WSW: What Is The True Cost Of War?

Jan 22, 2018

In this March 3, 2017 file photo, a row of F18 fighter jets on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson is prepared for patrols
Credit Bullit Marquez / The Associated Press

Presidents will say “The state of the union is strong” at some point during their address to Congress. Bill Hartung says the state of the “military industrial complex” is strong as well.

Hartung who is Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy will speak on Wednesday at First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo. His address called Perpetual War: Massive Human and Economic Costs of the Corporate Grip on the Pentagon Budget - is sponsored by Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War.

After he was elected and the transition to office was in progress, President Donald Trump criticized some expensive items in the defense budget. But Hartung says the President followed that up by proposing a large increase in military spending and also suggested selling more arms to other countries. However Hartung says it may take some doing to surpass the arms sales under the Obama administration.

Hartung says the rationale for selling arms to other countries is that it helps avoid large-scale military action by the United States. But he says for that to work, it has to be selective. Hartung says once the sales are in the hands of other nations, the U.S. can’t control how those weapons are used.

The costs of fighting war are equipment, troops and people who need care for the rest of their lives after battle. But Hartung says there is also a cost in other things that can’t be done at home. He says a large military budget doesn’t really mean support for the troops. Hartung says 40-50% of the Pentagon budget goes to corporations. And he says some of what those corporations build doesn’t do much help to troops, or fight the most urgent threats.

Spending on defense is important to some local economies, but Hartung says Pentagon spending is not an efficient way to create jobs. He says money spent on infrastructure or other public projects would create more jobs at a lower cost. However, Hartung says there is no guarantee that shifting money from defense to other public projects will help places that currently depend on military installations.

Hartung says a large Democratic wave in this year's election wouldn’t necessarily make a big change in defense spending. He says many Democrats have military facilities in their district. Hartung says the issue of military spending could become more important politically if there are proposals to cut programs such as Social Security and Medicare. He says if the issue is seen as increasing military spending and cutting popular programs, the dynamics could change.