A Commonsense Solar Defense

Three days before Christmas, the U.S. Congress authorized $725 billion in defense spending for 2011. Adjusted for inflation, that’s the most since 1945, the last year of World War II.

With numbers that large, making comparisons is difficult. Yet consider this. The United Nations reports that 1.5 billion people still live without electricity. For less than $100, a solar panel can power a cell phone charger and four high-efficiency LED lights.

At that price, 1.5 billion people could become partially electrified for $150 billion. Defense-wise, which taxpayer outlay offers better long-term security?

With the U.S. humbled in Iraq, mired in Afghanistan and in danger of being drawn into Iran, is it time to replace aggression with development and firepower with solar power?

With extremism the new enemy, what’s our best defense? What if the U.S. projected its power by defending against the indignities of energy poverty and illiteracy?

Absent a strategy for addressing the roots of human indignity, it’s not clear that the war on terrorism can be won. Energy poverty is a war we know how to win.

Parents of children using solar-powered LED lights report how their grades improve when they have light for studying. While that’s not enough, it’s a good start.

Can the U.S. afford not to embrace a solar defense? If not literacy, what is the best long-term defense against extremism? For $12, a solar-powered LED system can power a desk lamp and a phone charger.

As yet, there is no business model for home-scale solar systems scattered across a continent. Large-scale solar projects are far easier to finance. Community-scale is where the Pentagon can play an immediate role.

A New Form of Defense

Women living in the Pashtun area between Pakistan and Afghanistan share similar goals. They want to charge their cell phones, power a few light bulbs and refrigerate their food.

That’s a challenge the Pentagon can meet. Solar panels can handle part of that task though not all. But again, that’s a good start. Widespread access to cell phones is also helpful.

Cell phones are fast becoming a key tool for transferring money in developing countries. Transactions seldom exceed $20. By improving personal communications, they also provide another incentive to electrify in order to recharge the phone.

Phones now feature applications able to facilitate distance education, coordinate testing and track student progress. What would be the impact of literacy and electrification on the long-term need for weapons-based defense spending? Is the enemy terrorism or indignity?

Cold War defense outlays totaled $20 trillion (in 2010 dollars) from 1948 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Clinton administration spent roughly $4 trillion. Republican G.W. Bush spent another $4.65 trillion and Democrat Barack Obama is on track to spend $5 trillion. That’s a 63-year bipartisan total of at least $33,650,000,000,000 ($33.65 trillion).

How many educations could that have financed? How many homes electrified? How many schools built? How much poverty eradicated? U.S. defense spending from 1998 through 2011 will total $7.2 trillion. What will we have to show for it?

In Defense of Empathy

Conventional defense strategy assumes we are hard-wired for aggression, violence and a radical self-interest. Yet research suggests we’re soft-wired for sociability, empathy and a drive to belong.

What is the best long-term defense against those who view us as The Other? Answer: a strategy that demonstrates U.S. sincerity in enhancing the capacity of others to flourish. Community is the relevant scale for such an initiative.

Though national governments can help coordinate, the impact must be felt at the level of the family and the neighborhood. Address unmet needs there and the impact will suppress secondary drives such as violence and aggression.

To ensure extremism, fail to address the insecurity of poverty and the vulnerability of illiteracy. An empathy strategy is the missing piece in the national security puzzle.

By demonstrating that America sees others as sojourners rather than enemies, the U.S. prepares the groundwork for lasting peace. To win at The Clash of Civilizations, Americans must show by their conduct how to create a truly empathetic civilization.

You can’t fake it. Either people have electricity or not. Their children can read and write or they cannot. Either commerce is enabled in ways relevant to communities — or not.

While it’s easy to kill, creation requires a long-term commitment. Absent an empathy component, what will change at the end of the next six decades of defense expenditures?

The U.S. can no longer afford $725 billion each year for defense, much of it borrowed. Given the poor return on our investment, it’s clear we need another strategy, one free of Zionist goals that advance behind serial conflicts and the debt incurred to fund them.

We know what to do. What’s required is the leadership to do it.

