By Lawrence Wittner
Maybe those delirious crowds chanting â€œUSA, USAâ€ have got something.Â Â When it comes to military power, the United States reigns supreme.Â Â NewsweekÂ reported in March 2018:Â Â â€œThe United States has the strongest military in the world,â€ with more than two million military personnel and vast numbers of the most advanced nuclear missiles, military aircraft, warships, tanks, and other modern weapons of war.Â Â Furthermore, as theÂ New York TimesÂ noted, â€œthe United States also has a global presence unlike any other nation, with about 200,000 active duty troops deployed in more than 170 countries.â€Â Â This presence includes someÂ 800 overseas U.S. military bases.
In 2017 (the last year for which global figures are available), the U.S. government accounted forÂ more than a thirdÂ of the worldâ€™s military expendituresâ€•more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. Not satisfied, however, President Trump and Congress pushed through a mammoth increase in the annual U.S. military budget in August 2018, raising it toÂ $717 billion.Â Â Maintaining the U.S. status as â€œNo. 1â€ in war and war preparations comes at a very high price.
That price is not only paid in dollarsâ€”plus massive death and suffering in warfareâ€•but in the impoverishment of other key sectors of American life.Â Â After all, this lavish outlay on the military now constitutes aboutÂ two-thirdsÂ of the U.S. governmentâ€™s discretionary spending.Â Â And these other sectors of American life are in big trouble.
Education, Health Care, Poverty, the Environment, Social Progress Index
Letâ€™s consider education. The gold standard for evaluation seems to be the Program for International Student Assessment of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tests 15-year-old students every few years.Â Â TheÂ last test, which occurred in 2015 and involved 540,000 students in 72 nations and regions, found that U.S. students ranked 24thin reading, 25thin science, and 41stin mathematics.Â When the scores in these three areas wereÂ combined, U.S. students ranked 31stâ€•behind the students of Slovenia, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam.
The educational attainments among many other Americans are also dismal.Â Â An estimatedÂ 30 millionÂ adult Americans cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third grade level. Literacy has different definitions and, for this reason among others, estimates vary about the level of illiteracy in the United States.Â Â But one of the most favorable rankings of the United States for literacy places it in a tie with numerous other nations forÂ 26th; the worst places it atÂ 125th.
The U.S. healthcare system also fares poorly compared to that of other nations.Â Â AÂ 2017 studyÂ of healthcare systems in 11 advanced industrial countries by the Commonwealth Fund found that the United States ranked at the very bottom of the list.Â Â Furthermore, numerous nations with far less â€œadvancedâ€ economies have superior healthcare systems to that of the United States.Â Â According to theÂ World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 37thamong countriesâ€•behind that of Colombia, Cyprus, and Morocco.
Not surprisingly, American health is relatively poor.Â Â TheÂ infant mortality rateÂ in the United States is higher than in 54 other lands, including Belarus, Cuba, Greece, and French Polynesia. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, the United States has theÂ 5thÂ highest cancer rateÂ of the 50 countries it studied.Â Â For the past few years, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, U.S. life expectancy has beenÂ decliningÂ and, today, the United States reportedly ranksÂ 53rdÂ among 100 nations in life expectancy.
Despite the fact that the United States is the worldâ€™s richest nation, it also has an unusually high level of poverty.Â Â According to aÂ 2017 UNICEF report, more than 29 percent of American children live in impoverished circumstances, placing the United States 35thin childhood poverty among the 41 richest nations.Â Â Indeed, the United States has aÂ higher percentageÂ of its people living in poverty (15.1 percent) than 41 other countries, including Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, and Sri Lanka.
Nor does the United States rate very well among nations on environmental issues.Â Â According to theÂ Environmental Performance Index, produced by Yale University and Columbia University in 2018, the United States placed 27thamong the countries it ranked on environmental health and ecosystem vitality.Â TheÂ Social Progress Index, another well-respected survey that rates countries on their environmental records, ranked the United States 36thin wastewater treatment, 39thin access to at least basic drinking water, and 73rdin greenhouse gas emissions.
Actually, the findings of the Social Progress Index are roughly the same as other evaluators in a broad range of areas.Â Â ItsÂ 2018 reportÂ concluded that that the United States ranked 63rdÂ in primary school enrollment, 61stÂ in secondary school enrollment, 76thÂ in access to quality education, 40thÂ in child mortality rate, 62ndin maternity mortality rate, 36thÂ in access to essential health services, 74thÂ in access to quality healthcare, and 35thÂ in life expectancy at age 60.Â Â In addition, it rated the United States as 33rdÂ in political killings and torture, 88thÂ in homicide rate, 47thÂ in political rights, and 67thÂ in discrimination and violence against minorities.Â Â All in all, thereâ€™s nothing here to cheer about.
Despite these Low Rankings, U.S. Governmentâ€™s Priority is Military Spending
Does the U.S. governmentâ€™s priority for military spending explain, at least partially, the discrepancy between the worldwide preeminence of the U.S. armed forces and the feeble global standing of major American domestic institutions?Â Â Back in April 1953, PresidentÂ Dwight EisenhowerÂ pointed to their connection.Â Addressing the American Society of Newspaper editors, he declared:Â Â â€œEvery gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.â€Â Â A militarized world â€œis not spending money alone.Â Â It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.â€
People infatuated with military supremacy should give that some thought.Î¦
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated byÂ PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.Â Â He is the author ofÂ Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).