On March 20, a few days after the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, 55 intrepid Bloomingtonians will board a bus bound for Washington, D.C, for a peace march on the Pentagon. Thirteen hundred organizations and individuals have endorsed the march, the first national one against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since President Barack Obama was elected.
The demonstration's rallying cries are, “From Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime” and “We Need Jobs and Education, Not Wars and Occupation.” The demonstrators will urge an end to the war threats and economic sanctions against Iran and will protest the illegal U.S. program of detention and torture.
"It's important to let the new administration and Congress know that the public is still very much aware of and opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mike Ferner, president of Veterans for Peace, said in an e-mail. “We do not like what we're hearing about slowly pulling out of Iraq while leaving 50,000 troops there permanently, and we don't believe that Afghanistan is somehow the 'right' war that we should be waging seriously.”
Both wars are catastrophes, he continued, for the people who suffer under the bombs and for Americans who watch their economy slide into ruin.
"The war in Iraq has killed, wounded or displaced nearly one-third of Iraq’s 26 million people."
“The trillion dollars we've pissed away on these wars could have rebuilt our mass transit systems and sent every young person to college who desired to," Ferner continued.
Plenty to protest
Although millions of American families are losing their houses, jobs and health care, the military budget next year will exceed $1 trillion. If used to meet people’s needs, that amount could create 10 million new jobs at salaries of $60,000 each per year, provide health care for everyone, rebuild New Orleans and repair much of the war damage in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
The cost of the occupation of Iraq alone is $400 million each day, or about $12 billion each month. So far, the bill for every U.S. household is more than $4,100.
The cost to Indiana is staggering. According to Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), as of one year ago the Hoosier state had paid $8 billion for war. Indianapolis had paid $986 million.
FPIF is a think tank of more than 600 scholars, advocates and activists seeking to make the United States a more responsible global partner.
Not to mention the human costs to Americans -- thousands of troops dead and hundreds of thousands injured physically and mentally. Many who served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed, homeless or both. In fact, MSNBC reported on its Web site that veterans make up 25 percent of the homeless, even though they are only 11 percent of the adult population in the United States.
The rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide, divorce and woman battering are accelerating among returning troops. For example, according to the Washington Times, the divorce rate among Marines rose from 3.3 percent in fiscal year 2007 to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2008, and the New York Times reported that the rate of domestic violence among combat troops has spiked in the last two years.
Life in Iraq
The Iraqi people have to live with the consequences of war and occupation every day. As historian and author Mike Davis wrote in his 2006 book Planet of Slums, "In Baghdad's giant slum of Sadr City, hepatitis and typhoid epidemics rage out of control. American bombing wrecked already overloaded water and sewerage [sic] infrastructures, and as a result raw sewage seeps into the household water supply. [Six] years after the U.S. invasion, the system remains broken, and the naked eye can discern filaments of human excrement in the tap water. In the 115-degree heat of summer there is no other available water supply that poor people can afford."
"We don't believe that Afghanistan is somehow the 'right' war that we should be waging seriously."
- Mike Ferner, Veterans for Peace
The average Iraqi in Baghdad has only four hours of electricity each day, with electrical grids functioning erratically and the huge amounts of power drained by the hundreds of thousands of U.S. personnel. Without adequate electricity, Iraq's water-purification systems are functioning poorly, resulting not only in typhoid and hepatitis but also an epidemic of cholera in children and a dearth of water for irrigating farmland.
In Iraq as a whole, according to Iraq Veterans Against the War, the rates of unemployment are as high as 60 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate in the Great Depression was 25 percent and as of last month stands at 8.1 percent, according to a March 6 Bureau of Labor Statistics news release.
Internally displaced Iraqi refugees number 4 million. As many as 2.24 million Iraqis have sought refuge in foreign countries. The war in Iraq has killed, wounded or displaced nearly one-third of Iraq’s 26 million people.
In total, 79 percent of Iraqis oppose the occupation by foreign troops, and 78 percent of Iraqis think the situation is poor in the country overall, according to Foreign Policy in Focus. The vast majority of Iraqis want the U.S. out of their country completely.
President Obama's policies
President Obama's military policies, for all the administration's talk of change, are transitioning seamlessly from the Bush administration. Obama, according to The World Can’t Wait, has pledged to leave 80,000 troops, thousands of private contractors and 17 permanent bases in Iraq. And he just committed 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan.
He continues to send drones -- unmanned bombers guided by remote control -- over Pakistan, killing civilians.
He also continues to deploy nuclear carriers with enough weaponry to exterminate any country in the Mideast. He supports the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
He supports enlarging the U.S. military by 92,000 troops and is neglecting to investigate and prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes.
Iraq Vets Against the War recommends a three-part solution to the war in Iraq: complete withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq; reparations for the human and structural damage to Iraq; and full benefits, top-notch health care (including mental health) and other types of essential support for returning troops.
What You Can Do
If you object to the war making and want to let the new administration know how you feel about it, consider participating in the march on the Pentagon. The Bloomington Peace Action Coalition is chartering a bus, and you can reserve a seat for $95. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 336-0360.
If you can't attend the march, you can make a donation so that someone else can take your place.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.