What Makes Us Safe?  What Doesn’t?

US Military Commands
US Military Commands

Originally published in the Dorchester People for Peace Update, April 3, 2020

Two news items from this week partly answer those questions. More than 3,000 have died in U.S., surpassing 9/11 death toll, the Washington Post reported. Of course, most news outlets failed to mention that the attackers did not “hate us for our democracy” but were retaliating for US “aggression against Muslims in many countries,” the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, US support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and US sanctions against Iraq that were responsible for at least 500,000 deaths. (When asked about the toll in Iraq, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded that “We think the price is worth it.”)  As the poet W.H. Auden wrote at the beginning of the Second World War:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

USS Theodore Roosevelt
USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2017 CREDIT: PAUL L. ARCHER / US NAVY / AFP

Also this week, it was reported that Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander of a US Navy aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt (that name!), cruising in the Pacific 6000 miles west from California, was asking the Pentagon for urgent action to protect the thousands of crew members of the ship from a coronavirus outbreak: “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” the captain wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.” Between 150 and 200 crew members on the carrier have tested positive for COVID-19“Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care,” Crozier wrote.  The Navy’s initial response was to deny a request to evacuate most of the crew because of the need for “readiness.”  Then they fired the captain for failing to keep the situation secret. The crew of the ship had a different opinion, giving him a cheering send-off.

Years ago, when the Conservative/Neo-Liberal movement was becoming ascendant, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously remarked: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.”  Today, we are learning a different lesson:  If we fail to be our brother’s – and sister’s! – keeper, we may be facing our own extinction and the death of our planet.

Auden ended his poem September 1, 1939 with these sober but hopeful lines:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

The coronavirus fatality milestone points out that there were graver risks to the US than “terrorism.” That was true on 9/11 and it is certainly true now. And the common metaphor of a “war” on coronavirus also rings very hollow. The dispatch of  1000-bed US Navy hospital ships to New York and Los Angeles proved to be no more than a Trump publicity stunt. They have so far registered just 20 and 15 patients respectively – and no covid-19 cases are allowed. 

Here was the proposed message for our Dorchester TAX DAY protest that has now been postponed:

FY2021 Discretionary BudgetWHAT KEEPS US SAFE?

–Universal Access to Healthcare or Endless Wars?

–Paid Sick Leave for everyone or a $738 billion Pentagon Budget?

–A well-funded public health system or a vast Military-Industrial Complex?

–Increased spending for medical research or a military space force?

–Affordable housing for all or tax breaks for corporations and the rich?

–Quality free public schools and colleges or more useless weapons systems?

–Good jobs and a rebuilt infrastructure or more prisons and mass incarceration?

–A livable planet with better public transit or government subsidies for fossil fuels?


Almost 60% of the annual US budget goes to wars and military spending.  The Trump tax cuts overwhelmingly favor the wealthy and corporations while our real community needs go unmet. The US spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined. Isn’t it time to change our budget priorities?