May 13, 2011

America's "Shoot 'Em Up, Lock 'Em Up" Mentality Is Its Undoing

Remember all the talk of a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Since that time, U.S. defense spending has ballooned, nearly doubling since 2001.

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, it will be hard for the war hawks to defend keeping American troops in Afghanistan. But they will, even as a majority of people want to cut military spending in order to reduce the deficit, rather than cut important social programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. There's lots of money in the Pentagon, and a group of experts has recommended cutting almost $1 trillion from defense over the next decade. People know that the military-industrial-complex is a drain on the nation's economy -- a threat to economic security, and a parasite that is eating its host bit by bit.

It is hard to shake off bad habits and the U.S. has a number of them. This addiction to remaining in a permanent state of war is one of the largest and most problematic. There is the war on terror and the war on drugs. The former is used to justify the behemoth that is the national security apparatus. Meanwhile, the latter facilitates the growth of the prison-industrial-complex, and the incarceration of predominantly poor, uneducated black and Latino men, in a country with no jobs for them. These two systems are equally exploitative and destructive to human lives, and corporations have found their niche in profiting from the suffering of others.

And while profiting in such a manner is an unsustainable model for the long-term success of a nation, some remain undeterred from pursuing this path. America spends almost as much on military as the rest of the world -- combined. We imprison more people than any other nation, including the most repressive dictatorships you can imagine. In fact, the land of the free is home to only 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

Here, we lock 'em up and shoot 'em up. And we'll go visit someone else's backyard and lock 'em up and shoot 'em up too. And our voracious appetite for guns at home perversely complements our lust for senseless war abroad. With 90 guns for nearly every 100 people, the U.S. is the most armed nation on the planet, and we have shocking homicide statistics to prove it. The second amendment is used as a pretext for an astounding level of gun proliferation that is unheard of in -- and incompatible with -- a stable democratic society. But we know that the National Rifle Association, which, by the way, is increasingly allied with right-wing extremists, militias and domestic terrorists, is funded by the gun industry to the tune of millions of dollars. This, as illegal firearms ravage our urban communities

If so-called American exceptionalism is to be found in war, then Americans are in deeper trouble than they realize. The U.S. has the most advanced military weaponry and high-tech toys for its soldiers to kill and destroy, while American cities crumble under the weight of their low-grade, early-twentieth century infrastructure. Europe and Asia are decades ahead in high-speed rail because they actually have it, and this nation elects politicians who attack high-speed rail as some big government welfare giveaway program. And the rest of the world laughs as we wage war on ourselves, with culture wars, a war on intelligence and progress, and assaults on women's rights, workers and immigrants.

Sounds like a winning strategy, if your goal is to fail miserably -- exceptionally miserably.

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