“War is the Health of the State”–But Not People


Photo of Randolph Bourne by Unknown. Public Domain.

How’s this for a grand generalization? The United States is not great at providing health care and really good at waging war. And by “good” I do not mean effectively. We wage war a lot because we can afford to and very few Americans ever personally feel its considerable terrible effects. And we don’t do health care very effectively because it requires a belief that all Americans have an inalienable right to be cared for with the help of benevolent government assistance. In short, we have not for a while now generally believed in the prospect of benevolent, enlightened government. To prove it, we managed to elect Mr. Trump, and so far he has not disappointed our sense of the limits and limitations of government.


In the same week that the Republican Party offered and failed to vote on a draconian, nay, downright cruel health care plan to replace the flawed but humane ACA, it was reported that the U.S.-led Coalition under the Trump Administration was dropping more bombs in Iraq and had reportedly killed some 200 innocent people in Mosul. 

Fortunately, the “American Health Care Act” (known more informally to us liberals as Wedon’tcare) failed to come to a vote in the House of Representatives largely because the Freedom (to perish) Caucus did not think the bill was brutal enough for the dictates of the free market. So, thank God for the Tea Party and the petulant impatience of Mr. Trump who has better things to do than negotiate with politicians. Golf and Twitter may yet save the Republic and the planet by distracting Mr. Trump from actually doing any governing.

It’s a pity though that those responsible for waging war on behalf of the U.S. are not similarly preoccupied. Fighting terrorists by terrorizing and killing civilians in distant lands is the flip side of providing better access to health care with a plan that makes having and affording decent health care pretty much impossible for millions of Americans.

American bankruptcy and ill-health on the one hand and increasing violence against foreign civilians on the other: when Randolph Bourne said “war is the health of the state” he did not mean the physical health of individual Americans. Although the U.S. spends just a bit more on health care entitlements than it does on defense, the much more genuine threat to Americans is illness and poverty rather than terrorists.

What would a truly benevolent and peaceable government look like? One that placed the health of all the world’s people, including Americans, first.

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