Saturday, March 19, 2011

As the War Machine Keeps Turning...

Today marks the eighth year of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

While anti-war protesters plan to march in Washington on Saturday to observe the anniversary, their numbers are not likely to be as great as they were during the run-up to the invasion in 2003. Eight years after President George W. Bush used lies and fabricated intelligence to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, Americans seem to devote precious little attention to the conflict.

As Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzales noted in yesterday’s installment of the news show, “because of the lack of media coverage, most people have almost forgotten certainly Iraq, if not [the war in] Afghanistan as well.”

As protesters calling for an end to the eight year conflict descended upon the Capitol, about 20 activists held a companion vigil in Portland’s Monument Square. Participants tried to link the enormous financial cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the troubled economy with signs that read, “Bring Our War $$ Home,” and “How Is the War Economy Working for You?”

“Using the money we’ve spent on these wars,” protest organizer Wells Staley-Mays said, “we could create a system of single-payer, universal health care that would cover all Americans.”

Another protester expressed disgust with President Obama’s failure to end either war. “I received a call from the DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] looking for a donation the other day. I was on the phone with her for about half-an-hour explaining how disappointed I am with Obama. I told her the Democrats would not receive one dime from me until I see some real progressive changes.”

I have attended a number of anti-war protests like this one, and they always seem to attract the same handful of dedicated people. As is typical at these events, young people were scarce. (I spotted about three who looked like colleges students.) While drivers and passerby honked in approval, or flashed us the peace sign, none of them heeded our encouragement to come and stand with us.

At one point, a scruffy-haired young person approached two members of the crowd to question their motives. “Why was it OK to ‘take out’ Mubarak, but not Saddam Hussein?” he asked, videotaping the answer on his cell phone. Then he implied the protesters were hypocrites for owning cars if the “war is about stealing oil.”

The two protesters argued with him eloquently, but he did not seem truly interested in their answers. This person is emblematic of the juvenile “hipster” attitude—quick to criticize the motives of those willing to take a stand, but seemingly devoid of any such moral conviction, himself. Perhaps this is why every anti-war rally I have ever attended is composed primarily of middle-aged baby-boomers. The millennial generation, as far as I can tell, does not believe in anything.

Of course, Iraq is not the only war the United States is currently engaged in. The war in Afghanistan is entering its tenth year. And Congress just voted to keep it going. Yes, you read correctly. On Thursday, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted against a bill to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan and end the funding for the conflict.

Again, this bill received next to no coverage in the mainstream media and the vote itself went down with little fanfare. Maine’s two representatives, Mike Michaud (D) and Chellie Pingree (D)--both of whom have emerged as reliable opponents of war-spending--voted in favor of the bill.

Unfortunately, on Thursday they proved the exception to the rule, as a majority of Democrats voted to continue the misbegotten Afghanistan occupation. Time after time supposedly anti-war Democrats like Steny Hoyer (Md) and Carl Levin (MI) vote to continue paying for wars they claim to oppose. Indeed, I am uncertain of a clearer example of the two parties’ uniform agreement when it comes to matters of foreign policy.

(Ironically, during the Afghanistan vote, the House also passed a measure to cut-off all federal funding for the “liberal” NPR. Just to keep track here, we have got money for war and endless empire-building, but heaven forbid U.S. taxpayers are forced to shell out another dime to public radio.)

To date the Iraq War has claimed over 4,400 U.S. soldiers’ lives. Over 32,000 have been seriously wounded. And more than 1,000,000 Iraqis have been killed since 2003 according to a comprehensive study by the British polling firm, Opinion Research Business.

According to the website cost of, the state of Maine will pay $464.1 million for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the fiscal spending year 2011. For the same amount of money, the website indicates, Maine residents could fund the following:

- 8,340 elementary school teachers for one year.
- 48,208 scholarships for university students for one year.
- 185,561 households with renewable electricity for one year.
- 103,283 people receiving low-income healthcare for one year.

With these numbers in mind, I reiterate the question:

How is the war economy working for you?

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