THE EMPTY HAND
November 12, 2010 § 2 Comments
As controversy swirls around what cuts might be made to the federal budget in the coming years, I am reminded of what that great teacher, Mr.Miyagi, told his student Daniel, in The Karate Kid:
“Karate for self-defense only.”
As a nation, the United States may want to take a look at that philosophy as we attempt to move forward, and begin to allocate our precious public funds in a more productive, efficient way.
The Department of Health and Human Services (over $800 billion) and the Social Security Administration (around $700 billion) are two of the three largest pieces of our federal budget pie. Arguments for and against cutting the size of the allocation made to these two areas have been raging back and forth for decades; the ways in which that might be done are too complex to even begin to explore in this column today. I want to focus on the third piece, which has also become the clearest third rail in American politics.
It is, of course, Defense. Coming in at around $664 billion.
But the name is erroneous. The entity that we now call, “The Department of Defense” may have begun with an impulse toward defending our shores (although even that is arguable), but it has since developed into an institution more focused on offense.
Therefore I suggest, in the interests of clarity, that we begin calling it the Department of Offense. But make sure that you place the emphasis on the second syllable; in that way, you’ll be illuminating both the nature of the strategy itself in addition to the political effect that it has on the vast majority of the world’s citizenries.
Yet, due to the constant reinforcement, by our political ‘leaders’, corporate media, film and television and most of our prominent civic voices, of the need for a gigantic military presence abroad and at home, any talk of reducing our offensive presence in the world guarantees almost certain political death and public estrangement.
The connection between law enforcement (for, ultimately, that is what any military operation is supposed to be about, whether on a local or global scale) and its opposing force, the criminal element, is a strange, complex and tensive phenomenon. Is the former a consequence of the existence of the latter, or are they co-dependent and equal partners in their dance? One only has to take the slightest turn off the well-paved road of corporate media discussion to listen to a different discussion coming from progressive thinkers: that terrorism is a direct result of US military presence in Middle Eastern nations, primarily through its intervention in, and empowering of, its closest ally in the region, Israel. This polemic is neither new nor revolutionary.
The question is, how does that idea find a place in mainstream discussion? Only when it becomes acceptable to explore this idea, that a show of strength must have the effect of galvanizing an equally belligerent opposing element, will political leaders be able to take the action that will continue to be of greater and greater necessity, as our debt mounts and our public funds, already shrunken due to an ever-shrinking tax base, diminish: that of slashing our Offense budget.
I’m not talking about tiny cuts around the edges. President Obama has shown an admirable and encouraging inclination to cancel the funding for new, useless machines that are not needed. But that is only the smallest beginning. The only way to make more profound changes is to begin to question the ‘threat’ that we hear so much about on a daily basis. I speak not only of terrorism. The entire global ‘defense’ strategy, exemplified through strategic alliances with nations all over the world, implies a way of thinking more suited to the Cold War.
But it’s the old chestnut, isn’t it? Who lowers their guns first? We must follow the faulty thinking all the way to the end: do we believe that if we withdraw, retreating back into ourselves and closing down military bases and ceasing our funding and support of client states such as Israel, that nations such as China will attack us? Invade? Attempt to wipe us out? These are important questions, because if their answer is No, or even Possibly Not, then we must question if our massive military expenditure, and our military itself, is indeed a protective force for the citizens it purports to represent, American and other.
The idea that China’s current ‘unfair’ economic practices (as if the US has always been ‘fair’ in its own economic and geopolitical practices) and possible bullying of its neighbours must mean that it would seek our destruction if we dropped our guard even for an instant, is fallacious to the extreme, if not insane.
Can nations only live in peaceful co-existence if they are serving each other’s interests? Maybe smaller nations, who keep more to themselves, need not focus on these issues as intensely. But the United States, trapped in a downward spiral of egoic military projection, thanks in part to an obsession with being ‘number one’, must begin to confront its identification with global dominance, both militarily and economically.
One hateful expression that I often hear in this country, used as a response to a need for greater social equality through Government programs, is “charity begins at home”. Why do I have to help you, they say? Pull yourself up by your boot straps.
It may be time to indeed tend our own garden, and to realize that there is no real ‘charity’ being extended to anyone. There must be a discussion centered around what it means to be the world’s “policeman”. Policing is expensive, especially when the people being policed sense that their interests are not being served. Maybe, if left to their own devices, people and nations will find a way to work together, without our ‘help’.
We may even find that all those ‘criminals’ we’re afraid of, might go in a different direction if they have no enemy to fight.
References: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/ Office of Management & Budget.