First, we need to realize that our military serves us best when we don't use it. Teddy Roosevelt said we should, "Speak softly, and carry a big stick." A century later Bill Clinton said that we should lead the world by, "The power of our example, not an example of our power." Unless the United States or its allies are attacked (and those we consider our allies should be kept to a very small and select number), we should never engage in war. We certainly should never engage in war to extend or protect American commercial interests in foreign lands: it was this habit that helped to undermine Athens' democracy and Rome's Republic.
We have to realize that every time you pull a sword from a scabbard to use it in combat, you always return it to that scabbard dulled and nicked, in need of resharpening and cleaning, and not nearly effective as it was when you drew it out. Our nation, particularly our generals and admirals, should always be hesitant to draw the sword of war: you never know when you might bend or break it, as we did in Vietnam, and as I fear we are doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We desperately need to rebuild and improve our nation's infrastructure: physical and human. And what I mean by our physical infrastructure is not only our roads, railways, bridges, dams, water and sewer systems, the electrical grid, communications and information networks, but also our manufacturing base. I do not think we would be ill-served if ten percent or more of our military procurement budget for the next fifteen or twenty years was spent on building and modernizing manufacturing plants and other production facilities, in order to insure that all of the components for the ordnance and materiel our military requires are manufactured here in the United States. Ownership should be localized and diversified to insure maximum financial return for local governments, and subsidies provided as necessary. The merger of so many corporations in our defense industry is dangerous: Boeing, Lockheed, and the rest have become too large to fail, and too few not to collude.
We also must invest in our human infrastructure, the people who make up this nation. The rebuilding and reinforcement of our middle class is a top priority. Health care reform is a vital first step: we cannot afford to continue spending one-sixth of our GDP on an uncontrolled private system whose costs go up at seven times the rate of inflation. It is bankrupting workers, and forcing employers to drop health care coverage right and left. The system we have relied upon for more than sixty years is broken beyond repair: broken by the greed of health insurance company collusion, pharmaceutical company avarice, and health care company profiteering. It is time to start anew.
Education is our second step. Our educational system is failing because we have decided that it is more important to warehouse the failures of that system in prisons, than it is to give them the education they need to avoid prison. We have decided that it is unimportant to re-channel the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of some kid selling drugs or joining a gang into constructive activities, because of the color of their skin.
Just remember, in fifty years these kids, their children and their grandchildren, will no longer be the minority in this country, they will be the majority. If we do not take an active interest in their futures now, the United States may have no future.
The American Dream must be brought into every American's reach. We must return hope to our neighborhoods, our classrooms, our assembly lines, our fields and farms, and our lives. That hope must be color blind, and no respecter of social, economic, or political status. It must demand that the twenty percent of America's wealth that has trickled up into the pockets of multimillionaires and billionaires over the last thirty years be redistributed by a system of progressive taxation--including the estate tax--into the pockets of the ninety percent of Americans who are not as well off in 2009 as they were in 1980. This redistribution of wealth should be done through health care, education, and reestablishment of our manufacturing base with loans, subsidies, tariffs, renegotiation of trade treaties, and antitrust action. It can be accomplished by a fairer system of taxation, and reduction of our military presence overseas, where far too many of our deployments seem to be in the interests of American commercial ventures, not our long term national security.
As President Kennedy said at his inauguration, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
I will leave the last words to the wisest of the Founders and Framers, Ben Franklin, taken from the same letter to Sir Joseph Banks that is quoted at the beginning of this article (I did correct one anachronistic spelling):
'What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility; what an extension of agriculture even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements . . . might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief."