Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No profits from wars and weapons!

Should universities invest their endowments in corporations manufacturing weapons? There is an uproar in England about universities investing in defense industries. It began with someone uncovering the fact that Oxford University made money from the stocks of defense contractors. But then it turned out that Cambridge and many other British universities are doing the same. There is considerable sentiment in England that universities, whose missions of research and education only flourish in peace time, should stay away from investment in war and destruction.

Interestingly enough no information is available about investments of US universities in defense. Extensive googling yielded only the information that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as their Episcopal counterparts decided that they should not invest in corporations producing weapons.

The bishops are well aware of the objection that countries have a right to defend themselves and need weapons to do that. They respond by pointing out that we spend $700 billion or more annually for the military. If we count in all the money we give to other countries for their military, who buy weapons from US companies, the figure exceeds $1 trillion. We do not need to spend so much for defending ourselves, say the bishops.

Institutions dedicated to peace, such as universities and churches, have no business profiting form the business of making war. The country as a whole would be better off if we spent less money on what our governments choose to call “national defense.” 

Serendipitously, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the leaking of the Pentagon papers by Daniel Ellsberg. Those papers contained a secret assessment of the Vietnam war, its costs and failures, commissioned by then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. The Pentagon committee's assessment was very gloomy. History proved them right. We lost that war.

The Pentagon study pointed out that we had spent large sums of money training a South Vietnamese army. But that money was wasted; the army we helped train was ineffective. 

We can substitute “Afghanistan” for “South Vietnam” and get the same assessment of our current wars. The Afghan army we are training is a fitting successor to the army we trained in South Vietnam: expensive but ineffective.

But our government and military leaders are prepared to make the same mistakes. They have not learned the lesson of Vietnam: stay out of distant civil wars.

Our entire country would be much better off were we less eager to send our troops to far away places to get involved in fights among people we do not know, whose languages we do not speak, and whose conflicts are pretty opaque to us. Our entire country would be better off if we did not spend $1 trillion a year on weapons and the deployment of troops.

Another story in the news drives that point home. The story is about Rita Moore, 65, who was operated for cancer of the kidney. Her kidney specialist prescribed a drug called “Sutent” for her as follow up to the operation. But when Rita went to the drug store she discovered that Medicare does not pay for this drug. Her month's supply of pills would cost her more than she makes, $2400.00.

Our government is to poor to pay for Rita Moore's pills. She is paying the price of “national defense.”