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Understanding that it may seem foolish to fly in the face of President George W. Bush’s 80 percent plus approval rating, I dare to wonder if anyone else out there found it obscene that we have spent, as the president announced in his State of the Union address, “more than a billion dollars a month -- over $30 million a day” on the war in Afghanistan.

That was the lead up to the line telling the country that his budget proposal for next year includes “the largest increase in defense spending in two decades.”

The president was applauded lustily for that announcement.

I see it as a pathetic commentary on the state of the union. Next year, if Bush gets his wish -- and there seems little standing in the way of the moment’s war frenzy -- the U.S. military budget will increase by $48 billion to a total of $379 billion.

How about some perspective on that figure? The $48 billion increase alone is larger than the annual military budget of any other country in the world, according to John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World. Our total budget is more, by far, than the combined budgets of many of the most militarily capable countries in the world.

In fact, the combined military budgets of the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, North Korea, Yugoslavia, Libya, Sudan and Cuba (all for the year 2000, except the United Kingdom [2001] and Iraq [1999]) come to only $206.8 billion.

Even if one believes that the terrorist threat as presented by the Bush administration requires this wild upswing in spending, what is there to cheer? We have failed so miserably in every other way the only recourse we have is to allow an already bloated Pentagon -- an agency that traditionally has been held minimally accountable for what it does with the public’s money -- to go on a feeding frenzy at the national treasury.

The distinguished guests in the House chamber should have been stunned into silence. Even if they agreed with the necessity for the spending, they should have accepted the news with shame and embarrassment. This is a moment for soul-searching, not cheering.

As a nation we can’t agree on a plan for universal health coverage. We can’t guarantee the health of our cities or our schools. We can’t come to agreement on guaranteeing Social Security benefits. Next week NCR will focus on a recent anti-poverty campaign launched by the U.S. bishops. They point out that in this richest of countries on earth every ninth child lives in poverty. We can’t even guarantee that no one in this country will go hungry.

But we can cheer for more than a third of a trillion dollars for military pursuits.

Something’s very wrong.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2002