Ky. voices: Bob Moore on the perils of war as a growth industry

The March 18 headline said, "Kentucky is offering tax breaks to defense firms." Specifically, the state will forego property tax on buildings constructed by private defense contractors at Bluegrass Station (formerly Lexington-Bluegrass Army Depot).

The property has evolved from a shuttered army installation into a secure environment for companies that have contracts with the Defense Department to conduct sensitive operations.

I have for some time taken a dim view of tax forgiveness and other lures that decrease revenues for the state, such as tax increment financing. It is difficult for me to understand why corporations like Raytheon or Lockheed-Martin need such tax breaks when they are some of the most profitable in the world from feeding at the public trough in the name of national security. They start out with the taxpayer giving them breaks and end up with the taxpayer paying for their product. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it, and they can.

For this to be an attractive business proposition for Kentucky these companies doing business with the federal government have to be viewed as growth industries, and therein lies the problem.

Just a few short weeks ago, when the famous "sequester" was making its cuts known, there were plaintive cries about the jobs that it would cost. In Newport News shipbuilders, welders and restaurant owners cried about the hit to their pocketbooks. Already hundreds of thousands of jobs that were supported by state and federal governments, such as teachers and social workers, have been cut. My question is this: Who said that jobs building implements of war would last forever? It makes no sense to maintain jobs making materials for war when we are striving for peace. War materials are not required during peacetime despite what the dogs of war tell us.

We were warned of this by a Republican, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II. You may imagine a wartime commander and lifelong army man to be a booster of the military. Unfortunately, his farewell address, after two terms as president, has been much quoted but little heeded. In part, it goes:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

We have allowed this demon to creep up on us through our fear of an imagined lack of security. We have been attacked but we have not been brought down, although the fear of such, coupled with the avarice of the armaments industry, has created in us a desire for absolute security at the cost of many of our liberties. Astonishingly, I find myself largely in agreement with Sen. Rand Paul on this subject.

The aforementioned complex now creates so many jobs building attack submarines, Apache helicopters, F-22 Raptors, drones and smart bombs that we just can't afford to stop making these implements of destruction. Unless we want to be renting out storage units we must use them, creating in the process the world's largest government stimulus program. Call me a peacenik nut, but I challenge you to find the flaw in the reasoning.

So, here is another quote from that great leftist (not) Eisenhower:

"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 are not clothed."

I haven't always been a great Eisenhower fan, but compared to today's rhetoric he was a towering fount of wisdom.Why should the military-industrial complex be a growth industry? Why should we continue to make weapons just because of the jobs? And why should Kentucky pin its hopes on the United States remaining on a permanent war footing? I am not so pie-in-the sky as to think we can instantly change this dynamic but I do believe we can start. Right now.

Bob Moore is a mechanical contractor and columnist for the Somerset Commonwealth-Journal, a former community columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and author of the blog "My Take — a daily dose of opinion."