What Are We Defending?


During the darkest of times in England’s struggle against Nazi Germany, when she stood alone against the blitz, Winston Churchill was asked if the government should transfer funds from the arts and theater to the war effort. His glib response was, “Then what are we fighting for?” What he meant was that the finer, loftier and more dignified accomplishments of the human condition were worth fighting for. Brutality, war, racism and oppression had to be confronted while preserving those elegant ideals.

The United States is in a similar position regarding the expenditure of resources, their priorities and their worthiness to our higher and loftier achievements as a nation. We are not at war with fascism as England was, but we are making choices with our treasure and resources that seem misplaced in light of our safety from real enemies. We were born as a nation that dedicated itself to opportunity. Once we got it that slavery was an immoral thing, peoples from around the world flooded to our shores to share in the opportunities not available in their home countries. We were a land of ideals, of hope, of promise, of education for all, of opportunity for everyone to “make it” and a land of freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution matched by no one else. Upward mobility hadn’t been coined yet, but the USA led the world in success stories.

Since those halcyon days, before 1972 when Lewis Powell wrote to the US Chamber of Commerce calling to arms corporate/banking America to organize and directly influence government to favor business and banking, our economy, employment levels, budget and tax fairness were among the best in history. The Citizens United v. FEC decision by the Supreme Court, however, changed all that and is, so far, the high point of a silent coup against democracy.

The combination of budget cuts to social programs, tax breaks and carried interest deductions for the wealthy, tax haven expansion for corporate/banking America, easing of job exportation from our own workforce, a return to Jim Crow voting restrictions and the trillion dollar giveaway to the drug industry of Medicare Part D, has created an unprecedented confluence of negative economic and political environments that have nearly destroyed the middle class, labor unions and the purchasing power of the American public. That long sentence is inadequate to explain the depth and breadth of the downward spiral of our infrastructure and social fabric since austerity economics/politics have become the new normal.

A summary of news looks like this: We cannot afford to adequately educate our children. We resist the obvious logic to supply adequate health care for our citizens who cannot afford it. We can’t afford safety nets for the unemployed and blame them for the exodus of their jobs to Asia. Good Christians accuse the poor of being moochers. Some political entities whine about bailouts even when they save millions of jobs and avoid economic collapse. The courts say that corporations are people, money is speech and racism in America is dead. Meanwhile, there is plenty of money to subsidize the most profitable energy companies, giant agri-business, drug companies and for bailing out nefarious banking operations. There is plenty of money – the largest portion of our budget – for military and security apparatus, wars of choice and a huge international spying activity.

Supply-side economics is a proven failure. The only solid business realm is the military-industrial complex and its dependent suppliers. They create jobs because they are contracted to do so, and their profits continue to soar. In short, our economy is war-based and we subsidize those companies upon which the largest war machine in history depends (most obviously the energy/oil businesses) on top of guaranteed profits. We have become, therefore, a war-based economy and the great promise of upward mobility has virtually disappeared. Our education infrastructure continues to crumble. Our cities are literally falling apart and going bankrupt. Yet we keep making war.

Most noticeable is the drop in upward mobility of working classes inversely proportional to the income gap between the top 1% and everyone else. So, what is the justification for a total war footing and economy?

Yes, the attacks of 9/11/2001 were horrible…and low tech. We saw it coming and did nothing about it. Instead, we invaded the wrong country that had nothing to do with this attack based on lies.

We must ask ourselves whether our national ideals are being adequately attended to while we make more war. What happened to that shining light for humanity? After summarizing the last few decades of our decline as a peace-promoting nation that takes good care of its citizens, provides them with social mobility in job and economic opportunity, we must ask the same question of ourselves that was asked of Churchill: What are we defending and at what cost?

Vern Turner is a retired schoolteacher and engineer in Marble Falls, Texas. This originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2014


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