"Memorial Day is a time to remember, appreciate, and honor the selfless patriots who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to freedom. At a time when our country seems so divided, we must not forget that it is because of their service and sacrifice that we live in the most free and prosperous nation on Earth." --Congressman Tom Garrett
It would be difficult to count all of the lies in the above statement. Let's just highlight a few.
Let's start with "most free."
Let's also consider "most . . . prosperous."
The United States has the largest nominal gross domestic product (GDP). [xi] In GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP), however, the United States trails China and the European Union. [xii] (PPP is a means of calculating exchange rates between currencies that controls for variations in cost of living and pricing.) In neither measure of wealth is the United States a leader per capita. [xiii] And, even if it were, that wouldn't mean what it sounds like for most people in the United States, because this country with the biggest bucket of cash also has it distributed the most unequally of any wealthy nation, giving the United States both the biggest collection of billionaires [xiv] on earth and the highest or nearly highest rates of poverty and child-poverty among wealthy nations. [xv] The United States ranks 111th out of 150 countries for income equality, according to the CIA [xvi], or 100th out of 158, according to the World Bank [xvii], while for equitable distribution of wealth (a very different measure from income), according to one calculation [xviii], the United States ranks 147th out of 152 countries.
In December 2017, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty issued a report on the United States that included these lines:[xix]
- US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
- Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the "health gap" between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
- US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries.
- Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
- The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
- In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
- America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly five times the OECD average. [OECD means the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an organization that has 35 member countries.]
- The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14 percent across the OECD.
- The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
- In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
- According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries.
- The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as "a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league." US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries -- Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
So, not most prosperous, not by a very long shot. What about opportunity or social mobility? Isn't the "freedom" of the United States in fact bound up with the idea that, while most people are not the wealthiest, any of them could become the wealthiest with enough hard work? In reality, while there are always exceptions, there are less upward mobility and more firmly entrenched economic classes in the United States than in other wealthy countries. [xx]
Now, consider "gave the ultimate sacrifice."
The fact is that the "volunteer" military is the one "volunteer" activity on earth that one is not permitted to cease volunteering for. Desertion means punishment. Nor is the expected end date of a contract enforceable if the military should happen to choose to extend it. Nor is signing up in the first place always strictly voluntary.
According to the Not Your Soldier Project:
"The majority of military recruits come from below-median income neighborhoods.
"In 2004, 71 percent of black recruits, 65 percent of Latino recruits, and 58 percent of white recruits came from below-median income neighborhoods.
"The percentage of recruits who were regular high school graduates dropped from 86 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2006.
"[The recruiters] never mention that the college money is difficult to come by -- only 16 percent of enlisted personnel who completed four years of military duty ever received money for schooling. They don't say that the job skills they promise won't transfer into the real world. Only 12 percent of male veterans and 6 percent of female veterans use skills learned in the military in their current jobs. And of course, they downplay the risk of being killed while on duty."
In a 2007 article Jorge Mariscal cited analysis by the Associated Press that found that "nearly three-fourths of [U.S. troops] killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average."