National Health is a Matter of National Security

Since 9/11, when politicians speak about national security issues, Americans always justify the massive spending and emphasis on national security by saying that it is patriotic and makes them feel safe. After all, we have many enemies around the world, and we should defend ourselves from them. But in a Covid world, we know that no guns and no typical ‘national security’ military system or institution can protect us from a microscopic virus.

Maybe the better question to ask is: what does national security really mean? That is a hard question, mainly because there is no one direct answer or definition. But every meaning does have similar dimensions: political security, physical security, ecological security, economic security, digital security, etc.

I think we can all agree that physical security stands out as one of the most important dimensions of national security. Still, physical security should not just be defined as military security against violent foreign aggressions. It should also include the physical health of the citizenry. 

Our entire modern-day lives depend on our individual and collective health. As Winston Churchill once said, “healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”

A healthy citizenry is an essential aspect of an economy and, at its core, the reason we continuously invest in so many national security resources. So why don’t we address the root causes of the biggest threats Americans actually face, like lack of healthcare, poor diet, severe weather events(climate change), and substance abuse, things that cause exponentially more death and destruction than foreign enemies of the state?

According to the C.D.C., the top five leading causes of death in the United States for 2017 were heart disease, cancer, accidents (unintentional injuries), lower respiratory infections, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

It is safe to say that once they compute the total death data for 2020, and if the spread and destruction from Covid-19 continues on that path it has been since March, Covid-19 will surely be the number one cause of death in the United States, no doubt.

Trump and many other past presidents boast about how the U.S. has the biggest and strongest military in the world yet they fail to mention that the quality of life and the life expectancy of Americans is much worse than comparable nations in almost every single metric:

·       The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth among comparable countries.

·       The U.S. has seen slower growth in life expectancy than comparable countries.

·       In the U.S., both Black and White people have a shorter average life expectancy than the average of comparable countries.

This real data is very troubling for a nation that always speaks so highly of itself. Since other industrialized nations seem only to be increasing their collective life expectancy, why did the U.S. life expectancy decrease in the past several years? This troubling data shows that we are losing older and younger Americans to preventable conditions, conditions that other countries are better equipped to handle, and more importantly, conditions that other countries successfully prevent through a healthier lifestyle.

Granted ‘lifestyle’ is a very vague term, but I think it is clear that the ‘American lifestyle,’ or at least the one that is advertised to us through commercials, is extremely unhealthy. I’m not just talking about diet, which I could argue is the most critical change that needs to be made. Lack of exercise, a culture of overwhelming stress, mental health oppression, and a dangerous obsession with drugs are continuously harming American communities in plain sight, and yes, that includes alcohol.

All these facts bring me to one question: why are we investing so much in our military and so little in institutions and infrastructure? These areas systematically make our collective lifestyles much healthier, not to mention create a better national healthcare system, which according to the data, is one of the primary reasons why the United States is so behind in life expectancy.

But if you break this national data into regional segments, you see a much more disturbing picture; how income inequality (which is a racial issue) dictates who lives and who dies from preventable causes of death.

Inequality at the end of the day is the reason overall American life expectancy numbers are so low. Wealthier American neighborhoods have comparable life expectancy to other countries, but less privileged American communities are significantly lacking in healthcare infrastructure and services, not to mention financial access to these necessities.

Who cares if we have a significant military to defend our nation and prevent loss of life on the battlefields if we cannot prevent avoidable deaths at home. What is the point of investing in the military when more Americans are dying from domestic dysfunction? 

The U.S. needs to redefine what national security means to include short and long-term public health. Why is funding the military patriotic when realistically supporting the C.D.C., healthcare, and local community health initiatives save more lives and creates a much better quality of life for American citizens and residents?

Don’t get me wrong, we still need the military
for specific tasks, but the federal and state budgets need to be reallocated to other essential institutions.

Why does the U.S. government spend so much money fighting wars around the globe that kill and injure many human beings – including Americans – when our internal disfunction is our own worst enemy?

Why don’t American citizens recognize that just because we don’t immediately feel threatened by a biological or medical enemy that it still exists? 

Why don’t American citizens realize that we need to take collective responsibility for each other, our health and our livelihoods, which are all interconnected? 

Isn’t that what ‘national security’ is about anyway?

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