US Army Soldiers gather around a fire to stay warm during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan in February of 2010. (Photo: The U.S. Army / flickr)
"The same war continues," Denise Levertov wrote in her poem, "Life at War." Her lament is even more appropriate for 2011 than it was when she wrote the poem forty-five years ago.
Columnists and academics, including international relations professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, are finally acknowledging facts familiar to anyone "awake" regarding failed US policies, wasted lives and wasted resources during this period. Willfully ignoring such facts, as Bacevich wrote, "is to become complicit in the destruction of what most Americans profess to hold dear."
At the beginning of the new year, consequences of "life at war" stare us in the face: the victimization of military and civilian populations and a huge national debt, including an annual military budget that is larger than all military budgets in the world combined and includes $5 billion that remains unaccounted for in Iraq, as well as aid to Pakistan that has wound up in the hands of the Taliban.
These truths haunt any citizen who has lost loved ones in prolonged wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan since 1950, or in disastrous interventions in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile, Granada, Panama, Honduras, and so on.
Any responsible citizen acknowledges this painful history in the hope of redirecting US foreign policy in the future. The purpose of reclaiming it is not to open old wounds, but to encourage legislative and direct action committed to peacemaking. It is a call to critique the policies and competence of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the national security apparatus responsible for these disasters.
Ironically, the deficit-reduction commission appointed by President Obama intimates that social security, rather than a trillion-dollar war on Iraq and uncapped military spending in Afghanistan, is to blame for the deficit. And Congress has succeeded in extending Bush's tax cuts for the super-rich, which will increase the deficit.
Once the envy of the world community, the US now lags behind many nations in education and health care while it squanders its huge resources on military misadventures - including both overt and covert intervention - with some 1,000 military bases around the world.
Americans who voted for President Obama are justifiably disappointed that he has continued the worst practices of the Bush administration, particularly in foreign policy. In domestic policy, Obama's administration can point to some achievements, particularly in education and health care.
Tea Party advocates rightfully call attention to a faltering economy but offer no functional alternatives to present policy. Meanwhile, naysaying Republicans and cautious Democrats, as well as an irresponsible Supreme Court, enable rich corporations to dominate political debate. The Pentagon, including General Petraeus, lobbied for and initiated increased military action in Afghanistan. The result: more serious casualties among US and its European allies, not to mention embarrassment and confusion in efforts to end that war.
Is it any wonder that many people remain hopeless amid predictions that the country's 9.7 percent unemployment rate will continue through the new year?
So what must be done to alter this discouraging scenario and help the US regain the confidence of its own people and the world community?
- Cut the US military budget in half for 2011.
- Increase taxes on the filthy rich, the 1 percent of the population that owns at least 23 percent of America's wealth.
- Rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure that remains in a state of disrepair.
- Encourage policies that put people to work addressing the dangers of global warming.
- Strengthen our education system at every level, providing skills for meaningful work for all citizens.
Some people may regard these remedies as utopian, though the consequences are, in essence, practical and essential.
Although many Americans continue to enjoy the benefit from this wealthy and beautiful country, the potentialities of democratic governance remain unfulfilled for many others.
In her poem, Levertov wrote that "we have breathed the grits of war in, all
our lives. Our lungs are pocked with it," she continues, "the mucous membrane of our dreams/coated with it, the imagination/filmed over with the gray filth of it."
For decades, Americans have convinced ourselves - or have been convinced - that more or less continual war is the essential task of the US, and that that enterprise is justified by our knowing what is best for the world community. During the 1940s, we built military weapons to defeat Germany and Japan; now, we initiate wars in order to experiment with, and provide profit from, more sophisticated military weapons.
When will the American public, victimized by a war economy, come to the conclusion that a permanent war policy benefits only arms manufacturers, Pentagon contractors and their Congressional allies? Nor does it lessen our fear, increase our security or promote peace among nations.
There has to be a better way. My hope is that some of the remedies provided here offer a way out - and hope for a happier 2011.