"Have we as a nation gone mad, waging war in the Persian Gulf while society crumbles?" Seymour Melman asked rhetorically when I interviewed him for The Progressive 19 years ago.
Even though Melman, a professor emeritus at Columbia University's school of industrial engineering, departed this life in 2004, his question still haunts our society, as the American War Machine since then has only gained in momentum, immensity, universality and cruelty.
To answer Melman: "Yes, we have gone mad." That's because presidents and Pentagon chiefs start new wars even before they finish fighting the old ones! Who can recall a time in our history when the U.S. initiated aggressive wars against five nations(Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen)?
Between 1947 and 1989, Melman said, the U.S. spent $8.2 trillion (in 1982 dollars) on the military. When I said I couldn't grasp a figure that large, Melman replied, "Think of it this way: In 1982, the total money value of all America's manufacturing, industry and its infrastructure amounted to $7.3 trillion. You could have replicated the largest part of everything made by people in this country with what the military got." ( Everything made by everybody? All the houses? All the highways? All the schools? All the hospitals? A new America? Everything?)
Melman went on to say, "Half of every dollar you pay in Federal taxes goes into the military account. Pentagon contractors are awash in billions while the infrastructure that underpins our economy collapse around us and human misery spreads everywhere."
Fast-forward: Today, the Pentagon still gets roughly half of every tax dollar. The War Resisters League estimates 54% of the pie goes to the military compared with 30% for all human resources, 11 percent for general government and 5% for physical resources..
Defense contractors are awash in profits while lines lengthen at soup kitchens, foreclosed families sleep in shelters, 20 million are jobless or underemployed, food stamp use sets records, summer jobs for teens have vanished, and President Obama appears willing to rat out the elderly on Social Security and Medicare as too costly while he authorizes new CIA drone attacks on Pakistan.
The Pentagon budget does more than absorb tax dollars. It punishes the civilian sector in many ways. For instance, it has siphoned off so much scientific talent the U.S. has long since fallen behind Japan and Germany in innovative technologies. "We're paying the price for building colossal military power," Melman said. "It's set in motion a process of technical, industrial and human deterioration. We're losing millions of productive jobs because U.S. firms with U.S. factories can't even hold our home markets against foreign competition."