It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. Again, that sounds like a lot. Let’s round up to $50 billion per year to provide the world with both food and water. Who has that kind of money? We do.
Of course, we in the wealthier parts of the world don’t share the money, even among ourselves. Those in need of aid are right here as well as far away.
But imagine if one of the wealthy nations, the United States for example, were to put $500 billion into its own education (meaning “college debt” can begin the process of coming to sound as backward as “human sacrifice”), housing (meaning no more people without homes), infrastructure, and sustainable green energy and agricultural practices. What if, instead of leading the destruction of the natural environment, this country were catching up and helping to lead in the other direction?
(Note that education, like healthcare, is an area where the U.S. government already spends more than enough to make it free but spends it corruptly.)
The potential of green energy would suddenly skyrocket with that sort of unimaginable investment, and the same investment again, year after year. But where would the money come from? $500 billion? Well, if $1 trillion fell from the sky on an annual basis, half of it would still be left. After $50 billion to provide the world with food and water, what if another $450 billion went into providing the world with green energy and infrastructure, topsoil preservation, environmental protection, schools, medicine, programs of cultural exchange, and the study of peace and of nonviolent action?
U.S. foreign aid right now is about $23 billion a year. Taking it up to $100 billion — never mind $523 billion! — would have a number of interesting impacts, including the saving of a great many lives and the prevention of a tremendous amount of suffering. It would also, if one other factor were added, make the nation that did it the most beloved nation on earth. A recent poll of 65 nations found that the United States is far and away the most feared country, the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world. Were the United States responsible for providing schools and medicine and solar panels, the idea of anti-American terrorist groups would be as laughable as anti-Switzerland or anti-Canada terrorist groups, but only if one other factor were added — only if the $1 trillion came from where it really ought to come from.
Every year, the world spends about $2 trillion on wars and — primarily — on the preparation for wars. The United States spends about half of that, about $1 trillion through various departments including the military, state, energy, homeland security, central intelligence agency, etc. Over half of the rest of the world’s military spending is by the United States’ close allies, and a huge chunk is foreign purchases from U.S. corporations. Ceasing to fund militarism would save a great many lives and halt the counterproductive work of antagonizing the world and generating enemies. But moving even a fraction of that money into useful places would save many times that number of lives and begin generating friendship instead of animosity.
Now, most people in the United States, and many people in a lot of wealthy nations find themselves to be struggling. How can they think about a massive rescue plan for the rest of the world? They shouldn’t. They should think about a massive rescue plan for the entire world, including their own corner of it. The United States could end poverty at home and transition to sustainable practices while going great distances toward helping the world do the same, and have money left over. The climate doesn’t belong to one part of the earth. We’re all in this leaky little boat together. But $1 trillion a year is a truly mammoth amount of money. It’s $10 billion 100 times. Very few things are funded with $10 billion, almost nothing with $100 billion. A whole new world opens up if military funding stops. Options include tax cuts for working people and a shift in power to state and local levels. Regardless of the approach, the economy benefits from the removal of military spending. The same spending in other areas, even in tax cuts for working people, creates more jobs and better paying jobs. And there’s enough savings to make sure that every worker who needs it is retrained and assisted in making a transition. And then the $1 trillion doubles to $2 trillion if the rest of the world demilitarizes as well.
It sounds like a dream, and surely it must be a dream. Don’t we need military spending to protect ourselves and police the planet? We do not. We have other means of protection. The militarism is making us less safe. And the rest of the planet is screaming at the top of its lungs that it would like to cease being policed by a self-appointed and not truly international police force that does more damage than it claims to prevent and leaves ruined nations in its wake after each effort of supposed nation building.
Why do other wealthy nations not find it necessary to spend even 10% of what the United States spends on so-called defense? Well, most of their military spending, like most U.S. military spending serves no defensive purpose. Even if one still believed in military defense, defense means a coast guard and border patrol, anti-aircraft weapons, tools for fighting off a feared invasion, the fear of which would diminish rapidly if nations moved toward departments of actual defense. Weapons in the seas and skies of the world and outerspace are not defensive. Troops permanently stationed in the majority of the world’s nations, as U.S. troops are, is not defensive. It’s preemptive. It’s part of the same logic that leads to aggressive wars aimed at removing possible future threats, real or imaginary.
One need not believe even in the necessity of a scaled back, truly defensive military. Studies of the past century have found that nonviolent tools are more effective in resisting tyranny and oppression. If one nation were to attack another in a demilitarized world, these things should happen: the people of the attacking nation should refuse to take part, the people of the attacked nation should refuse to recognize an invader’s authority, people of the world should go to the attacked nation as peace workers and human shields, images and facts of the attack should be made visible everywhere, governments of the world should sanction the government responsible but not its people, those responsible should be tried in international court, and disputes should be brought to international arbitration.
Because war and war preparation is not needed to protect us and is widely acknowledged to generate hostility, thus making us less safe, we can list all of its consequences on the same side of a cost-benefit analysis. There are no benefits that could not be better created without war. The costs are extensive: the killing of large numbers of men, women, and children in what have become very one-sided slaughters, the remaining violence that lasts for years to come, the destruction of the natural environment that can last for millennia, the erosion of civil liberties, the corruption of government, the example of violence taken up by others, the concentration of wealth, the wasting each and every year of $2 trillion.