Jeff Gates is author of Guilt By Association, Democracy at Risk, and The Ownership Solution. Read other articles by Jeff, or visit Jeff's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 30th, 2010 at 3:48pm #

    The money micturated up against the wall by the Great Satan in ‘defence’ spending, was wasted for a number of reasons. First was to dominate, intimidate and where necessary violently coerce the entire planet into serving as the Empire’s booty, to be looted and pillaged at will. Second, the vast moneys distributed accrued to the ruling Yankee parasite class, and kept a few lucky serfs in high-paying jobs as they prepared the tools of child murder and terror. Third the money, being effectively wasted, was not available for the tasks of making the planet a decent, humane place.
    The author speaks of empathy, but, as we know, the ruling global parasite class under capitalism has none. Indeed empathy is one of those virtues that are entirely antipathetic to capitalism, and so have been selected out, over generations, from the capitalist caste. Capitalist ‘virtues’ reinforced by fabulous pecuniary reward, are unscrupulousness, indifference to the fate of others, gigantic egomania, facility in lying and presenting a false persona etc. You know, the features of the psychopath. Capitalists believe in a vulgar distortion of natural selection, that Social Darwinism where every other human being is seen as competition, if not enemies, and the capitalists’ inhumanity and pitilessness is projected onto these ‘others’, particularly if they differ in race, religion, ideology or whatever (categories of ‘otherness’ are always being invented, the better to divide humanity against itself). The USA, being essentially a capitalist state, hence a mostly hereditary plutocracy, and being set since 1776, by its ruling elites, on forging a global empire, cannot suddenly acted empathetically. It is not in its DNA to so do. Human empathy as a principal operating process of the USA can only emerge when the current US system has gone, and its ruling pathocracy been replaced by true humane beings. Getting there is the problem, and, given the multiple crises facing humanity, it’s probably not going to happen.

  2. Don Hawkins said on December 30th, 2010 at 6:31pm #

    And now, oh, does the weather jest?
    the wind has shifted to the west.
    The furious storm has finally passed,
    unburdened clouds are clearing fast.
    The stars – oh yes! – the stars appear,
    the wind-washed sky is crystal clear!

    -Doug Zubenel

  3. Charlie said on December 31st, 2010 at 3:06pm #

    Do your data include real defense spending? The Pentagon budget is only one slice, although possibly the largest one, of that ugly pie. Many billions are given to the Office of Homeland Security to wage the battle against the enemy du jour, and the Department of Energy rakes in many billions for the nuclear weapons program. Other agencies, Agriculture and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission come to mind, grab their billions for developing “counter-terrorism” measures, and FEMA, of course, is lavished with many billions to keep up the heck of a job they do preparing for a terrorist attack. Intelligence agencies are given billions, both on and off the public records, to do whatever they do. (Running secret torture rings ain’t cheap, you know.)

    In short, every major government office gets large amounts of money that should be included under the general umbrella of “defense spending.” In fact, and with no small irony, if some nutcase (terrorist or otherwise) were able to eradicate the entire US in a single blast, I suspect the human and financial cost would be less than what the US has spent trying to stop a guy from exploding his shoes on an airplane.

    The ruling financial and political elites in this nation, the pathocracy as Mulga rightly calls them, will not easily surrender their trillions and turn instead to the noble cause of empathy. They are too busy beating plowshares into swords and selling them to the Pentagon.

    In addition, I am baffled and beyond dismayed that many in the US still heartily believe that America is a Christian nation. One might reasonably conclude that empathy is a Christian value to be righteously cultivated, or should be, but the current array of country clubs that pass themselves off as churches seem more concerned with non-issues such as gay marriage than with the damage inflicted by American military misadventures abroad. Moreover, it is well documented that the American military service academies harbor an alarming mob of nitwit Christian fundamentalists who will not rest until they stand high-fiving each other while knee deep in the blood of non-believers.

    The lack of empathy, in both civilian and military contexts, is a reflection of the masterful work of the elites, whose morals often fall far short of those Nature gave to my cat and other beasts. The elites learned long ago that religion is not merely the opiate of the people but, more importantly, it is a tool to make evil acts seem like good deeds if done in service of the American agenda. In what universe, for instance, is torture of children in Abu Ghraib something to be left uninvestigated and unpunished? To this day, I am haunted and deeply saddened by thoughts of what we have done as a nation, and yet the national outrage at the time was over almost as quickly as it began. The Christians explained it all away and went back to watching American Idol.

    Nevertheless, despite my obvious pessimism, I agree that a change in leadership is needed to give the nation a different definition of “defense.” I do not know how to make that happen. I am convinced that change will not begin at the top, so I suspect it will have to begin at the bottom of the power pyramid. New leaders will have to come from the rank and file, not the corridors of power.