By Glen Ford

Sen. Barack Obama is forsaking the position of most African-Americans on the issue of ever-escalating U.S. military spending. And progressive black leaders are letting him get away with it.

For decades, Black America has maintained a general consensus in favor of “butter” in the national “butter or bullets” debate. The call for a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild America’s cities has been a constant in African-American public discourse, inevitably coupled with demands for lower military spending.

The collapse of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty under a tsunami of Vietnam expenditures proved that war spells the death of urban domestic dreams.

Now, however, for the first time since World War II, we witness a self-imposed silence on war spending among a number of black opinion-molders who would be shouting their heads off at the prospect of an even larger U.S. military establishment. The reason for this voluntary stand-down: Barack Obama supports the addition of nearly 100,000 soldiers and Marines in coming years, and he doesn’t want to be embarrassed by loud black voices of protest during his dash for the brass ring.

“I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines,” Obama told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last April.

That’s precisely the number favored by President Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates over a five-year period at a cost of $108 billion, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. Sen. Hillary Clinton would add at least 80,000 troops, Rudy Giuliani wants 70,000 additional pairs of boots on the ground, somewhere on the planet, and Mitt Romney would add 100,000.

To what purpose? Both Republicans and front-running Democrats claim to be aiming for dramatically lower U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, over varying, vague spaces of time. Where will the new troops be deployed? A central lesson of human history is that armies are raised in order to be sent somewhere.

Obama, the Great Black Hope (and, apparently, a Great Hope for many whites who consider themselves anti-war), cannot plausibly claim the “peace candidate” mantle while simultaneously serving as a member in good standing of the club that lobbies for ever-increasing military budgets.

Obama has definitively chosen guns over bread, bullets over butter. The money is already earmarked for the generals and admirals and defense contractors, with his signature prominently affixed.

In a sense, the election is over, since all the “viable” candidates are members of the Military Spending Club. None of Clinton’s or Obama’s promises for urban revitalization, infrastructure repair, real health care reform, vastly increased federal aid to schools or affordable housing can be taken seriously so long as they support a

bloated Pentagon.

The handwriting screams from the wall, but African-Americans who could previously be trusted to speak truth to power lose their voices when confronted with the stark reality of Obama’s position.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, an Obama endorser, sits quietly on the sidelines, uninvited to campaign with “his” candidate, but not daring to point out the “guns and butter” contradictions of an Obama presidency.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who will almost surely endorse Obama before the South Carolina primary, swears to high heaven that he will not be silenced by anyone, any time, anywhere — but keeps his mouth shut when it comes to Obama’s set-in-stone military spending commitments.

Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University and New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther, refuse to confront Obama’s ridiculous claim that blacks have come “90 percent of the way” to equality, or their candidate’s commitment to massive additional war spending.

If progressive leaders in the black community don’t speak out, and if Obama doesn’t come around on military spending, he will not be an agent of “change” — certainly not of the kind “you can believe in,” as his campaign placards advertise.

Glen Ford, executive editor of, has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. He can be contacted at or at


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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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