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Not too poor for the wars



War. Wars. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The drumbeat for war in Iran.

"There is a tsunami coming to the United States," says Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., consisting of the trillions of dollars of debt and veterans' health care obligations for wars we cannot win and a military machine we cannot afford.

So Jones, no liberal and a lonely voice in the Republican Party (with his favored presidential candidate, Ron Paul), asks one simple question of Americans: "Where is the outrage?"

Jones was in Raleigh at the General Assembly auditorium Monday for a town hall meeting sponsored by N.C. Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee-Carolinas Office. The topic: "Bring Our War Dollars Home/ Restore Our Communities."

The point was to highlight and underline the costs of our ongoing military-industrial complex and the wars it's waged since 2001 in Afghanistan and Iraq. The direct and indirect costs (including veterans' health benefits) of the two wars thus far are at least $3 trillion, according to Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. Hoh is also a former State Department official who quit in protest after he was posted to Afghanistan and saw the futility of keeping U.S. troops there.

Hoh also previously served two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine Corps company commander.

Our war costs, high as they are, constitute a mere fraction of what the U.S. spends annually for defense appropriations, intelligence operations, nuclear weapons development and homeland security. That bill comes in at about $1 trillion a year, Hoh says, plus $90 billion for the war in Afghanistan that Congress is funding outside of the Department of Defense budget.

Most Americans have little notion of the costs, Hoh said, nor any notion of how military spending is damaging the economic and social health of the country.

Our infrastructure—roads, bridges, airports—is deteriorating, he said, down from sixth to 26th in the world as judged by the World Economic Forum. Our schools are tanking, with U.S. students ranked 52nd in science and math. Three-fourths of young people ages 17 to 24 are judged unfit for military service because their health is bad, their fitness is bad, their schooling is bad or—in a few cases—because of serious criminal convictions.

The irony, Hoh said, is that the lack of investment eroding our economic health today will soon begin to erode the military's ability to function. Given the grim math results, Hoh wondered, who will steer the ships in our 11 aircraft carrier groups?

"You can't have the world's best military when you're 52nd in science and math," he said. "It's a sick, hollow colossus that our children and our grandchildren are going to inherit from us."

Nonetheless, convincing the nation to rein in military spending means taking on "established interests"—the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about as he left office in 1961.

Jones, who apologizes for allowing himself to be misled into supporting the war in Iraq, makes regular visits to the wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the national military hospital in Washington. He has personally signed—no autopen—10,000 letters of condolence to the families of dead and injured troops. The financial costs, he emphasizes, cannot be separated from the human toll, as Jones illustrated with two giant pictures. One was of a soldier who survived battle wounds but has no body parts below the waist. The other was of a small child being handed the folded flag emblematic of her father's death in war.

"We do not understand the costs of war," Jones declared. "Never again should we send our young men and women to fight unless we first declare war, which is what the Constitution requires. It is time to have a defense, not an empire-builder around the world."

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