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By David Swanson
About four months ago, I organized over 100 scholars, intellectuals, and activists to publish an open letter to Senator Bernie Sanders, which was then signed by over 10,000 more people, several of whom volunteered to deliver it to Senator Sanders. So, we know he received it.
Before publishing the letter, I only changed the text slightly from my original draft of it. The change was that, as published, it didn’t indicate that we had all refused to support his campaign last time around, or promise that we would support his campaign this time around if he did what we were asking. The reason for the change was that some signers had supported him last time despite the significant shortcoming mentioned in our letter, and some might still not support him this time even if he mended his ways. But as for me, I meant the letter the way I had originally written it. I didn’t get out and campaign for Sanders last time, but I was promising to do so this time, if he came through.
He has now come through, and I think we should all support him as long as he continues to. Before I explain that, here’s what the Open Letter said:
We write to you as U.S. residents with great respect for your domestic policies.
We support the position of more than 25,000 people who signed a petition during your presidential campaign urging you to take on militarism.
We believe that Dr. King was correct to assert that racism, extreme materialism, and militarism needed to be challenged together rather than separately, and that this remains true.
We believe this is not only practical advice, but a moral imperative, and — not coincidentally — good electoral politics.
During your presidential campaign, you were asked repeatedly how you would pay for human and environmental needs that could be paid for with small fractions of military spending. Your answer was consistently complicated and involved raising taxes. We believe it would be more effective to more often mention the existence of the military and its price tag. “I would cut 4% of spending on the never-audited Pentagon” is a superior answer in every way to any explanation of any tax plan.
Much of the case that we believe ought to be made is made in a video posted on your Facebook page in early 2018. But it is generally absent from your public comments and policy proposals. Your recent 10-point plan omits any mention of foreign policy whatsoever.
We believe this omission is not just a shortcoming. We believe it renders what does get included incoherent. Military spending is well over 60% of discretionary spending. A public policy that avoids mentioning its existence is not a public policy at all. Should military spending go up or down or remain unchanged? This is the very first question. We are dealing here with an amount of money at least comparable to what could be obtained by taxing the wealthy and corporations (something we are certainly in favor of as well).
A tiny fraction of U.S. military spending could end starvation, the lack of clean water, and various diseases worldwide. No humanitarian policy can avoid the existence of the military. No discussion of free college or clean energy or public transitshould omit mention of the place where a trillion dollars a year is going.
Militarism is the top source of the erosion of liberties, and top justification for government secrecy, top creator of refugees, top saboteur of the rule of law, top facilitator of xenophobia and bigotry, and top reason we are at risk of nuclear apocalypse. There is no area of our social life that is untouched by what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex.
The U.S. public favors cutting military spending.
Even candidate Trump declared the wars since 2001 to have been counterproductive, a statement that appears not to have hurt him on election day.
A December 2014 Gallup poll of 65 nations found the United States to be far and away the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world, and a Pew poll in 2017 found majorities in most countries polled viewing the United States as a threat. A United States responsible for providing clean drinking water, schools, medicine, and solar panels to others would be more secure and face far less hostility around the world; that result would cost a fraction of what is invested in making the United States resented and disliked.
Economists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have documented that military spending is an economic drain rather than a jobs program.
We compliment you on your domestic policies. We recognize that the presidential primaries were rigged against you, and we do not wish to advance the baseless idea that you were fairly defeated. We offer our advice in a spirit of friendship. Some of us worked in support of your presidential campaign. Others of us would have worked, and worked hard, for your nomination had you been a candidate for peace.
Since we published the above letter, I’ve noticed Senator Sanders more often including the problem of militarism and the budget for militarism in his speeches and emails. He had always had some good things to say about certain wars, and some horrendous things to say about others, just as he has in fact voted against and opposed some wars and voted for and supported some others. In recent weeks he’s been good enough in his comments on Venezuela to attract the rage of all the right people, and at other times bad enough to attract the rage of all the wrong people, including me. Senator Sanders, like all of us, will always have a lot of room for improvement.
But the question of military spending, as indicated in the Open Letter above, is not just any one isolated little question. It is the one I look to as the best test of a politician’s agenda. A Congress member who will denounce military spending can be counted on to try to prevent wars, whereas one who will denounce a particular war can by no means be relied upon to oppose military spending. Candidate Donald Trump promised no more regime-change wars while promising to kill more of his enemies’ families and to steal more of the world’s oil. Which crazy, self-contradictory utterances were to be believed? I paid little attention to any of them and focused on his promise to spend more money than ever on the U.S. military. I had made the same analysis with Candidate Barack Obama who had made statements of equal incoherence and the same promise to enlarge the military.
