looks small in comparison to the $4.9 billion in tax dollars we in Massachusetts will send to the Pentagon this year just to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of this total, Somerville taxpayers will provide $54 million.

Far from ensuring our security, our wars and our vast national military budget of more than $700 billion per year are destabilizing our society at a time of vast economic distress while they simultaneously fail to address the complex security problems facing us.

A budget of more than $700 billion a year leads us to use military might to implement political and economic policies that guarantee insecurity and danger abroad. Supporting despots like Mubarek in Egypt and other tyrants in Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, conducting wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, and forcing “free trade” agreements on populations around the world cause instability and resentment.

Most important is the vast human suffering caused by these wars: Iraq and Afghanistan wrecked and traumatized with a million dead; torture; corrupt regimes; families destroyed -- and among U.S. troops, thousands and thousands of deaths, suicides and brain injuries, leaving behind young widows and devastated families.

But what is often overlooked is the danger these policies pose to the future of our planet by generating escalating levels of carbon emissions responsible for climate change. The U.S. military itself is the single largest contributor to global warming on earth, generating more dangerous emissions than entire countries. In addition, much of the military budget is spent securing access to fossil fuels in other peoples countries and promoting a model of development around the world based on those fossil fuels -- the very fuels leading us toward environmental catastrophe.

Presently, we spend about as much on the military as all the other countries of the world combined. That’s right: China, Russia, Germany, England, Japan and 150 other countries all combined. Of all the foreign military bases on earth, 95 percent of them are U.S. bases, funded by our tax dollars to the tune of $100 billion a year. First estimates of the cost of the Japan catastrophe were about $350 billion, or half of what we spend in just one year in the military budget.

Military spending dwarfs all the other programs in our country’s budget, draining money from projects that could create employment, help homeowners and rebuild our deteriorating physical and human infrastructure. Along with Medicare and Medicaid deficits, it requires us to borrow billions from China and other countries every single year.

Such spending is simply unsustainable. Few would consider it sane to wreck their society in order to save it, but that’s the course we are on.

The solution to our economic distress here in Massachusetts is not to terminate jobs and cut local budgets and the services and jobs they provide. These policies increase unemployment, family bankruptcies and foreclosures, vastly increasing stress and hopelessness in our families. The solution is to invest in the lives of our people, focusing first on maintaining and expanding employment, health coverage, educational opportunity and access to a home for all of us. This year the immediate task is to come up with a sensible plan to raise more revenue. But in the longer run many of the resources needed to get us on the right track are to be found in a military budget which is undermining our efforts to create a society that works for all of us.

Paul Shannon is a resident of Hancock Street. His figures can be found on the National Priorities Project,
Copyright 2011
Somerville Journal. Some rights reserved


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