Sanders: Spiraling military spending pushes nation toward ‘spiritual death’
Sen. Bernie Sanders says the spiraling Pentagon spending approved by Congress is pushing the U.S. toward 'spiritual death.' | J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders delivered a warning to his colleagues that they are pushing the nation toward “spiritual death” in approving $778 billion for the Pentagon in 2022. It is more, he charged, than the arms budgets of the next 13 nations combined.

The goal of this misguided Pentagon allocation is total global domination by U.S. imperialism, to make the world safe for profit-driven transnational banks and corporations. It is $37 billion more than President Donald Trump’s largest military budget, $740 billion.

The Senators were not listening to Sanders’ Nov. 17 speech. They voted 88 to 11 for an armaments budget of $25 billion more than what President Joe Biden requested. It included money to modernize nuclear weapons and for a new missile not requested by the Defense Department.

Also approved was an amendment by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to create a commission to determine what went wrong in the 20-year U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history.

The commission could be an opportunity to revisit lessons that should have been learned from U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Will it study the CIA recruiting and arming of Osama Bin Laden to wage a covert and overt war of destabilization of the April Revolution in Afghanistan? Will the commission study the costly setbacks of half a century of CIA and Pentagon counterrevolutionary terrorism, wars, and military occupation?

Sanders quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eloquent speech against the Vietnam War in which he accused the U.S. of being the “world’s greatest purveyor of violence,” slashing funding for the War on Poverty while it sent youth from poverty-stricken urban ghettoes to fight and die in the name of “freedom” in Asia that they did not enjoy in Detroit or Harlem.

Rev. King could have been describing the U.S. today, with the FBI warning that the gravest danger to U.S. national security is “domestic terrorists” like the neo-fascists who stormed the U.S. Capitol building one year ago in an abortive coup d’etat.

Sanders scorned Republicans, as well as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who bleat endlessly that the U.S. cannot afford to pass the “Build Back Better” social infrastructure bill.

“They tell us we just don’t have enough money to expand Medicare to cover dental care, eyeglasses, and hearing aids,” Sanders thundered in his powerful Senate floor speech. He pointed out that the Build Back Better legislation blocked by Manchin and the Republicans would earmark $1.75 trillion over 10 years, so the annual cost is only $175 billion, a fraction of the Pentagon spending bill. Yet when the votes were counted, only a handful of Democrats joined Sanders, the lone Senate socialist, in voting against the bloated military budget.

“If there was ever a moment in American history when we needed to fundamentally alter our national priorities, now is that time,” Sanders said.

“Whether it is transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, guaranteeing paid family and medical leave, taking on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, addressing our housing crisis, or providing child care and Pre-K—now is the time for change, real change,” he continued.

“If the horrific coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads, and other weapons of mass destruction.”

He called on the Senate, House, and the people to listen to Dr. King: When a majority of American workers are struggling to survive “paycheck to paycheck,” when 40 million are poor, over 500,000 homeless when the U.S. has the highest rate of childhood poverty among industrialized nations, “we are approaching spiritual death.”

At a time, Sanders continued, “when tens of thousands of Americans die each year because they can’t afford to get to a doctor on time and one out of five Americans can’t afford prescription drugs…. we are approaching spiritual death.”

Only Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) joined Sanders in opposing the spending. Other Senators voting against the military budget were a handful of Republicans complaining it was not generous enough to the Pentagon.

In the House, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., led a courageous floor fight to eliminate the $25 billion and approve Biden’s smaller military request. She, too, recalled Dr. King’s opposition to militarism and war. The $778 billion military budget, she charged, “continues our legacy of wasteful military spending and investing in war rather than peace…. We must draw the line and stop pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the military-industrial complex while neglecting our needs here at home like our healthcare system, schools, and infrastructure.”

The House ramrodded the Pentagon spending bill through 363 to 70. Only 51 Democrats voted against it, along with 19 Republicans who favored even more Pentagon boondoggling.

There is a lesson in the lopsided votes in favor of Pentagon weapons spending that pours billions of dollars in profits into the coffers of military contractors like Boeing and General Dynamics. This is war spending that makes our nation less safe. Our once powerful anti-war movement that represented a majority of the American people, so strong it forced an end to the Vietnam War, is sleeping. Rev. King is calling on us to wake up.


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.