Last Friday (May 18) Congresswomen Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa joined 222 of their Republican colleagues in voting for H.R.4310: National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 which authorizes $643 billion for, among other things, the war and occupation of Afghanistan, tank upgrades, submarines, long-range bombers, Air Force drones, and an East Coast missile defense system to be built by 2015 to “counter threats from Iran and North Korea.”

Unlike the majority of House Democrats, both Rep. Hirono and Rep. Hanabusa voted in favor of this despite the fact that NDAA surpasses spending limits imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act by $8 billion and is $3.7 billion over what President Obama requested. Is this Congress’s idea of fiscal responsibility?

Beyond questions of financial prudence, does this type of excessive spending on the military and foreign wars really serve the best interests of Hawaii’s people or those living in the countries where we fight our wars, both declared and undeclared?


As for Rep. Hirono’s claim that this is a boost for Hawaii’s economy (on Friday she tweeted: “We will also be able to create jobs through the $372 million in construction projects at Hawaii’s military installation”). Well, yes, war spending is always profitable for someone (particularly defense contractors) but does this really benefit the ordinary people in Hawaii who continue to struggle amidst a tepid economy, neglected social infrastructure and underfunded education and healthcare systems? Who really benefits from bloated military budgets and enormous defense contracts?

To better appreciate the wild excesses of our own military budget, consider that in 2011 the United States (by far the world’s largest military spending nation) spent $252 billion more than the combined total military budgets of the next nine largest spenders including China, Russia, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and allies Germany, France, Japan and the United Kingdom.

According to the National Priorities Project, this year 57 percent of Federal discretionary spending is being used for the military compared with just 7 percent for education. In 2012, taxpayers in Honolulu County alone will pay $1.1 billion to the Department of Defense. That same amount could fund 17,500 elementary school teachers for one year or provide renewable electricity for 1.4 million households (wind power) or 680,000 (solar PV power) for a year.

Instead, Congress has voted to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into things like warships, submarines, assault aircraft, unmanned drones, missile systems, large and small arms, rockets, bombs, surveillance equipment and other war tools, all detailed in 19 pages of procurements in this 996-page document [pdf].

This same budget authorizes nearly $12 billion for “atomic energy defense activities” which includes the stockpiling of seven different nuclear weapons systems like the B61, described as “the most versatile and abundant nuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile.”

Remarkably, despite the fact that both Congresswomen Hirono and Hanabusa have joined with Republicans in supporting this bill, the vote has passed as a non-event, going almost unmentioned, let alone scrutinized by local media. It’s as if such spending is simply a given, not worth even two inches of print in the local daily newspaper.

But the notion that pouring endless amounts of money into weapons and war will somehow buy us security or improve our way of life is deeply flawed and demonstrably false so for our representatives to just vote for “more of the same” is to remain committed to the same war path we’ve been on under Democrats and Republicans alike.

For anyone interested (hopefully Reps. Hirono and Hanabusa, both Senators Inouye and Akaka and all others running for office in Hawaii), it is worth reading this study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which found that $1 billion spent on military production creates 8,600 direct and indirect jobs. But that same amount of money invested in clean energy, health care or education could produce between 12,000 and 19,000 jobs.

It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who wrote, “we need an adequate defense, but every arms dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term weakening effect upon the nation and its security.”

Friday’s vote for the NDAA by Hirono and Hanabusa is yet another example of the realization of that which Eisenhower warned.

If votes like the one described above don’t represent your values or live up to your own standards of what is truly pono, don’t just throw your arms up in exasperation and say, “well, I have to vote for them, they’re the lesser of two evils.”

You don’t, and they’re not.


About the author: Jon Letman is a freelance writer on Kauai.