Legal Learning: First in war, but not in other rankings
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, a retired history professor, wrote an interesting article recently: "The U.S. is First in War, But Trailing in Crucial Aspects of Modern Civilization."
He points out that we have the strongest military in the world. We have more than 2 million military personnel and "vast numbers of the most advanced nuclear missiles, military aircraft, warships, tanks and other modern weapons of war."
We have about 200,000 active duty troops deployed in more than 170 countries and about 800 overseas U.S. military bases.
In 2017, the last year for which global figures are available, the U.S. government accounted for more than one-third of the world's military expenditures — more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined.
In August, Congress passed a huge increase in the military budget, raising it to $717 billion. We spend a lot of money on war and war preparations.
But spending so much money on the military means that we shortchange other areas where our government should be providing benefits. Professor Wittner's article sets out some embarrassing statistics:
According to the Program for International Student Assessment, which tested 540,000 students in 72 nations, U.S. students ranked 24th in reading, 26th in science and 41st in mathematics. We rank behind countries like Slovenia, Poland, Russia and Vietnam.
An estimated 30 million adult Americans can't read, write or do basic math above a third-grade level.
A 2017 study of health care systems in 11 advanced industrial countries by the Commonwealth Fund found that the U.S. ranked at the very bottom of the list.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. health care system ranks 37th in the world, behind Columbia, Cyprus and Morocco, for example.
The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is higher than in 54 other countries, including Belarus, Cuba, Greece and French Polynesia.
The World Cancer Research Fund found that the U.S. has the fifth-highest cancer rate of the 50 countries it studied.
We rank 53rd among 100 nations in life expectancy.
Despite the fact that the U.S. is the world's richest nation, we also have an unusually high level of poverty. According to a 2017 UNICEF report, more than 29 percent of American children live in impoverished circumstances, placing the U.S. 35th in childhood poverty among the 41 richest nations.
Some 15 percent of Americans live in poverty — more than 41 other countries, including Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil and Sri Lanka.
According to the Environmental Performance Index, the U.S. placed 27th among the countries it ranked on environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
The Social Progress Index, another well-respected survey that rates countries on their environmental records, ranked the U.S. 36th in wastewater treatment, 39th in access to at least basic drinking water and 73rd in greenhouse gas emissions.
Back in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower said this in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper editors: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."
A militarized world "is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and hopes of its children."
Despite his background as a military man — he was a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II — he recognized the truth: that we can't spend unlimited amounts on the military and still expect to provide adequate services to our citizens in other areas.
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota's Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in the Lake County area, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and are not to be attributed to his employer. He can be reached at email@example.com or jamesmanahan.com.