At our recent family 4th of July dinner the conversation turned to the current debt crisis. Political debate is a cage match in my family with strong opinions shared from our diverse perspectives as lawyers, clergy, Wall Streeter and special needs educator. My authentically do-gooder educator cousin declared that it seemed obvious that we had to balance our national books, to which I obnoxiously retorted: "OK, so what do we cut: education?" Always thoughtful, she was silent for a while as we debated taxes, corporate responsibility and government waste. Finally, she interjected: "What about the wars?"
What about the wars?
It was amazing that none of us had thought about them around our dinner table debate. But maybe not so surprising. Within the cacophony emanating from Washington around the debt ceiling, the wars are conspicuously absent. How can this be? The cost of these wars is estimated at upwards of $3.7 trillion and the cost of the war in Afghanistan alone is $6.7 billion a month or $233 million a day. Yet we keep hearing about how education, medicare and now social security are on the table for drastic reductions.
Cutting services for the basic rights of health care, education and food security while continuing to spend money on wars inflicts a double portion of violence upon our nation and should be considered a moral abomination.
The first violence of the wars is done to our soldiers who are in zones of combat. We have lost 1,647 soldiers in Afghanistan and 4,472 in Iraq. Those who do return often suffer from mental and physical damage, and these veterans often find a lack of the level of support needed to sustain them in a healthy transition back to civilian life.
Meanwhile many thousand Afghans and Iraqis continue to experience the violence of death and displacement while public opinion of America and Americans plummets. Also dwindling are the politicians and military leaders who continue to insist that our national security interests are primarily located in these two countries.
And yet, as the direction of our current debate on debt demonstrates, these wars also inflict extraordinary violence upon our own people here at home. Politicians are apparently willing to sacrifice the education, the health and the financial security of our own citizens -- often the most vulnerable of our citizens -- at the insatiable altar of these wars.
Recently, I talked to the Christian activist Shane Claiborne, who is part of a community called The Simple Way, located in a broken down part of Philadelphia where violence is a fact of life. Shane told me that Philly had a homicide every day and that just last year a teenager was gunned down on his block. Shane reminded me of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who, when speaking of another war in his time, said:
I told the kids in the ghettos that violence won't solve our problems, but then the kids ask me why does the government use mass doses of violence to get the change it wants in the world. I knew that I could no longer just speak about the violence in the ghettos without also speaking about the violence of my government.
Channelling King, Shane told me: "There is a connection between what is happening in my neighborhood and what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan: Every time a bomb goes off overseas, we can feel the second impact in our neighborhoods."
The link between the money we are spending on these wars and the deprivation we see in our own country must be part of the debt conversation. We should call foul any politician who talks about reducing the debt without drastically and immediately stopping the wars that inflict such violence both abroad and within our own borders.
The next time our President, senators, representatives or media start talking about debt reduction, ask them: What about the war? It's time to stop the violence. It is time to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq.