What Has 7 Years of “Total War” Bought Us?

Now that the topic of “national security” and the monetary cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has once again reared it’s head in the Presidential campaign, it might be time to take stock of just what we’ve gotten for the HUGE amount of resources in blood and treasure we’ve expended in these wars.

This same issue also came to the fore at about this time last year when the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis sparked yet another round of the age-old “guns vs. butter” debate. Personally, when I saw the pictures of twisted steel and concrete rebar, the first thought that popped into my head was, “We seem to be able to afford dumping trillions of dollars down a “rat hole” for illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we don’t seem to have enough money available to fix our ever-aging (and now crumbling) highway infrastructure.”

However, in reality, the argument is not about “guns vs. butter”, but “butter vs. butter”.

I recall hearing the same wails of protest over the Apollo space program in the 1960s. The question then was: “Why are we spending all that money on the Moon when millions of poor people are still starving in Appalachia”?

The truth is that not one plug nickel of the tax money we spent on the Apollo program was ever spent “on the Moon”. It was all spent right here on Earth. It was expended to pay the salaries of the thousands upon thousands of US workers who built, tested, launched and then controlled the entire infrastructure of the moon missions, as well as to procure the actual hardware and software that flew on those missions.

Likewise, despite all the horror stores we’ve heard to the contrary, very little of the money we are now pouring down the “rat holes” in Iraq and Afghanistan is actually being spent there. Rather, most of those untold billions (trillions?) of dollars in tax money are being spent right here in the United States of America. It’s being used to keep hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of workers in our “Military Industrial Complex” in this country gainfully employed.

In fact, in an age when most manufacturing jobs are being automated (and the rest are being sent off to Mexico, India and/or China) our own, far-less automated defense industry is booming…literally…. by keeping millions of US manufacturing workers here at home fully employed and on thousands of payrolls.

What’s more, because of national security issues, the military industrial complex in our nation is one of the last remaining “export proof” sources of manufacturing we now have left. This might help explain why making war continues to be such an attractive “pork barrel” pursuit among our President and his Cabal in Congress.

So, rather than asking the “guns vs. butter” question, we probably OUGHT to be asking ourselves which brand of “butter” we want to fund. That is, when all is said and done with the tax dollars that are now being expended to keep a large segment of our population gainfully employed, what do we want to have to show for that expenditure when we are all finished?

It is important to remember that, since the dawn of time, the basic purpose of any military organization has been to kill people and break things. And, right now, our US defense industry is cranking out untold arsenals of guns, tanks, personnel carriers, airplanes, bombs missiles, ammunition and ships to do just that in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe. When you toss in those armaments being manufactured for use in law enforcement and “security”, ours is a nation that has since become, by any measure, armed to the teeth.

But, unfortunately, what we’ve gotten in exchange for all the things we’ve bought, shipped and then used (or used up) on the field of battle for the last seven years is a lot of destruction along with lots of broken (or worn out) expensive military machinery. This is not to mention the horrific human cost in the tens of thousands of our own soldiers that have gotten killed or maimed in these wars, nor does it take into account the untold numbers of non-combatant men, women and children who, unfortunately, have just happened to be in the way while we were “killing people and breaking things”.

Now, there are those who will vehemently argue that keeping the people in our nation alive and free is the principal purpose of our military. I certainly won’t argue that point. But, making the leap to equating that basic thought with indefinitely underwriting the quagmire our leadership has now gotten us into in Iraq and Afghanistan with our hard earned tax dollars simply doesn’t compute.

In fact, it’s not even close.

On the other hand, if we were to now divert more of the resources we are spending on continuing to underwrite the “no-win” quagmires our leadership have gotten us into in Iraq and Afghanistan and use them for rebuilding our crumbling highways in this country, we could still keep a large, “non-exportable” workforce in our nation gainfully employed, as well as those of us who regularly travel over that now crumbling infrastructure ALIVE.

What’s more, our country would also have many more lasting and useful monuments to that labor…rebuilt highways and bridges…. with far more short AND long-term benefits to our nation…to show for it.