The United States’ potential path to bankruptcy and media coverage of war raised concerns at the Sept. 12 Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Community Lecture Series.
Leila Farnum presented “The War Syndrome,” focusing on global arms trade and wartime profiteers. Farnum said she feared the U.S. may go bankrupt paying for too many far-flung military actions.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., echoed her concerns on the Sept. 22 CBS show “Face the Nation.” He said that the U.S. cannot afford to pay for multiple wars and must tend to problems closer to home.
At the BUUF, the audience viewed a world map at the front of the room and observed two books on the table, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and a book published in 2011 by TransAtlantic Press, “World War: 1945 to the Present Day; Classic Rare and Unseen photos from the Daily Mail’s photo archive.”
Ms. Farnum also discussed the status of the U.S. as the world’s largest arms dealer. Brandishing her copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” Ms. Farnum said, “We need to have a clear plan with an exit strategy.”
Ms. Farnum listed countries around the world where she said U.S. involvement was unnecessary: “The Arab-Israeli Wars, Soviet invasions, genocides in Kosovo, the Congo, East Timor and Darfur, and The Sudan.”
She said these wars served mainly to enrich people who managed to profit from war via the military contracting business.
“Congress passes legislation for war and the money flows to the military via private contractors,” she said. Woody Henry, a former geologist, said, “Look at our GDP and see what the military gets. It’s frightening. No wonder we have no money left for health reform. This country has always had a great disdain for standing armies. We had the three branches of government: the legislative, executive and judicial. And now we have got the military [as an extraneous branch].”
Another audience member said, “To follow up on money in the last half century, $8 trillion has been spent on the nuclear component alone of the military.”
Ms. Farnum said, “It bothers me that India is stockpiling nuclear weapons. I don’t think of them as a very warlike culture. Maybe they feel threatened. There is a high rate of poverty in India. They have no medical care, no schools, poor infrastructure.
“As a child, I had polio, so I know through firsthand experience that kids need health care, dental care. I am basically an advocate for children.”
She also asked, “Why do we think Iraq will change from its current warlike tribal culture into democracy within three years?” Jerry Tanskanen, another member of the BUUF, said, “On a recent ‘Democracy Now’ radio program, Wesley Clarke [now a retired general army officer] and the Bush administration said they would take out seven countries in five years: Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.”
Other attendees said they disagreed with purported reasons for wars today. A man in the back said, “At Coal Appreciation Day last week at the Metra, I found out the U.S. has more coal than anywhere else in the world. Energy should not be what we are fighting over. There are so many technological ways around energy problems. Energy is just an excuse to go to war.”
Bill Harrison, a retired architect, said, “People are saying ‘No War.’ The British Parliament’s recent refusal to strike Syria militarily is a fascinating turn of events in the world, potentially an historical event,” he said. He added, “How can we keep the media from hyping everything?”
A young man who approached the microphone said, “General Electric owns National Broadcasting Corp. and lots of other organizations. The media has a higher percentage of people who want to go to war than any other subset.”
In a tennis ball-like volley back and forth, a female audience member responded, “It’s the neo conservatives: their political views were influential during the Bush presidency. They thought it was important to act first, before some other country attacked the U.S.”
Ms. Farnum added that she suspects the media and the government of “keeping people fearful,” through constant reports of bombings in the U.S. and overseas and invasive intelligence programs like those at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md., that Edward Snowden recently revealed. Others suspected patriotism of keeping people fearful.
Susie Henry, a BUUF member who lives in Lockwood and worked for an oil company for most of her career, said, “We love our country, but there is far too much patriotism and it’s getting a little dangerous.”
Doris Harrison, Bill Harrison’s wife, who came over from Germany in the 1950s, said, “The military is a way to promote patriotism.”
Ms. Farnum said that “Korea was never a war. It was police action, but people were over there and they died.”
Another commenter ended the meeting with this question: “What will history say about our civilization 1,000 years from now?” Jerry Tanskanen then quoted Lord Acton, who said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”