August 12th, 2014
Mike Edera is a long-time ROP volunteer, leader of a human dignity group in Washington County for many years, activist, organizer, and strategic thinker. We share with you this timely and thoughtful piece by Mike on “the Cost of War 2014” – a conversation many rural communities are having right now. Take a look and let us know your ideas for raising this conversation in your town!
Cost of War 2014, And What We Can Do About It
Seven years ago, the Rural Organizing Project launched the Cost of War initiative. It was an effort to show how the monetary and human costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars were felt in our local communities.
Today, the fires of those conflicts are merging into one huge conflagration, and embers of other wars are bursting into flame. We better take a long hard look at the cost of war, because to live in the United States, in the early 21st century, is to live in a society whose government has made war it’s principal business. How’s that working out for us, and the planet?
The first thing we need to get through our very thick skulls is that wars don’t ‘stop’. They don’t just ‘happen’ and then ‘go away’. No better example of this is the awful mess in Israel/Palestine. World War 2 and the Holocaust are still present in the State of Israel and form much of the psychological self- justification for the occupation of Palestinian people who had nothing to do with that 1939-45 disaster. Likewise, the expulsion and dispossession experienced by Palestinians has never ‘gone away’. Perhaps all this could have been sorted out, and people could have healed and established justice, and moved forward, but a yearly injection of over $3 billion in US military aid to Israel has made one side feel that it does not need to really count the true cost of war.
Are military ‘support’ and covert operations the only way that the US government knows how to conduct foreign policy? Regardless of who shot down the Malaysian airliner in the Ukraine, the covert assistance that USA funded ‘NGO’s’ gave to Ukrainian protesters over the winter of 2013-14, and the back up NATO gave the new government paved the way to the civil war that is engulfing the region. What about the actions of Putin and Russia? Think of it this way – how would the US government have reacted if Russia had provided enough covert aid for protestors to topple an elected government in Mexico, and then admitted that new government into a military alliance? What makes US policy so incoherent is that the international community desperately needs Russia’s cooperation to help end the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. The Assad regime is Russia’s client; every observer knows that the re will be no solution without negotiation. US policy? Arm the ‘good’ rebels. What was the end result? The growth of ISIS and the metastatic spread of violence from Syria into Iraq – conflagration.
This brings us full circle to the war in Iraq, and to Afghanistan beyond. Here’s a question: What was all that protesting and anti-war marching from 2002-2008 all about? Did the war become ‘good’ when Obama was inaugurated? When the US pulled its troops out in 2011, because the Iraqi government would not give US forces legal immunity in the wake of revelations of atrocities carried out by US troops, did the war ‘end’ as the President told our nation? Iraq was still in ruins. The bombs were still going off in Bagdad, sectarian violence was growing, and thousands were dying each year. Millions were homeless. The electricity was still out. At home, tens of thousands of soldiers and their families were dealing with physical and psychological injuries from the war. The 3 TRILLION dollars that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually cost this nation represent the surplus wealth of a generation of Americans. Think about what that money would have bought had it been spent to wean this country off fossil fuels. Instead of doing this type of accounting, the American public, the US left too, ‘went on to other things’. Really? In June, the whole rotted floor of the Iraq edifice collapsed. In a week, half the Iraq national army, which US taxpayers spent $25 billion to stand up, collapsed. Tens of millions of dollars in US war material passed into the hands of ISIS. The rebels tweeted that they expected the US to fully honor the warrantees on all their new equipment. Who says terrorists don’t have a sense of humor?
So the United States Government has just looked the US public in the face and said, in effect – “You know that 3 Trillion spent on these wars, we just flushed most of that down the toilet. What are you going to do about it?”
Remember that wars don’t just ‘go away’? In the same month that the work of a generation was burned down in Iraq, tens of thousands of refugee children from Central America showed up in US border detention facilities, seeking asylum. The kids from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are fleeing societies that were the beneficiaries of billions of dollars of – what else- US military aid in the 1980’s when long overdue revolutions were suppressed, with US help, by death squads and massacres. Those countries never recovered from US government ‘anti-communist’ assistance, or later from the millions of dollars in US aid to fight the ‘drug war’.
So now what? The American people have tried ignoring all of this. But at this moment, the fire that was ten blocks down the street is in the garage behind the house. There are sparks and smoke in the living room. What can we do?
If there is a way forward, it is through people speaking the truth, and using their own grassroots organizations to spread the word honestly. Here’s an example right out of the ROP history books:
In the 1960’s, the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a psychological disorder. Today, we are watching the legal acceptance of same-sex marriage all across America. The anti-queer pogrom that certain fundamentalist religious sects launched in the 1990’s has run out of gas. How did that happen? It happened because thousands of brave people ran the risk to speak openly about their sexual orientation. They founded grassroots organizations that championed that honesty, and did the necessary work to bring openness into the social and political life of their communities. This process began in New York City during the Stonewall riots of 1969 and gained velocity in San Francisco under the leadership of Harvey Milk. By the 1990’s the Rural Organizing Project was taking the movement into small, conservative rural communities across Oregon. We fought every political ballot measure battle, and lost the vote regularly in most of our communities. Yet by 2012-14 the movement was unstoppable.
We need to do the same with the central issue of our time – war and its sponsor – empire. For instance: This fall we will fight to preserve the right of undocumented immigrants to have a driver’s license. We need to speak truthfully about why people have been forced to leave their homes and come to the United States. When the anti-immigrant forces attack the border children, we need to have campaigns that forcefully remind our neighbors that their tax dollars were used to destroy the social fabric and economies of the countries those kids come from, during the Central American Wars of the 1980’s. Those wars never ended, despite the ‘United States of Amnesia’. Not only that, but economic war has been leveled against Mexico and Central America via free trade, because US military force is always used to make the world safe for corporations.
This fall, Democratic politicians will be urging progressives to support them with money and volunteer help. This can feel like an urgent priority, especially in rural communities where the alternative is a psychotic ‘conservative’. We need to be able to look these candidates in the face and say – “Explain how you will bring accountability for the Iraq and Afghan war catastrophes. And how will you divert spending from weapons systems and foreign warfare to meet the needs of our people, including our veterans. Will you use the power of government to inform citizens of the cost of war, and build for alternatives?” We need to remind them that even if they are running for a local office, the effects of the Iraq and Afghan wars are felt on every block in every community. We should do this to bring honest discussion of the real issues we the people face into the political process. It will seem lik e a daunting job. But humans learn by imitation. As mentioned above, we have seen how this can lead to real victories.
Doing this will make lots of ‘allies’ uncomfortable, just as when LGBT activists spoke out from within other social movements. But we are running out of time and it’s way too late to be polite. As Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary who knew a lot about war once said “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”