What does “security” mean to you? My dad had a utilitarian definition. Born in 1917, he found himself in a fatherless immigrant family with four siblings during the height of the Great Depression. To help his family survive, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and served for two years, earning a dollar a day, most of it sent home to his mother. For my dad, security meant a roof over one’s head, three square meals a day, and warm clothes on one’s back. Food, shelter, clothing: it really was that simple.
Of course, you needed to pay for those bare necessities, meaning you needed a job with decent pay and benefits. Personal security, therefore, hinges on good pay and affordable health care, which many U.S. workers today – in the richest country in the world – continue to scratch and claw for. Another aspect of personal security is education because pay and career advancement within U.S. society often depend on one’s educational level. A college education is proven to lead to higher pay and better career prospects throughout one’s life.
Personal security is in many ways related to national security. Certainly, a nation as large as the U.S. needs a coast guard, border controls, an air force, a national guard, and similar structures for defensive purposes. What it doesn’t need is a colossal, power-projecting juggernaut of a military at $800+ billion a year that focuses on imperial domination facilitated by 750 overseas bases that annually cost more than $100 billion just to maintain. True security, whether personal or national, shouldn’t be about domination. It should be focused on providing a collective standard of living that ensures all Americans can afford nutritious food, a decent place to live, adequate clothing, a life-enriching education, and health care.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood this. In his farewell address as president in 1961, he warned us about the military-industrial complex and its anti-democratic nature. Even more importantly, he called for military disarmament as a “continuing imperative,” and he talked of peace, which he tied to human betterment, and which he said could be “guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.” Ike knew that huge, offensive-minded military budgets constituted a theft from the people; even worse, he knew they constituted a betrayal of our national ideals. A hugely powerful military establishment had “grave implications” to the “very structure of our society,” Ike presciently warned. We have failed to heed his warning.
For Ike, true national security was about fostering human betterment and working toward world peace. It was about securing the necessities of life for everyone. It entailed the pursuit of military disarmament, a pursuit far preferable to allowing the world to be crucified on a cross of iron erected by wars and weapons manufacturers.
Tragically, America’s “councils of government” no longer guard against militarism; rather, they have been captured, often willingly, by the military-industrial complex. The “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” that Ike was counting on to hold the line against incessant warfare and wasteful weaponry is largely uninterested, or uninformed, or uneducated in matters of civics and public policy. Meanwhile, military spending keeps soaring, and the result is greater national insecurity.
In a paradox Ike warned us about, the more money the government devotes to its military, the less secure the nation becomes. Because security isn’t measured in guns and bullets and warheads. It’s measured in a healthy life, a life of meaning, a life of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, not eternal belligerence, should be the goal.
Consider the following fable. A man lives in a castle. He says he seeks security. So he digs moats and erects walls and piles cannon ball upon cannon ball. He posts armed guards and launches raids into the surrounding countryside to intimidate “near-peer” rivals. He builds outlying fortifications and garrisons them, thinking these will secure his castle from attack. Meanwhile, his family and relations in the castle are starving; the roof leaks and internal walls are covered in mold; the people, shivering and in rags, are uneducated and in poor health. Has this man truly provided security for his people? Would we call this man wise?
Grossly overspending on the military and weaponry — on castles and cannons everywhere — produces insecurity. It’s the very opposite of wisdom. Let’s end this folly, America, and seek human betterment and world peace as Ike advised us to do.
Addendum: these are the words Ike spoke in 1953
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.