How the military is used by the 1% without regard for the 99%

This image from the We are the 99% project has generated a lot of discussion on one Duke student’s wall.  Specifically, one of the Executive Board Members of Duke College Republicans (Duke CR) [not speaking as an official representative of her organization] said this: ” The fact that you CAN join the army in order to get free education should give you a reason to believe in this country… living in our country grants you access to this valuable commodity even when you are not fortunate enough to afford it on your own.”

The military certainly is a path for upward mobility in the U.S., and for many Americans, one of the few paths that exist.  Should the fact that joining the military provides a path to upward mobility give us reason to believe in the United States?

Not if “the 1%” exploits the fact that the military is one of the few sure tickets to a good life and uses soldiers as “pawns” in a game that benefits the 1% without regard for the 99%.   This is the thrust of the argument I want to make .

A few prefaces before I get going:

  • While I think we go to war too often, I do think there are such a thing as wars that should be fought.  While I probably don’t agree with Doug Fieth on much, I think he had a point when he said, “The kind of people who put bumper stickers on their car that declare that ‘War is not the answer,’ are they making a serious comment? What’s the answer to Pearl Harbor? What’s the answer to the Holocaust?””
  • I don’t think people who join the military out of a desire to serve their country are misguided–I think they are doing something really brave and deserve respect.  I question current U.S. military operations, and it may be that supporting these efforts does not in practice serve the actual American interest.  This is a matter of debate.  The military certainly can and should serve the American interest.

And what I mean by the 1%:  Here, I mean the group in whom political and economic power is concentrated, especially (a) corporations, and  (b) politically influential individuals who have goals (sometimes, but not necessairly pro-corporate goals) that they wish to be fulfilled

  • The military is heavily influenced by corporate lobbies.  The United States is too quick to enter into military conflicts (at the expense of the tax dollars of the 99%) because of this.   The overlap in staff between the Pentagon and private defense contractors (think Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems) is evident, large and problematic–clear conflicts of interest are routinely documented at the highest levels where decisions are made; since 2004, 80-90% of retiring 3- and 4- star generals became “rent-a-generals” as consultants or defense executives.    While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the United States a whopping $3 trillion (e.g. enough to completely eradicate food insecurity globally for one century), not everyone has lost out, and in fact, some people have profited enormously: Halliburton alone made a whopping $17.2 billion in Iraq between 2003 and 2006.  Is this what conservatives have in mind when they talk about “small government?”    Lobbyists push us to develop and expand our military, which in turn causes us to consider it as a viable answer to almost any time of global conflict (what are all of these guns for otherwise?)  The 99% loses out by paying for this and by being the group whose lives are actually at risk on the battlefront.
  • The United States is too quick to enter into military conflicts precisely because the army that will fight and die in wars does not include very many Americans in the wealthiest 1%.    Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.  This allows Congress and the President some capacity to externalize the deaths caused by war–these deaths happen to other sorts of people, to people for whom the military was the only shot of a good life anyways, not to the sons or to the daughters of the decision-makers.  The war in Afghanistan is now the United States’ longest conflict of all time.  There isn’t much clamor though to bring the troops home, despite the lack of conclusive evidence that we are accomplishing concrete goals.  About 2 servicemen die every day fighting the War on Terror–we accept this, and for what, precisely?
Military recruits are used as pawns by the 1% in war games that benefit corporations, but have few benefits to the rest of the America.
The military is in practice a pathway to a good life for many Americans (assuming you make it out of a conflict alive and unmaimed).  The fact that some people feel compelled to join the military because they believe it is their sole path to a good life though is not something we should be proud of–it should embarrass us. Other wealthy nations have found ways to provide access to higher education, not for some, but for all.**  It might be that the United States should move in the direction of mandatory military service, so that the 1% has their skin in the game the way lower-and-middle class American does.

* (Aside: I think we should believe in the United States for other reasons, and it is a country whose political process I am proud and grateful to take part in).

** Before anybody talks about fiscal responsibility and Europe, observe that both countries mentioned, Norway and Sweden are running budget surpluses

Published by Elena Botella

Elena Botella is a Duke Undergraduate in the Class of 2013, majoring in Economics and Math.

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