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World Military and Social Expenditures by Ruth Sivard, 15th edition (1993)
 

Foreword by John Kenneth Galbraith

Since the earliest edition of this work, a full nineteen years ago, I have been one of its faithful and admiring readers. I’ve responded sadly to the grim truths that it advances- to the huge committment of world resources to weapons that kill, the military conflicts so encouraged and supported, and the impoverishment, starvation and death that the military extravagance causes and with which it contentedly coexists.

But now I have another reaction: that is to the way these calculations, in the present state of the world, must afflict the manufacturers and merchants of death. There is a certain grim pleasure in great and compelling truth. We should not deny ourselves the satisfaction that comes from asserting it and seeing the discomfort of those thereby inflicted.

The truth, of course, is that the Cold War has come to an end. So has the imagined threat of communism in the world at large, including in particular the poor lands that were once thought to be especially in danger. Accordingly, the long-established justification for the arms trade, however fragile, has now disappeared. Those who seek to sustain it operate from an intellectual vacuum. Let us not deny ourselves the pleasure of so saying and of thus discomfiting the individuals who, from pecuniary interest, bureaucratic position or mental disability, are still committed to the traditional case for arms expenditure.

In the United States we now see with an especial clarity the highly conditioned insanity of the present military budget. The enemy is gone; the military establishment- the Pentagon and its supplying industries- stands revealed as a power within itself, sufficient to itself. It selects the weapons to be produced; from its authority in the Executive and its conrol in the Congress it arranges the wherewithal by which they are purchased. You identify your task; you pay for its performance; what more in the way of power could be needed?

In the past and still, there has even been a companionate political attitude. Government and its taxes are a burden where civilian expenditure is involved and notably when it is for the poor. Military expenditure, in contrast, is not a burden; this is a cost which we should gladly, even proudly, assume.

It is because of this egregious nonsense I am led to my suggestion. Those of us who have long been critical of military expenditure and excess have stood in rather humorless opposition. Those defending military expenditure, those who were the compliant instruments of the larger forces behind it, had an aspect of deeply justified purpose. We relied in kind: we argued the opposite case on the same terms. This was a grave matter; we pressed it with a respectful gravity appropriate to so great an issue.

Let this be no longer. With the end of the Cold War military expenditure on the present scale is, as noted, patently ridiculous. So also the arms sales once justified as needed protection against a descent into communism. When something is foolish, let it be called foolish, as when something is viciously cruel, let it be called viciously cruel. And let those who make the case be met no longer by solemn argument. Let them be told that, at best, they are tied mindlessly to the past. And let us, at least on occasion, enjoy their discomfiture.

I say on occasion, for more than any statistics of our time the numbers here offered are the window on deep suffering leading on to mass tragedy. It is a fate that only those who have faced these awful weapons can know. Let us react to those who conduct or sponsor this trade with the intellectual contempt that I have urged. But let us continue to have a tear for the effects of what they do.

John Kenneth Galbraith
Best-selling author and economic theorist
Harvard Professor
Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1946 and 2000

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