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The Fundamental Paradox of the War Economy

The U.S. army has a recruitment problem.

By Carley Towne

After the Trump administration announced plans in 2017 to reverse the proposed drawdown of troops, the Army announced this year that they would fall short of recruitment goals for the first time since the height of the Iraq war 13 years ago.  

And, in a stunning moment of honesty, the Army attributed their failure to recruit sufficient numbers of soldiers to a “robust economy”, revealing, if unintentionally, what we’ve known all along: the Army preys on the economic desperation of people to coerce them into committing acts of violence abroad.

This admission came weeks after  the Senate voted almost unanimously to increase the U.S. military budget by $82 billion dollars, making US military spending higher than at any time other than the height of the Iraq war.

At the same time that our government is pouring a record number of tax dollars into funding war and violence, many Americans are turning away from the false promises military recruiters offer. The Army’s declaration of a “robust economy” is overstated, but it is important to recognize that these two events have, if only briefly, uncovered the fundamental connection between the United State’s economy and war and violence abroad.

These revelations make clear that we live in a war economy, a paradox in which we funnel billions into military spending yet depend on poverty and desperation to coerce Americans into committing heinous acts of violence in the name of US empire. This cruel irony is no coincidence- our elected officials choose to bloat the military budget and give tax breaks to corporations to the detriment of social programs which promote life and well-being at home.  

While “the economy” is a term often used to obscure conversations about accountability by claiming that our lives are dictated by the whim of the market, nothing could be further from the truth. The economy is only made possible through a set of social relations in which corporations exist by the enforcement of laws and agreements that we, as a society, create. This  means we choose how and why we spend and regulate our money-- not the other way around.

Take, for example, the fact that we have determined it morally necessary for the US Department of State to cease arms sales to countries that use weapons to kill civilians. While the United States has an appalling record of failing to enforce these laws, it is clear that we have the ability to regulate companies who show callous disregard for human life in their ever expanding search for profit.  

But simply sanctioning some forms of killing while condemning only the most reprehensible does not address the root problem of our war economy. The United States has the largest military budget of any other country in the world and more than the next ten countries combined. Every year we choose to siphon off approximately sixty percent of discretionary spending to fund endless wars and weapons which often sit unused. We choose to do this to the detriment of programs like Medicare, investment in our public infrastructure, and efforts to save the world from ecological collapse. While these important social programs languish, the military only grows larger and spreads death and destruction around the world.

To truly transform our economy from one in which death is a lucrative business to one that values the flourishing of human lives, we have to be willing to divest from the war machine and reinvest in programs which foster human life. This can start by banning weapons sales abroad by companies like Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics who rake in $140 billion in profits every year on weapons sales alone. But we can’t stop there. We also have to re-direct money away from funding the military and into existing programs that have been ignored for far too long. Even by simply denying the 82 billion dollar increase in military spending that the Senate approved this year we could make public universities in the U.S. tuition free.   

Make no mistake, the decision to pour billions of tax dollars into the military and give weapons manufacturers carte blanche to profit from death is a political and moral decision we make every day. Those in power have a vested interest in maintaining this status quo because they materially benefit. But the vast majority of Americans are faced with public infrastructure that is crumbling, public schools that are severely underfunded, and a healthcare system that leaves them in crippling debt. We must be resolute in our insistence that the world doesn’t have to be this way, and, in coming together to make our voices heard, we can begin to imagine new political horizons. We can begin to think of new ways to spend our money and be in community that celebrate human life and encourage creative pursuits. We can transform our war economy into a local peace economy which works for people, not profit and empire.





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