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Gary Horton: The price is high for U.S. militarism

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: June 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.

My wife, Carrie, and I recently visited our daughter Katie in Seattle. Katie lives in the beautiful Queen Anne district, just east of the Seattle Center. The center is a tour de force of public space, filled with museums, theaters and gardens — all towered over by the landmark Seattle Space Needle.

The Space Needle was key to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Once the focal point for a world looking toward a modern, progressive future, today the Space Needle remains the symbol of a city still looking forward. No matter what visions were or weren’t realized from that exhibition, the city left behind remains vibrant and technologically industrious.

Back in those days, Boeing led the whole world in aerospace. The famed 727 poised for delivery, and the Jet Age was racing ahead. America was the envy of the world, leading in manufacturing, military power and, yes, freedom.

The Seattle World’s Fair must have been a heady experience for fair-goers. A world of advancement and prosperity just ahead.

Much of what was visioned rang true. Today, a few miles from the Space Needle stands computer giant Microsoft. Even the most futuristic view from the Space Needle failed to see saw the change the Computer Age would bring.

Yet, despite all the wonder that’s since transpired, one wonders, “What else might have been?” Trillions upon trillions of dollars have gushed through government since 1962. Yet today, we struggle.

Might we have changed the challenged reality we now live? Is there room to change our future, still?

Even as fair-goers noisily ascended up the Space Needle, the U.S. quietly descended into Vietnam with “military advisers.”
The view from the 1962 World’s Fair didn’t project the carnage and waste that would become the Vietnam War. Yet three short years later, America was all in, fighting a hot war in Vietnam. The war escalated year after year, and by the time we quit in 1973, we’d lost 58,000 American troops and played part in 1.5 million Southeast Asian deaths.

And we’re still paying for that militarism in our veterans hospitals, in broken families and in many of the ragged homeless men on our streets.

The World’s Fair didn’t forecast America’s endless militarization. Rather, it projected the better living technology would bring all humanity.

Much of the wondrous predictions have come to pass. But technology didn’t always translate to better living. We see poverty that might have been averted.

We see public schools cutting teachers, programs and cutting short our future. With cut-rate schools, will America still lead the world? Can we continue to lead with future Boeings and Microsofts?

America didn’t have its fill of waste with Vietnam. We waged dirty wars in South America and financed proxy wars around the world. We suffered two trillion-dollar wars thanks to the Bush family feud with Saddam Hussein.

Two Bushes, and America squandered trillions in wealth that otherwise could have otherwise built our better future. Instead, that money is smoke and rubble and spilled blood in a faraway land most will never see.

Today, the “Yes we can” man wouldn’t or couldn’t, and we’ve heated up Afghanistan with no end in sight from the Space Needle or anywhere else. And another war’s now on tap, as American jets pound the life out of Libya every day.

There were no Cinemascope pavilions projecting such endless war at the 1962 World’s Fair. Our long-running belligerent warring and waste is like a bad movie no one ever would have dared display back then.

We’ve either been at war or planning the next one ever since anyone can remember. And what’s that cost our future that might have been?

Today, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and the rest of our government spend 700 billion dollars we don’t have buying military hardware and war junk.

America’s war machine costs 10 times more than the militaries of the next 10 nations combined. Meanwhile, the next 10 nations don’t run $1.5 trillion deficits. They’re not slashing their schools and teachers. Instead, they have universal health care in their view of their future.

Add up our excess spending on militarism beyond prudent national defense, and you’ll find countless trillions that could have build an America envisioned in 1962. Think of the quality of life we could have built here at home — instead, squandered on destruction in foreign lands.

America remains great, but gravely threatened. Not by foreign enemies armed to the hilt, but internally, by our own financial imprudence.

A peace-loving America could have built the futuristic wonderland foreseen at the 1962 World’s Fair with money to spare. But once the bombs are blown, the money’s gone, and there’s no getting it back. No continuing returns from prudent public investment. Just deficits, death and rubble.

With each annual budget, America gets one more chance at a do-over — another chance to reach toward for our brightest future.

Will we ever beat our swords into the plowshares we once envisioned for tomorrow?

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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