On May 20-21, 2012, the NATO summit descended upon Chicago with the full weight of the global military industrial complex. The cloistered glitz of the NATO summit and the publicized gore of the anti-NATO protests left an indelible mark on those who participated in these events. However, for most Chicagoans, NATO simply represented one more annoyance in an already grinding daily commute. In the wake of NATO, Chicagoans sprang back into their daily routine with the ferocity of ants rebuilding a demolished anthill. The NATO summit was, to most, unremarkable.
Now, almost two weeks after the event, police have stowed away their riot gear and cleaned their bloodied batons. Throngs of weary but resolute demonstrators have found their way home to a soft bed and clean clothes. The literal and figurative wounds inflicted in Chicago have begun to heal, but the gnawing issues that gave rise to these demonstrations remain. What have we learned?
1. NATO kills people -- lots of them.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is the world's largest military alliance and is hailed for its capacity to promote security and stability throughout the world. However, NATO air strikes have consistently murdered innocent people. Afghan officials reported that an air strike on Saturday, May 26, 2012 killed eight civilians, including children. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reported that NATO air strikes have killed 72 Libyan civilians. NATO officials downplay these killings by cloaking them in euphemistic language. Deadly aerial bombing raids are called "air strikes." The unintentional killing of civilians is described as an "incident" or "accident." This language is insidious. Spilling milk on the kitchen floor is an incident. A fender bender in a parking lot is an accident. The habitual slaughter of innocent civilians is murder even when veiled in the rhetoric of peace and liberty. Demonstrators marched against NATO to argue that the "security" it offers is questionable at best and comes at too high a price in lives and money.
2. America spends too much on war.
America outspends its military competitors by a ridiculous margin. Last year, the United States accounted for 41 percent of global military expenditures while China and Russia accounted for only 8.2 percent and 4.1 percent respectively. Similarly, military spending comprises over half of America's discretionary budget. Moreover, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has come at an inconceivable cost, $3.7 trillion according to some. While America invested vast sums in its military excursions, China invested in its infrastructure and its people. In 2011, China spent twice as much on education as on military spending. Its military budget was $91.5 billion while its educational budget was $189 billion. By contrast, in 2013, the United States will spend twelve times more on the military than it does on education. The United States has budgeted $677.7 billion for military operations and a paltry $55.7 billion for education. Meanwhile, America's economy falters as students struggle to repay over $1 trillion in student loan debt. To say America's priorities are misplaced is a gross understatement. A murky confection of reassuring rhetoric about protecting the homeland and dogmatic insistence on military intervention is bankrupting the nation and its people. Demonstrators at the NATO summits derided excessive military spending and chanted, "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation."
3. Chicago lost money on NATO.
The bills from the NATO summit are still arriving. The Emanuel administration repeatedly claimed that the visually stunning, hyper-militarized summit would be fully funded with money from the federal government and private donors. It also claimed that the summit would give a $128 million boost to the city economy. Chicagoans have been skeptical of these claims, and some argue that the summit was a financial bust. With roads closed, buses rerouted, and public encouraged to leave town, businesses were deserted. Crain's Chicago Business reports that revenues were down as much as 65 percent at some restaurants. Famed chef Rick Bayless's normally bustling restaurants located far north of the NATO summit had a 15 to 20 percent sales decrease. In addition, many workers lost wages because their places of employment told them to stay home. Finally, Chicagoans are understandably wary about the ultimate price taxpayers will pay for the $36.5 million in private donations that offset the cost of the summit. A series of questionable deals between government officials and corporations have left taxpayers in a lurch. Most famously, Mayor Daley's long-term lease of the city's parking meters to a private corporation has been financially disastrous. Mayor Emanuel and Governor Quinn's tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears have contributed to a growing budget deficit that has led to drastic cuts to Medicaid. Emanuel's opaque infrastructure trust and contracts for speed cameras and bicycle sharing reek of costly collusion. Demonstrators at the NATO summit lambasted Mayor Emanuel for prioritizing this event over the financial interests and wellbeing of Chicago citizens.