This was originally published in the San Antonio Express- news, August 23, 2003
by Susan Ives
A friend forwarded an e-mail from a guy named Dave. Dave had been a marine: I could tell by the semper fi he typed at the end of his message.
Dave wrote, “Friday, August 15, 2003 is a momentous day for US citizens . . . On this day, the federal government will pay off the last US bond issued to pay for the Vietnam ‘conflict.’
“I wonder what year today’s troops will be able to celebrate that same event for today’s operation,” he concluded.
I wonder, too.
The Vietnam War did not come cheap. In the 1970s, Pentagon analysts pegged the cost at about $140 billion, spent in the decade between 1965 and 1974. Yale economist William D. Nordhaus recently translated that into 2002 dollars, calculating a current cost of $494.3 billion.
And, thirty years later, we’re finally out of the red. I’m not forgetting the human toll. Nearly 50,500 dead Americans and more than 300,000 casualties. But this column isn’t about the death of men. It’s about the death of hope.
We don’t know what this war and occupation of Iraq will cost us, and our children, and their children. The proposed 2004 Military Budget is $368.6 billion. This doesn’t include a $62.4 billion emergency-spending bill passed earlier this year to cover the cost of the war.
Last month the Senate voted to kill a proposal that would have amended the pending defense spending bill to include the cost of reconstruction. The administration has balked at making an estimate.
Yale’s Nordhaus estimates that at least $300 billion more will be needed to secure Iraq over a two-year occupation. His worst-case scenario is $1.9 trillion. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July that the US military occupation is costing at least $3.9 billion a month.
Hello worst case scenario.
But debts and dollars are only the surface of the problem. During the Vietnam War we learned to ask, “What kind of guns are we buying for our butter?”
And that’s the important question: what have we given up for this war? What human needs will go unmet? What will we sacrifice for a long occupation? What does this say about our priorities?
The Green Party toted up the budget carnage, pointing to $61 million cut in child care for poor working families; a $172 million cut in funding for health resources, including care for HIV and AIDS; a $395 million cut for Head Start and much more. It’s a long list.
The cut in Head Start means about 56,000 fewer poor children will get early childhood education. Yet, that $395 million is less than we are paying for three days of our occupation of Iraq.
The War Resisters League put it in a way that was easier for me to grasp. For the cost of one Hellfire missile – $40,000 – we could provide home health aides for two disabled grandparents.
For the cost of one minute of the war in Iraq – $763,000 – we could have paid the salary and benefits for 15 registered nurses.
For the cost of six Trident II missiles – $350 million – we could vaccinate 10 million children.
For the cost of an amphibious landing warfare ship – $413 million – we could provide childcare for 68,000 needy children.
For the cost of one stealth bomber – $2.1 billion – we could pay the salary and benefits of 38,000 elementary school teachers.
We can buy one hand grenade, or we can give a blanket to a refugee.
Fifty years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
No sooner do we pay one war debt than we incur another. Nothing’s changed. The hungry are not fed, the cold are not clothed, the sick are not healed, and the children are not educated.
Semper fi, Dave.