“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Those are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., uttered in 1967, in the midst of the Vietnam War. Fifty years later, the gulf between U.S. spending for “social uplift” and war remains. In fact, the Trump administration aims to increase it.
Trump’s proposed cuts to—in some cases, to the point of eliminating—social programs and departments include funding for affordable housing; the Environmental Protection Agency; for summer, before- and after-school programs; Meals on Wheels; the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program; among numerous others. One news outlet described the cuts as being to “most of the government.” But there’s one area of government that Trump intends to bloat: the military. He wants to increase that budget by $54 billion.
On April 4, the 50th anniversary of King’s “Beyond Vietnam,” speech, CCR partner Code Pink launched #No54BillionforWar, a coalition of leaders in the anti-war, civil rights, immigration, climate, women's, and faith movements. I added my name.
CCR is also in its 50th year, and throughout our history we have opposed militarism, joining and training successive generations of activists and lawyers who have pushed back against war-making by administrations both Republican and Democratic. From Vietnam and Cambodia, to Panama, to Grenada, to Iraq, to Yemen; from representing Congressional members seeking to stop executive war-making without Congressional approval, to representing protesters prosecuted for opposing the war, to demanding reparations for the victims of war crimes, CCR has consistently challenged the consistency of American war.
But this moment feels different. Perhaps for reasons that have as much to do with George Orwell as Dr. King.
In his groundbreaking book 1984, Orwell highlights a series of double-think party slogans that are at once absurd and terrifying: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Written in 1948, the novel was a dark, dystopian projection of the future of authoritarian politics absent the resistance of the people governed. Almost 70 years later, our country is being run by a president who is, in one form or another, building domestic and foreign policy on those very slogans. This is certainly why 1984 has seen a resurgence in sales and readership since the presidential election. Both Dr. King and Orwell, writing from the perimeters of two different U.S. wars, not only saw a Donald Trump in the future of America, but also saw the fate of America if we don’t resist a Donald Trump.
Although CCR has been working towards the same goal for decades—fewer resources to the military and the corporations that incentivize war-making; fewer resources to the police who, like their military counterparts, treat black and brown communities like the enemy under the guise of “keeping the peace”; greater resources to our communities who suffer greatly under cruel economic policies—it is especially important now for us to join the chorus of voices speaking out, because the profound shifts in military and police investment that Trump is implementing. To remain silent in the face of massive divestment from the vision of society that Dr. King fought and died for can only result in further degradation of the values necessary to our work to achieve that vision.
Perhaps the starkest example is the missiles he launched against Syria last week. People on both sides of the aisle approved of and even praised Trump’s action as a fitting response to the horrific chemical attack there, with one senator describing such responses as “humanitarian” military action. The law simply doesn’t recognize the absurd notion of humanitarian military action anymore than it recognizes Orwell’s “War is Peace” slogan or Trump’s sloppy appropriation of “Peace through Strength.” And, of course, as Yifat Susskind from MADRE pointed out to me recently, the binary choice between doing nothing and launching air strikes is a false one. But with his quixotic resort to military action and his directing tens of billions of dollars towards the military, Trump has made clear he sees war, not peace, as the path to “making America great again.”
Budgets are an expression of our values and a look at the budget being pushed by Trump might lead some to believe that that we are all happy with investing in military aggression abroad and police aggression at home. But we are not. One might be tempted to think that we are comfortable with creating problems we refuse to solve: drone and other warfare that kills civilians and dislodges those that aren’t killed into stream of desperate refugees that we refuse to help find shelter and safety. But we are not. Some might assume that we agree that black and brown communities are the domestic equivalent to global terrorism and that policing should be our primary tool to control them and ensure, as Trump put it last week, “domestic security.” But we do not. And because we do not agree with these things it’s important that we take a stand when these policies are implemented: at the budget stage. If we do not, we will find ourselves wondering how we went from absurd slogan to terrifying policy and searching in vain for our moral core.
Learn more about the campaign, and how you can add your own name, by going to codepink.org/no54billionforwar.