Divesting from Weapons

W.J. Astore

There’s a bill before the Rhode Island State Legislature (House Bill 6026) that aims to divest state pension funds from military contractors. I wrote a short letter in favor of this bill and submitted it, as follows:

I served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2005.  There are many of us within the military who recognize the wisdom of General Smedley Butler, twice awarded the Medal of Honor.  Butler wrote that the best way to end war is to take the profit out of it.  Butler wrote in the 1930s, when our country believed that weapons makers were “merchants of death.”  They were called that because of the vast killing fields of World War I, a war that killed more than 100,000 Americans, together with millions of other troops from Britain, France, Germany, and elsewhere.

Joining Smedley Butler was another great American, General (later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower.  In his famous “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953, Ike wrote that unnecessary spending on weaponry would lead to humanity being crucified on a cross of iron.  Here are his words:

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… 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.

In 1961, President Eisenhower warned all Americans against the dangers of the military-industrial complex.  Sixty years later, in 2021, America dominates the world in selling weapons across the globe.  We have become the “merchants of death” that Generals Butler and Eisenhower warned us about.

Weapons kill.  Weapons make wars more likely.  And as Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

It’s time for us to hate war again.  It’s time for us to beat our swords into ploughshares, as the Bible tells us.  It’s time for us to pursue more peaceful activities.

Rhode Island can set a strong example – a shining example – in the pursuit of peace and sanity.  I urge you to vote “for” House Bill 6026.

Let us beat our swords into ploughshares …

*****

The “Divestment Fact Sheet” for the bill explains its purpose, as follows:

  1. Allows us to redirect our investment dollars toward socially productive corporations addressing important social assets like climate resilience, health, and education, which aid economic growth;
  2. Seeks to move money away from corporations whose output foments violence, death, destruction, and social chaos.
  3. Educates the general public about the role of weapons manufacturers in the cycle of tax breaks, lobbying largesse, increasing military budgets and weapon sales.
  4. Reduces the flow of scarce economic resources to military weapons manufacturers by reducing public investment;
  5. Sends a message to the US Congress that we need to sharply reduce investment in military weapons where the costs are increasingly public (ever increasing health bills for traumatized and injured vets of the endless wars, reconstruction bills in foreign lands, ever increasing maintenance bills and graft on weapons systems) and the benefits are private (lobbying firm profits, huge weapons manufacturer bonuses and excessive CEO pay packages).

In America, money talks. As Smedley Butler said, ending the madness of war will most likely come when we can take the profit out of it. Here’s hoping Rhode Island’s effort succeeds — and sets an example for others across our nation.