“War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” said a popular song in the 1970s.

Try telling that to workers at Columbia Sewing Co. in Magnolia, Ark. The company fell on hard times after its main customer, Bass Pro Shops, moved its business to China three years ago.

Now, thanks to a military contract, workers at the plant are sewing trousers and camouflage coats for soldiers.

“If it wasn’t for [Defense Department] contracting, we would not be here, and 200 people would be out of a job,” Brian Smith, the company’s vice president, told the Washington Post.

Columbia County in Arkansas received $16.5 million in Department of Defense contracts in fiscal year 2003, according to a county-by-county report published on the Internet.

In all defense contracts pumped more than $202 billion into economies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. California benefited the most, with $28 billion, followed by Texas ($22 billion), Virginia ($19 billion), Florida ($8 billion) and Maryland ($7.5 billion).

Big-ticket items on the government’s shopping list included aircraft ($22 billion), construction ($9 billion), maintenance of equipment ($9 billion) and $33 billion for various categories of research and development.

War is big business, and not just for small companies like Columbia Sewing Co.

Lockheed Martin Corporation led the list of companies awarded the most in defense contracts. Its $21.9 billion in 2003 was up nearly $5 billion from the year before. The Boeing Company was second with $17.3 billion. Halliburton moved up in the ranks from 37th in2002 ($0.5 billion) to seventh ($3.9 billion) in 2003.

Defense work accounted for nearly 16 percent of the nation’s economic growth in the first three months of this year, according to the Washington Post.

While war is good for business, economists say in the long run it is a poor use of government funds, according to the Post article. A dollar spent on highway creates not only jobs but also provides a lasting benefit to the economy. If it buys bombs or bullets, however, they are simply exploded.

“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,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953.

The war in Iraq has cost the United States more than $114 billion, according to the Web site CostofWar.com, which carries a counter with a running total of war-related expenses.

Had that money been available for other uses, it could have paid for 16 million children to attend a year of Head Start, insured 48 million kids for a year, hired an additional 2.1 million teachers, provided four-year scholarships for 2.8 million college students or built 1.6 million units of public housing, according to the site.

Military spending will increase the federal budget deficit to more than $400 billion this year. Those funds will have to be repaid in the future through higher taxes or reduced services.

The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq stood at 788 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to a Web site graph by the anti-war Project for a New American Century. Another anti-war site, Iraq Body Count, reports that as many as 11,000 civilian non-combatants have been killed as a result of U.S. military action in Iraq.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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