I just finished reading A People’s History of the United States after about three false starts over the past year. It’s quite an amazing read, but I kept putting it down and then picking it back up again months later as it’s rather, well, depressing to read about the vastly under-reported exploitation that’s gone on in American history.  Of course there’s the obvious genocide of the American Indians that is completely absent from the history taught in schools, and the horrors of slavery, but this book also details the oppression of the poor and working classes under the rich elite and how our Constitution is set up to perpetuate this imbalance.  Even as a self-proclaimed bleeding-heart liberal, it was really astonishing to read the extent to which the government in this country has gone to help the rich get richer at the expense of the poor getting poorer.

It is not simply the vast imbalance of wealth that is disturbing, it is the uses to which that wealth is put.  Money may be the root of all evil, but in and of itself, it is merely a tool. (1) Gaining money simply for having money is pointless. As appealing as it would be to roll around in a vat of money á la Scrooge McDuck, there is nothing gained in doing so. I am not the sort of person who believes that having a lot of money is in and of itself a sin, nor am I a Communist who believes that all wealth should be equitably distributed (2), but I do believe that those who control the wealth of the country – that is, the government – has a responsibility to use it for the greater good.

Which is distinctly not how money is or has ever been used. And this, I believe, is why we need a revolution. (3) Governments have kept themselves in power without having to kow-tow to the needs of the Average Joe by waging wars, designed to stir up nationalistic fervor and temporarily boost the economy, without having to make any concessions or drastic change to the laws that favor business at the expense of the worker. In the absence of actual war, the government has been known to dwell on the very threat of war (4) to keep the citizenry in the sort of heightened state of panic necessary to build a vast arsenal of unnecessary weapons at the expense of spending money on social reform.  Even President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged this when he stated:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.

Zinn goes on to elaborate on this statement:

A radical reduction in the military budget would require a renunciation of war, a withdrawal of military bases from around the world, an acceptance, finally, of the principle enunciated in the UN Charter that the world should renounce “the scourge of war.” It would speak to the fundamental human desire (overwhelmed too often by barrages of superpatriotic slogans) to live at peace with others.

The public appeal for such a dramatic policy change would be based on a simple but powerful moral argument: that given the nature of modern warfare, the victims would be mostly civilians.  To put it another way, war in our time is always a war against children.  And if the children of other countries are to be granted an equal right to life with our own children, then we must use our extraordinary human ingenuity to find nonmilitary solutions to world problems.

Put like this it’s hard to argue for increased military spending, but this of course not the message that the government puts out.  We allow ourselves to believe, as we hear, that bombs only hit military targets unless by accident. American deaths are tragedies, foreign deaths are statistics. The status quo continues unabated. And yet, as a people, we are sensitive to the issues of poverty – especially in children – in other countries. How many times have your heart strings been tugged by ads for Unicef or other organizations offering to sponsor third world children for pennies a day (5)? People are generally willing to help those in meaner conditions than themselves, unless by doing so they have to give up fundamentally sacred to do so.

Which is why the government as it stands will never, no matter who is President, abolish – or even drastically cut back on – military spending in favor of health care or education reform.  War brings business – and not just in arms sales; just look at Halliburton in Iraq.  Controlling Iraq means controlling its resources, and at this point in time, there is no resource more precious to the American government than oil. Without a serious revolution, the United States government will never invest in its children what it invests in a nuclear arsenal.

If you need me, I’ll be out back singing Kumbaya.(6)


1) As the great philosopher DiFranco says: “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”

2) For all members of the CIA reading this: Hello. I am not a Communist. No need to pick up the phone. It’s all ok.

3) I have no opinion as to whether or not the revolution will be televised, but I’m sure it will be live-blogged.

4) See for example: The Cold War. The War on Drugs. The War on Terror. The War on Christmas.

5) I can’t even think of those ads without wanting to cry – the flies! Oh the flies! As a kid, I wanted to adopt ALL of the African children and send them my lunch money. I am both a bleeding-heart liberal and a sucker for advertising.

6) No, not really. I hate that song.