Left Justified: The true costs of war

Left Justified: The true costs of war

By Stanley Campbell

Well, we won! We vanquished a third-rate army in a country that suffered 12 years of economic embargo after getting clobbered again by the United States military. Whoopee, let’s celebrate, because not only did we destroy Iraq’s army, but also the United Nations’ ability to make peace. While our troops are celebrating in Baghdad, and our State and Defense departments are arguing as to who will run Iraq, the United Nations will be left with a mop-and-bucket job of humanitarian relief.

No more will the U.N. discuss disarmament, environmental disasters, or international law. No, the true costs of this war mean the United States is an imperial power, and everybody better just do what we say. Unfortunately, the United Nations can barely find enough money to bind up the wounds of Iraqi citizens. And, if you think the United States government will pay for rebuilding schools and hospitals while our own infrastructure crumbles, well, I’ve got an oil well in Saudi Arabia I’d like to sell you.

War seems to be good for the U.S. economy, especially when you’re winning. I used to have a button during the Vietnam era that said, “War is good for business: invest your son.” Of course, we’ll have to update it to say, “Invest your children” because they now accept women on the American battlefield.

So this war seems to have helped Wall Street push certain stocks up and bring gas prices down. Oil had hit almost $50 a barrel, but, as Jay Leno said, “Now it’ll be free.” But is war good for the economy? I think not! In fact, it’s very debilitating. It takes hard-earned tax dollars and gives them to unscrupulous military contractors who build weapons that will be used to destroy other things.

The folks who make the most money, of course, are those same military contractors—every manufacturer that supplies everything to the military. From soup to nuts, the military consumes it all. And somebody’s got to make it.

It’s usually the low bidder of a long bureaucratic process, and they divvy up more than $200 billion a year, providing hardware for our armed forces. If you’re a friend of the president, you’ve probably got a better chance of winning a lucrative contract. When it comes to the trillion-dollar 20-year long-term agreements to provide stealth bombers, nuclear-powered submarines and Abrams tanks, that adds up to a lot of friends in high places.

Some congressional districts make their living off the military trough. The 16th Congressional District, though hosting firms that supply our government with the tools of war, is a loser overall. The 16th Congressional District pays more in income taxes than it gets back in military contracts. You have to go south and west to find congressional districts that make money off the military.

The best example is Newt Gingrich’s district in Georgia. They get almost twice as much military pork as they pay in income taxes. North Carolina and South Carolina and California are big winners as well, although more representatives have been clamoring for their share of the military pie.

During times of peace, military hardware is not high on people’s shopping list. Remember those idyllic days right after the Cold War? General Dynamics and other munitions makers were quaking in their combat boots, wondering where the next war was coming from. We were supposed to have a peace dividend that would change the face of America if not the world, destroy poverty and maybe even give everyone a big tax break.

But the rich got the tax break, and right now the “merchants of death” are selling hand over iron fist. Some people say this Iraqi war cost the United States $1 billion a day. That doesn’t count the loss in human lives nor the payment for veterans and their families. (Of course, our president is proposing cutting those benefits.)

How much will it cost to rebuild Iraq? I think that’s an empty promise, and most of the money will go to major American corporations to rebuild Iraq’s oilfields while the people go begging. Do you think our president is going to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure while America’s gets underfunded? No, he’ll talk about doing both, and do nothing. Talk is cheap.

I don’t believe the Iraqi or the American people will see any profits from the second-largest lake of black gold in the world. What America will see is the collateral costs of poverty, weakened infrastructure and lessened expectations for our children, not to mention a need for heightened security as future Osama bin Ladens of the world grow up.

The Iraqi War: your tax dollars at work!

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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