Help our communities by cutting military spending by 25 percent

During the 1930s, the gangster Willie Sutton was asked by a reporter why he robbed banks. His famous reply: “Because that’s where the money is!”  If we look at where the bulk of federal spending goes, it is clear that the military budget is “where the money is.”

While local services are facing deep cuts, while public and private workers alike are threatened with layoffs and frozen wages, the US will lavish $700 billion on the Pentagon this year – more than double what was spent when Bill Clinton left office in 2001. Billions more in military spending is hidden in the budgets of other federal agencies, such as nuclear weapons in the Energy Department, “Homeland Security,” debt service from past war spending, and foreign military aid (Israel, which is the largest recipient, receives around $3 billion every year). In total, we spend as much as $1 trillion a year on the military.

This figure represents more than half of all the discretionary spending made by the US government – or more than all funding for health, education, housing, job training, and medical research.  What we get for these billions is not just “security,” but also pork for politically connected military contractors, unnecessary and expensive weapons systems, more than 800 US military bases around the world – and never-ending wars that create more enemies for us than they defeat.

Dorchester People for Peace has joined with a coalition of Boston community-based organizations to demand a change in priorities by reducing military spending and redirecting the savings to meet urgent local needs –  and we want our political representatives to join this effort.  That is why we are asking candidates for local office to sign a letter to President Obama and our Congressional delegation in support of a 25 percent reduction in military spending.  This could provide up to $500 million a year for the city of Boston to invest in jobs, schools, healthcare, mass transit, and infrastructure improvements – at a time when budget shortfalls are causing cuts in all these areas.

Some will argue that reducing military spending is not a local issue.  While it is true that the ultimate decisions will be made at the national level, local politicians cannot ignore the vast sums that go to feed the military, while our communities are starving for the revenue they need. The share that Massachusetts contributes to annual military-related spending is around $20 billion on a per capita basis – probably more, as the state’s personal income and federal taxes are well above the US average.  For Boston, that comes to almost $2 billion annually, or about $5,000 for every man, woman and child living in our city.
As Congressman Barney Frank has written: “The math is compelling. If we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget starting fairly soon, it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity.”  

And what about keeping America protected?  Real security means safe neighborhoods, affordable housing and healthcare, decent jobs, and top-notch schools. The answer to the tiny number of violent extremists who want to harm our country is professional police work, better intelligence gathering, and effective technical measures – not invading and occupying foreign countries.  Just ending the costly, immoral, and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would save more than $100 billion a year while helping to reverse policies that generate hatred and resentment against our country. What is more, a 25 percent cut in military spending would still leave more than $500 billion in the annual Pentagon budget – a sum equal to what the rest of the world combined spends on its armies. Excessive military spending is bankrupting our country and draining the lifeblood of our communities. 

Washington, under the influence of industry lobbyists and powerful advocates for permanent war, seems incapable of addressing this reality. Will our local politicians have the courage to take the lead?  That is a question that we will be asking at UMass-Boston’s City Council candidates’ forum next Tuesday evening and beyond.

Jeff Klein is a retired local union leader and long-time resident active in Dorchester People for Peace ( You can find background information, with facts and figures, at