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Open for the Business of War
Wisconsin's Growing Military Economy is Not Good News
The State of Wisconsin may be “broke”, according to Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans in Madison, but one sector of government is doing very well and providing a lot of money to Wisconsinites. But because not one Wisconsin Republican, as far as I know, has denounced this massive government pay-out, I suppose I’ll have to do it.

The Department of Defense gave almost $10 billion to Wisconsin corporations in 2010. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Wisconsin went from 48th in terms of defense funding received to number 16 per capita in a matter of three years. Some, perhaps most, in Wisconsin will view this influx of war cash as a wonderful thing in a weak economy. But those of us opposed to war and/or opposed to the great discrepancy between defense spending and spending on such humane things as health care are disturbed to see Wisconsin becoming a state more and more dependent on the Pentagon.

The majority of the military spending in Wisconsin last year went to two corporations: Oshkosh Corp. received $3 billion to build Army trucks and trailers and Marinette Marine has a contract worth up to $3.6 billion to supply the Navy with combat ships.

But the wealthy Defense Dept. is not the only big spender when it comes to defense contractors; our very own and supposedly very broke state of Wisconsin managed, under former Gov. Jim Doyle, to scrape up $35 million in tax breaks for Oshkosh and $50 million for Marinette Marine. Yes, the state money is tied to job growth. But, one might ask, should Wisconsin be in the war business at the expense of Wisconsin teachers, firefighters, policemen and state programs that assist those most in need?

Don’t expect Gov. Walker to call on Oshkosh and Marinette to return the federal money.

War costs Wisconsin far more than it provides. The National Priorities Project estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stolen away about $20.1 billion federal dollars from Wisconsin state and local governments since 2001. As for the terrible human cost, 109 men and women from Wisconsin have died in these wars, while 752 have so far been wounded.

Is even a $3 billion contract worth a single human life? No doubt there are “realists” who would say the price is right, but I can’t imagine a soldier’s loved ones agreeing with such a calculation. Nor can I imagine the parents of a slain Afghan or Iraqi child agreeing with it either.

Though recent polls have shown that our wars are unpopular and a majority of Americans support a cut in defense spending, Wisconsin seems to be moving in the wrong direction: embracing a war economy while forcing its own public servants to give up bargaining rights, take cuts in pay and benefits, as well as cutting spending on some social services.

The war economy is not new, having been around in earnest in America since the nation geared up for World War II.  But the threat of the “military/industrial complex” was already apparent to Wisconsin’s Progressives years earlier. Led by Robert La Follette, Progressives opposed U.S. entrance into World War I because they rightly saw that it was more about profit than principle. In a speech before the U.S. Senate arguing against U.S. involvement, La Follette said:

“For my own part, I believe that this war, like nearly all others, originated in the selfish ambition and cruel greed of a comparatively few men in each government who saw in war an opportunity for profit and power for themselves, and who were wholly indifferent to the awful suffering they knew that war would bring to the masses.”

An economy dependent on military spending is an economy in favor of war and indifferent to a whole lot of needless suffering.

Gov. Walker has promised to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin, but what he has created so far is a war of sorts as he seeks to starve the state’s public sector in order to cater to corporate wealth. What needs to be created and nurtured in this state is an economy caring and healthy enough not to be at war with other nations, the land, and its own people. Wisconsin needs, in short, a peaceable, green economy centered on treating people and land well, wherever the people or the land may be. Surely this is a change both the public and private sector could work together on.

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