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My Turn: Ben Franklin is spinning in his cask of Madeira

  • A portrait of Benjamin Franklin is seen at the library of Britain’s Royal Society, along with historic scientific documents, in London. AP



For the Monitor
Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cryonics, as Futurama fans and Alcor customers know, is important for civic life. The perspective of resurrected statesmen and ordinary farmers from past centuries could balance the passing fads of the day.

Benjamin Franklin wished that he could be preserved in wine to travel the centuries and see what wonders future Americans produced. Franklin understood the potential of the scientific method and the economics of Adam Smith. He would not have been surprised that Americans invented the airplane, traveled to the moon or cured many diseases. He would have expected the end of slavery and that women could vote.

But he would be totally baffled to find that we were using all of our great technological, philosophical and economic power in the 21st century to re-fight the medieval Crusades, support monarchies and dictatorships, and bring the slave trade back to Libya.

And all without any public support for war. No one outside the Beltway gets up in the morning and says, “You know, I think we should invade the land of Moab, preemptively strike Amalek and devote to Reaper drones all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

We are not just exterminating the Amalekites as Yahweh commanded. We are on all sides in every conflict. If there aren’t enough sides, we create them, as we do in Syria and Libya. We are with the Saudis against the Yemenis, we are with Israel against the Palestinians, we are on five or six sides in Syria and Iraq.

Why do we fund and arm factions for religious war? Because there are no other wars left.

The United States has no national enemies among major nations. All the powers of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, South America, Africa – everyone is a trade partner.

As for the bogeyman of North Korea, the U.S. had to give North Korea billions of dollars and quantities of nuclear materials so they could make their missiles. The Kim Dynasty has no ambitions beyond maintaining its toxic cult. Without U.S.-enforced embargoes and trade barriers, K-Pop would have deposed the god-kings decades ago.

There is no way to fight wars of conquest in the modern age at a profit. The armies cost more than the loot is worth (how do you carry the software home, exactly?), and even a minor power will take out the conqueror and his capital city with a smuggled nuclear weapon. Deterrence is cheap, invasion and occupation is prohibitively expensive.

In the midst of peace among all major powers, the United States spends about a trillion dollars per year on war. No other nation is close. No other combination of nations is close; add up all our “security” spending and it is nearly as much as all other major powers put together.

We are ashamed of the bloated military budget, so we hide it. Nuclear weapons are concealed in the Department of Energy. The human cost of the wars is concealed in the $186.5 billion Veterans Administration, and in the welfare budgets of our states and cities. The 17 intelligence agencies cost around $80 billion (about the same as the entire Russian military). “Homeland Security,” “Foreign Aid,” the black hole that is the Federal Reserve’s “monetization of foreign debt” – not even the GAO can figure out what the wars actually cost.

The Founding Fathers didn’t want to have a standing army at all. They wanted a Swiss-style country that defended itself, minded its own business, and “conquered” the worlds of trade and science.

We can still follow their dream. We can end the subsidies to Afghan warlords and Syrian terrorists, stop sending American troops to have their legs blown off in Niger or Yemen. We can stop risking terrorist blowback from every religious and ethnic feud.

We could actually pay for the “tax cuts” instead of inflating our way into economic disaster.

We could build a much smaller military that is actually based in and defends the United States. We could learn from the Swiss and protect our children instead of just threatening the children of others.

Or we can pour more trillions and more lives into the endless disputes about which ancient Middle Eastern religion rules in Jerusalem, or Kabul, or Niamey.

(Bill Walker works for medical-imaging database company M2S in West Lebanon.)