Here’s a dirty little secret: war can be abolished. When dueling was abolished, people didn’t keep defensive dueling. Ending war entirely means ending defensive war. But nothing is lost in that bargain, as stronger tools than war have been developed for defensive needs during the 70 years since the last war that many like to claim proves war’s capacity for goodness and justness. Isn’t it odd that people have to skip back over so many dozens of wars to a radically different epoch to find what they think of as a legitimate example of what has been our top public investment ever since? But this is a different world from the world of World War II. No matter what you make of the decades of decisions that created that crisis, we face very different crises today, we’re not likely to face that same type of crisis — especially if we invest in preventing it — and we do we have different tools with which to handle it.
War is not needed in order to maintain our lifestyle, as the saying goes. And wouldn’t that be reprehensible if it were true? We imagine that for 5 percent of humanity to go on using 30 percent of the world’s resources we need war or the threat of war. But the earth has no shortage of sunlight or wind. Our lifestyles can be improved with less destruction and less consumption. Our energy needs must be met in sustainable ways, or we will destroy ourselves, with or without war. That’s what’s meant by unsustainable. So, why continue an institution of mass killing in order to prolong the use of exploitative behaviors that will ruin the earth if war doesn’t do it first? Why risk the proliferation of nuclear and other catastrophic weapons in order to continue catastrophic impacts on the earth’s climate and ecosystems? The fact is that if we are going to adequately address climate change and environmental collapse, we are going to need that $2 trillion that the world invests in war.
War is not a tool for bettering the world. War costs the aggressor nation severely, but those costs are as nothing compared to the damage inflicted on the attacked. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia have suffered, and will go on suffering severely from recent U.S. wars. These wars take large numbers of lives, almost all of them on one side, almost all of them the lives of people who did nothing to the nations attacking them. But, while war costs a great many lives, many times that number of lives could be saved by redirecting a fraction of the enormous pile of money spent on war. For far less than war and war preparation cost us, we could transform our lives at home, and make our country the most beloved on earth by providing aid to others. For what it has cost to wage the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, we could have provided the world with clean water, ended starvation, built countless schools, and created green energy sources and sustainable agriculture practices in much of the globe, including our own homes. What protection would the United States need from a world to which it had given schools and solar energy? And what would the United States choose to do with all of the money left over? Isn’t THAT an exciting problem to be faced with?
Do we need war to prevent something worse? There isn’t something worse. Wars are not effective tools for preventing larger wars. Wars are not effective at preventing genocides. Rwanda needed a history with less war, and it needed police, it did not need bombs. Nor are those killed by a foreign government any less tragically killed than those killed by their own government. War is the worst thing we’ve invented. We don’t speak of good slavery or just rape or humanitarian child abuse. War is in that category of things that are always evil.
Aren’t we stuck with war because we’re humans? There are few things we say that about. Not slavery, not blood feuds, not dueling, not waterboarding, not sweatshops, not the death penalty, not nuclear weapons, not child abuse, not cancer, not hunger, not the filibuster or the senate or the electoral college or fundraising phone calls at dinner time. Almost nothing that we dislike do we claim to be permanently stuck with against our will. How many major institutions requiring great funding and the coordinated efforts of huge numbers of people can you think of that we claim to be stuck with forever against our will? Why war?
If we were to create a new institution that required a global investment of some $2 trillion a year, about $1 trillion of that from the United States alone, and if this institution hurt us economically, if it damaged our natural environment severely, if it stripped us of our civil liberties, if it funneled our hard-earned wealth into the hands of a small-number of corrupt profiteers, if it could only function through the participation of large numbers of young people the majority of whom would suffer physically or mentally and who would be made significantly more likely to commit suicide, if merely recruiting these young people and persuading them to take part in our new institution cost us more than it would to provide them with college educations, if this new institution made self-government more difficult, if it made our nation feared and hated abroad, and if its primary function was to kill large numbers of innocent children and grandparents and people of all ages, I can think of a lot of comments we might hear in response to our creation of this marvelous new institution. One of them is not “Gee it’s too bad we’re stuck with this monstrosity forever.” Why in the world would we be stuck with it? We made it. We could unmake it.
Ah, someone might say, but a new creation is different from an institution that has always been with us and always will be. No doubt that’s true, but war is actually a new creation. Our species goes back 100,000 to 200,000 years. War goes back only 12,000. And during these 12,000 years, war has been sporadic. Most societies at most times have done without it. “There’s always been a war somewhere,” people say. Well, there’s always not been a war many somewheres. Cultures that have used war have later abandoned it. Others have picked it up. It has not followed resource shortages or population density or capitalism or communism. It has followed cultural acceptance of war. And people who have done without war have not suffered for its absence. There is not a single recorded case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder created by war deprivation. On the contrary, most people suffer severely from participation in war and must be carefully conditioned prior to taking part. Since war ceased to involve hand-to-hand combat, it has been as open to women as to men, and women have begun to take part; it would be just as possible for men to cease taking part.
At this moment the vast majority of people on earth are represented by governments that invest less in war and war preparation than the United States does — significantly less, measured absolutely or as a percentage of nations’ economies. And some people are represented by governments that have not waged war in decades or centuries, some by governments that have literally put their military in a museum.
Of course, one might argue that the influence of the military industrial complex and its lobbyists and propagandists is invincible. But few would believe that. Why would something as new as the military industrial complex be permanent? Certainly ending war will require more than telling pollsters we want it ended. Certainly our governments are less than ideally responsive to public opinion. Certainly we are up against skilled people who will struggle to keep the cushy deal they’ve got. But popular activism has stood up to the war machine many times, including in rejecting proposed U.S. missile strikes on Syria in the summer of 2013. What can be stopped once can be stopped again and again and again and again forever, until the idea of it ceases to be thinkable.
Some U.S. states are setting up commissions to work on the transition from war to peace insustries.