By Curt Torrell, Quaker House, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Despite the fact that our nation is war weary after thirteen years of post-9/11 wars, we are embroiled in yet another war, this time on the so-called Islamic State (IS). And despite the fact that our bombs produced neither peace nor stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather unleashed a firestorm of tribal and sectarian violence and a flood of arms circulating in that region, we are being led into doing it all over again.
Our homeland was not pillaged or bombed, nor did we lose hundreds of thousands of our citizens to the ensuing violence, hunger, and lack of water and healthcare that inevitably follows warfare. Large segments of our population were not forced into refugee camps. Even so, Americans are beginning to understand that thirteen years of war have cost us dearly. But those most addicted to war, and those who profit from it, refuse to recognize the effects of their addiction upon others.
Here at home, military personnel bear the brunt of the physical and psychological effects of these “Wars on Terror.” Of the 2.5 million combat troops deployed, over 50% suffer chronic pain, 20% wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or depression, and another 20% suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) sustained in battle. These signature injuries translate to a suicide rate of one active service member and 22 veterans each and every day. Since our Wars on Terror began, 6,800+ American troops and 6,780 private contractors have died, and 970,000 new disability claims are pending before the VA.
Economically, the effects of these wars are staggering. While Congress trims programs for basic human needs, our costs of post-9/11 wars—including future veteran care—stand at $4.4 trillion. In the same period, we spent $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security. Our Pentagon, Homeland Security, and other military spending now exceeds almost all other nations combined. We are the world’s largest exporter of weapons, supplying 80% of the weapons in the Middle East and ready to sell high tech warships to Saudi Arabia. Yet, research shows that spending those same dollars on peaceful industry—education, healthcare, infrastructure, and renewable energy—produces more and, in most cases, better paying jobs.
War does not make us safer. It creates more enemies and extends the battlefield worldwide. IS uses our bombing to recruit new members, while our use of torture and weaponized drones tarnishes our moral image. Having spent four years being brutalized and humiliated at the Camp Bucca U.S. prison in Iraq, Ali al-Badri al Samarrai, the leader of IS, will not forget about our torture nor will any of his recruits or their families who suffered from it.
War is destroying our planet. Our Pentagon is the largest institutional consumer of oil and biggest producer of toxic waste, dumping more pesticides, defoliants, solvents, petroleum, lead, mercury, and depleted uranium than the five biggest American chemical corporations combined. According to Oil Change International, 60% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions between 2003 and 2007 originated in U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Continuing to ignore the negative consequences of war points to an addiction over which we seem to have no control. As with any addiction, breaking free is neither simple nor cost-free. War profiteers will see their profits dwindle and will need to transition to new industry. Young people will need to find other ways to challenge themselves to “be all that they can be.” Politicians will need to find other ways to look strong and win votes. So, what is proposed below will likely be met with skepticism and resistance within the larger public until more Americans are sufficiently disenchanted with wars to “break clean.”
- Acknowledge our addiction and limitations. Admit we are addicted to war and that war makes us less—not more—safe and secure. As powerful as we are, we cannot bend others to our will by bombing and occupying their homelands.
- Recognize the higher power of our theological and moral leaders, and call upon them to form a “coalition of the willing,” condemning war and promoting human rights for all.
- Examine past errors in using war as a tool of foreign policy, errors that have brought grave harm to millions of people including our own citizens, and make amends to those who have suffered.
- Learn new ways of dealing with nations that abuse human rights, or that harbor the resources we desire, using a new code of international conduct. Work through the United Nations and the International Court, rather than acting unilaterally to advance our own interests.
- Help others suffering from the same addiction by halting the sale and stockpiling of weapons while finding new avenues for economic growth that will not destroy our planet.
As with any addiction, kicking a habit requires a fundamental transformation, but this Five-Step Program might be a good start. As a friend of Quaker House, help break this nation’s addiction to war.