Despite the fact our nation is weary after 13 years of post-9/11 wars, we are embroiled in yet another war, this time on the so-called Islamic State. And though 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 has not been pillaged or bombed, nor have we lost hundreds of thousands of our citizens to the ensuing violence, hunger and lack of water and health care that inevitably follow warfare. Large segments of our population have not been forced into refugee camps. Even so, Americans are beginning to understand that 13 years of war cost us dearly. But those most addicted to war, and those who profit from it, continue to wage it and 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 percent suffer chronic pain, 20 percent wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or depression, and an additional 20 percent suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury 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, more than 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 have been 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. Yet research shows that spending those same dollars on peaceful industry – education, health care, 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. The Islamic State uses our bombing to recruit new members, while our use of torture and weaponized drones tarnishes our moral image.
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 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions between 2003 and 2007 originated in U.S.-occupied Iraq.
Continuing to ignore these 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 this proposal will likely be met with skepticism and resistance until more of us are sufficiently disenchanted with wars to “break clean.”
Kicking this habit requires a fundamental transformation, including the use of the following five-step program:
1Acknowledge our addiction and limitations. Admit we are addicted to war, and 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.
2Recognize 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.
3Examine 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.
4Learn 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 act unilaterally to advance our own interests.
5Help 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.
Curt A. Torell of Carrboro is board treasurer for Quaker House in Fayetteville.