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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Declare Independence from Endless War


“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967

While we’re enjoying good old-fashioned 4th of July cookouts, fireworks, and other traditional Independence Day pleasures, let’s also take some time to remember the soldiers far away in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not with their families, as well as those who are recovering (we hope) in military hospitals, and let’s begin mentally drafting letters and phone call messages to the White House and Congress to demand the nation’s independence from those unaffordable wars. Bring the troops home already. We can’t wait until July 2011, which Obama suggested as a potential beginning of a drawdown when he announced the 30,000-troop escalation at West Point last December when the Afghan war was already in its eighth year. (See our assessment of the president’s decision to escalate, “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation.”)

The explosive revelations in Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” were only superficially about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s trash-talking Obama’s national security team. It may be that in the long term the most damaging consequences will be the revelations that the troops in Afghanistan do not support the vaunted counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for which the additional 30,000+ troops have been “surged” into the hell-hole, and even McChrystal himself has doubts that the COIN strategy can work there (see “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire” below). We expect no substantial changes under Gen. David Petraeus, whose 99–o approval by the Senate on June 30 can only be interpreted as a license to do as he will, for as long as he pleases, whatever it may cost.

Costs of War: Unaffordable, Unsustainable, Unconscionable

This past week, when Senate Republicans and Ben Nelson (D-NE) warmed up the nation for the 4th of July festivities by filibustering for a third straight time an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans—15 million are out of work, about the number who were unemployed when Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933—the House approved $80 billion for Afghan war funding. Sounds just like the Bush years. The Center for American Progress reports that “as of July 3, an estimated 1.7 million workers will lose their benefits. If this drags on through July, a total of 3.2 million workers will lose their benefits.”

Think Progress reports that 17 senators from states with double-digit jobless rates have repeatedly voted to filibuster unemployment benefits. Click the chart to read all about it.

(Click here for the National Priorities Project’s Federal Budget Trade-Offs calculator to see what else them billions could buy. For example, since 2001 taxpayers in Louisiana have paid $2.3 billion for total Afghanistan war spending. The same amount could have paid for 434,986 one-year scholarships for university students, or low-income health care for 460,226 people for one year. Go figure.)

In addition to the nearly 5,000 Coalition lives lost in Iraq and nearly 2,000 dead in Afghanistan (and rising fast)—and the untold numbers of innocent civilian casualties—the Iraq war has already cost over $730 billion, and the war in Afghanistan has cost over $280 billion (see icasualties.org and costofwar.com). The two wars together have cost over $1 trillion—and that’s not counting future medical costs, psychiatric treatment, and veterans’ pensions that are estimated to cost another $2 trillion over the next several decades: Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz has calculated that the war in Iraq will be a $3 trillion war.

Sorry, we don’t mean to bring you down on the great national holiday. But isn’t it worth pondering what this day is really all about?—and remembering those who are having to keep a wary eye on a more menacing kind of fireworks?


The YouTube clip below, the Rev. King’s sermon “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” given at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967, contains much of the text from the “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.”


Ragged flag photograph by Geneviève Hafner (Bushwick, Brooklyn, 2002).

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