Bernie Sanders gives a very similar speech over and over again, sometimes numerous times in a day. If moving money from militarism to human and environmental needs makes it consistently into his speech, it may stay there a while, especially if we cheer for it, celebrate it, and let him know we appreciate it. He’s dropped his talk about how Saudi Arabia should fund more of the world’s wars, as if wars were a public service that the U.S. was funding more than its share of. I don’t know whether he’s dropped his support for basing the F-35 in Burlington, but the idea of war spending as a jobs program may be on the way out of his repertoire. It’s being replaced with something far more sane, fact-based, and sustainable.
Senator Sanders gave two big speeches on March 2nd and 3rd. In the first, in Brooklyn, he said:
“Today, we say to the military-industrial-complex that we will not continue to spend $700 billion a year on the military – more than the next ten nations combined. We’re going to invest in affordable housing, we’re going to invest in public education, we’re going to invest in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure – not more nuclear weapons and never-ending wars.”
In the second, in Chicago, he said the same thing, and he began his speech by listing the “military industrial complex” as one of the handful of corrupt forces he is up against. He always used to leave it out.
Anyone who wants to talk the way that Bernie talks now, I’m willing to support.
So, what do I say if more than one candidate is willing to talk that way? Well, with new ones entering the race all the time and Sanders capable of reversing course, nothing is carved in stone. But there is currently no question that Sanders has the best platform of domestic issues to fit with his new anti-militarism. He has the best experience, the best campaign, the best name-recognition, and the best polling. I’m happy to let all the times I’ve backed Jill Stein speak to the “You just back Bernie because he’s male” idiocy.
What he have now, beyond another endless, depressing, corrupt campaign for the imperial presidency is a chance for a public debate on moving military spending to human and environmental needs. When cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors tell Congress to move money from the military to human and environmental needs, the corporate media ignore it. When the public tells pollsters the same, the corporate media ignore it. But we’re past the ignore you and laugh at you stages with Bernie Sanders — which we never escaped when I worked as Press Secretary for the Dennis Kucinich for President Campaign. We’re into the “then they attack you” phase, which we should welcome shoulder-to-shoulder in support of a candidate now doing what we said we’d support him for if he did it.
The Super-Delegate scam has been eliminated. Joe Biden can’t start the race with the pretense of an insurmountable lead. When this election season begins, it will very likely begin with Sanders as the leading candidate, not only in polling against Republicans (like last time) but also in delegate count.
Now, I despise lesser-evilism because in most people it results in lesser-evil thinking, acting, lobbying, and self-identifying, not just voting. But here we have a likely nominee who actually, taken as a whole, isn’t evil. That’s the breakthrough here. And I’d rather not divide the non-evil Democratic primary and caucus support among dozens of candidates, this one from my state, that one from your state, this one good on banks, that one good on some wars, yet another one moderately OK on drugs or healthcare, and others possessing desirable demographics that tell us absolutely nothing about their behavior.
Let’s be crystal clear: Joe Biden is a walking warmongering disaster. This guy’s own son was very likely killed by reckless open-pit burning in nations the U.S. military turned into what Donald Trump calls “shit holes.” And Biden is unmoved. He has yet to find a war he doesn’t like. Want me to oppose old white males? Find me a better way to oppose Joe Biden than with Bernie Sanders!
If we are going to have a public debate over whether to mitigate the coming catastrophes of climate collapse and nuclear proliferation, the best chance is if we all try to elect Bernie Sanders.
I do not want Bernie Sanders to defeat Donald Trump. I want Donald Trump impeached and removed from office this week. (Questions, including “Eeeek Help! Pence! Pence! Are you out of your f—ing mind? PENCE!” are addressed here and have been for the past two years.)
I do not want activism and education diverted into electoral madness. I do not want any president to have a tenth the power they’re all routinely now given. I don’t even want a representative government, if you’d really like to know; I’d prefer direct democracy. But working with what we’ve got, our best strategy at the moment is to put whatever’s going to be put into elections into electing Bernie Sanders. I offered him a deal. As long as he upholds his side, I have to uphold mine.