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The Myth of the 'Peace Dividend'

Askia Muhammad | 3/13/2013, 2:09 p.m.

As we watch and read reports of U.S. troops withdrawing from the battle fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is hope once again that neglected domestic needs will finally see the benefits of a "peace dividend," that is an increase in spending because fewer dollars are being spent on war.

Let me disabuse all such thinking. There is not to be forthcoming; just like there never was any hope of anything resembling a "peace dividend" in America's policy.

The reasons are simple. Everyone can agree when there is a real or perceived external military threat. "Our freedom must be defended," and everyone understands that and most everyone pitches in, as in "all hands on deck." There is no argument which can prevail when the powers-that-be invoke the clarion call: "Support our troops."

In addition, wars are the building blocks of prosperity. The Great Depression of the 1930s was finally overcome when federal spending - and the mutually agreed upon concept of "shared sacrifice" - kicked in for World War II.

But in the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement and its ancillary demands for "better this," and "improved everything" for the country's have-nots became louder and louder, two political notions took hold. We heard the Vietnam War condemned as "immoral," (and based on the trickery used to win approval in Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the U.S. escalation) and as possibly even "illegal." And we heard calls for ending spending on that war so that domestic spending could be increased because of the peace dividend we would reap with the end of that conflict.

The war ended in ruin for this country and there was never any resulting bonus for neglected domestic priorities. There was recrimination and shame after Vietnam, and there was "stag-flation" - economic stagnation and runaway inflation, along with loud complaints about President Jimmy Carter's exploding deficits, then less than $100 billion per year.

President Ronald Reagan came in, promising to get our hostages back from Iran and to stare down the Communist "Red Menace," with huge spikes in military spending, the country rallied to the call, and the national credit card was used to spend, spend, and military spend. Prosperity returned and no one cared about the deficits which increased exponentially.

George H.W. Bush was elected the 41st president, the country invaded Iraq for the first time, and President Bush '41 made the mistake of raising taxes - for what he believed was the overall good of the country - in order to pay for all the runaway military spending. For that reason, he lost his job.

In comes President George W. (for Worst in History) Bush, the 43rd president, and soon after his election came the 9-11 attacks of 2001, and we were off to war again, with barely any dissent at all. We had another period of "rally 'round the flag boys," and "support our troops," and no one dared complain while our young boys and girls were dying on foreign soil.