Time to Redirect the Military Budget to Public Health

America’s addiction to war, by the numbers.

Indigo Olivier

Soldiers in the Old Guard arrive to place flags at graves in Arlington National Cemetery during "Flags In" in preparation for Memorial Day May 25, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

When it comes to fight­ing wars abroad, there seem to be unlim­it­ed funds; the ques­tion of how we’re going to pay for it is rarely asked. Since tak­ing office, Pres­i­dent Trump has passed one of the most expen­sive defense bud­gets in U.S. his­to­ry. As the Unit­ed States faces the most seri­ous and imme­di­ate threat it has faced in decades, the defense bud­get should instead be redi­rect­ed toward com­bat­ing our pub­lic health emergency.

Over the past two weeks, near­ly 10 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have filed for unem­ploy­ment, and Fed­er­al Reserve econ­o­mists project that num­ber may come close to 50 mil­lion in the com­ing months. In a coun­try where med­ical care is tied to employ­ment, those who have recent­ly lost their jobs will like­ly join the ranks of the unin­sured — a pop­u­la­tion that stood at 27 mil­lion before the COVID-19 cri­sis began. And there are signs that this cri­sis is already hit­ting low-income com­mu­ni­ties of col­or the hard­est. Physi­cians on the front lines report that the dis­tri­b­u­tion of test­ing sites and med­ical resources have shown famil­iar bias­es against low-income major­i­ty-black neigh­bor­hoods. In Mil­wau­kee, where all eight of their first fatal­i­ties were African Amer­i­can, Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Tony Evers has referred to med­ical dis­crim­i­na­tion in the midst of the pan­dem­ic as a cri­sis with­in a cri­sis.” With the Unit­ed States now lead­ing the world in con­firmed coro­n­avirus cas­es, and fac­ing pro­jec­tions of up to 240,000 deaths, the mil­i­tary bud­get is a strik­ing indi­ca­tor of how dras­ti­cal­ly we need to reori­ent our polit­i­cal priorities.

How many lives could we save and improve if we redi­rect­ed our mas­sive mil­i­tary spend­ing towards meet­ing the needs of peo­ple try­ing to sur­vive the COVID-19 crisis?

  • $6.4 Tril­lion will have been spent on U.S. bud­getary costs and oblig­a­tions from post‑9/​11 wars by fall 2020
  • 57% of Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­posed 2020 bud­get will be spent on defense, or $718,000,000,000
  • 36% of glob­al arms sales between 2015 – 2019 were export­ed by the U.S., the world’s largest arms exporter
  • $1 Tril­lion was spent on the F‑35 fight­er jet pro­gram over 60 years, the most expen­sive U.S. weapons program
  • 1.3 Mil­lion peo­ple have died, direct­ly and indi­rect­ly, from fight­ing in post‑9/​11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • 1.2 Mil­lion met­ric tons of green­house gas­es — equiv­a­lent to the annu­al emis­sions of 2.5 mil­lion pas­sen­ger cars — have been emit­ted by the U.S. mil­i­tary since the start of the War on Terror
  • $2 Tril­lion in coro­n­avirus relief spend­ing was approved March 27, the largest stim­u­lus pack­age in mod­ern U.S. his­to­ry — more than twice the size of the 2009 stimulus
  • 10% of the nation­al GDP, pro­por­tion­al­ly, has been allo­cat­ed for the U.S. relief pack­age — less than both Ger­many and the UK, coun­tries at sim­i­lar stages of the pandemic

Indi­go Olivi­er is an In These Times Good­man Inves­tiga­tive Fellow.

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