Whenever individuals or nations suffer great loss, their pain can be expressed as either grief or anger. Unfortunately, our political leadership chose to channel our pain into vengeance and retaliation by launching two wars — one against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and another that persists though we accomplished our goal of toppling a hostile government.
These wars have cost more than 6,000 American lives. Hardly ever counted is the so-called “collateral damage.” By some counts, more than a million Iraqis have died directly or indirectly because of our war, most of them children. Hardly ever mentioned are the more than 600,000 American troops who have been treated so far in veterans’ medical facilities, many of whom will be physically and psychologically disabled for the rest of their lives. Hardly ever mentioned is the tremendous number of divorces and family breakups and veteran suicides, which have topped 18 per day in recent years.These wars have been costly financially. When Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated the wars’ costs three years ago, his conservative tally was $3 trillion to $5 trillion. That doesn’t include future borrowing for war expenses, interest on the debt or the cost of replacing military equipment. Neither does it include the long-term disability and health-care costs of veterans, which Stiglitz projects will run $600 billion to $900 billion. We will be paying for these wars for a long time.
These wars have been costly to our national priorities. The tea party has tried to convince us that the reason for the deficit is that school teachers, policemen, firemen and other public workers are making too much. They conveniently forget the cost of these two wars over the past 10 years — the first wars in history paid for entirely on credit. In every other war, we raised taxes to help pay for it. President Bush inherited a budget surplus, which he erased with a tax cut mainly for the rich. Then, incredibly, when he declared war and with deficits already soaring from his first tax cut, he plunged ahead with yet another round of tax “relief” for the wealthy. You don’t have to be an economist or a mathematician to know that if you increase spending and cut revenue, you create a deficit. Let us be clear: Conservatives are now using the deficit they created to excuse their shredding of the social safety net and their slashing of programs to protect and empower our most vulnerable citizens.
These wars have been costly to our national soul. We have squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership in the world and sullied our global reputation. We have forsaken our precious civil liberties and violated our constitutional rights, authorizing the government to spy on its own citizens, wiretapping their phones and intercepting their emails without a warrant. We have rounded up thousands of civilians and sent them to prisons beyond the reach of the law, where they have been held indefinitely without formal charges, without legal counsel and without trial, and where they have been tortured. We have poisoned our national discourse with intolerance and fear and paralyzed our political process with distrust and acrimony.
We finally killed Osama bin Laden. But if his intent was to undermine the American economy and America’s moral authority, then he may have won.
The Rev. Dr. Jones is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, our preacherman. Contact him at email@example.com