Home Commentary Opinion OPINION: Swords into Plowshares 9.25.14

OPINION: Swords into Plowshares 9.25.14

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by Margaret Blanchard

grew up believing in the Good War against the Nazis, in which my uncle died and my father fought to the gates of the Buchenwald concentration camp. I also accepted the importance of the Korean War, waged under the auspices of the United Nations.  But by the Vietnam War, I was ready to protest.

Since that time the United States has been in almost continuous combat: the Dominican Republic, Libya, Grenada, Cuba, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya again, Iraq again. In the past 61 years, we have been at war for 45 years, leaving only 16 years of peace. These wars cost at least $14.1 trillion; currently we spend $500 billion a year on the military.

Who benefits from these wars, this spending?  Certainly not soldiers returning home with horrendous wounds, both physical and psychological. Certainly not U.S. citizens deprived of the benefits their tax dollars could otherwise fund. Certainly not U.S. workers cheated out of the work of repairing and upgrading our disintegrating infrastructure. And certainly not inhabitants of those countries that have suffered the damage and death inflicted by our bombs and drones.

Imagine if that $14 trillion was available to the U.S. population of 318.7 million. It’d suffice to give each of us a substantial nest egg. Instead the profits go to the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us against.  And to the health-care industrial complex that deals with the fallout of these wars—traumatized returning soldiers. And to the corporate media complex which pounces on every world atrocity, feeding an endless loop of trauma as eager reporters compete to pin down the slightest new detail, and which produces films and TV shows that glamorize violence.

I don’t object to the military. We need a trained, skilled force to protect our country from invasions, but I know from family members who are professional soldiers that they far prefer peace to combat. Now President Obama is propelling us into another prolonged and hopeless war, against an enemy, ISIS, which poses little threat to our homeland. Although I’ve deplored Obama’s use of drone strikes, I’d  been comforted by his reluctance to engage us in further war.  Now, because of the brutal beheading of two American journalists, the country is again revving up for a war most Americans believe cannot be won. Once again Americans are being led like sheep into another war, with scarcely a peep.  If the wars I mentioned earlier had been fought on our own soil, we civilians might have a deeper understanding of the damages caused by war. 

One has to question why we must engage in war against ISIS. The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, between various factions in the Middle East, is far beyond our comprehension or control. The countries of the Middle East need to tend to their own conflicts and work out their own negotiations. Our previous interventions contributed to the mess there more than anything we can provide now, especially by further bombing.

Since 9/11, measures for keeping the home front safe have been finely tuned, and ISIS fighters with American or European passports can be filtered out from transportation to the U.S. mainland.  What about other victims around the world who need “saving,” like the 300 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, or the North Koreans starving in prison camps? Those journalists, honorable and courageous, knew the risks they were taking.  Many more victims around the world have less choice, fewer opportunities for escape.

One cause of this American do-goodism is the belief, held by politicians in Washington, in “American exceptionalism,” by which they mean American superiority.  Yes, we are exceptional, meaning unique, but every country, large or small, is unique; that doesn’t make one better than the rest.

Along with this exceptionalism is the belief in American “leadership” of the world. What is our model for true leadership: Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon?  Or people like Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk?  Power and empire-building, or grassroots organizing and liberation of whole communities?

Isn’t it time we joined in a resounding no to further conflict overseas, and started dealing with the real issues which face us: economic inequality, climate change, crumbling roads and bridges, immigration? The American character is blessed with a range of skills to solve these problems and to inspire further innovation—creativity, courage, collaboration, generosity. We can continue to share our gifts with those in need around the world through humanitarian efforts. To achieve that we must, as the prophet says, “beat our swords into plowshares” before it’s too late.

Margaret Blanchard lives in Montpelier.

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