A recent study found that the average American walks about 900 miles in a year. Another study found that Americans drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol per year. That means, on average, that Americans get about 41 miles to the gallon. Makes you kind of proud to be an American, doesn’t it?
Being a proud American, I’m having a harder time than I thought I would picking out the saddest news story of the year so far. High on the short list is the seemingly endless, emotionally exhausting, soul-deadening Presidential campaign. We’ve gone from Hope and Historic Opportunity to “Bittergate,” “Snipergate” and televised “debates” that make the National Inquirer look like the New York Times. By the time this thing is over, it is entirely possible that the American people will conclude that none of the candidates left in the race is worthy of voting for. Al Gore and Ralph Nader, start your engines!
But as sad as the Presidential campaign has become, there is an even sadder news story out there. Just over a month ago we “celebrated” the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. We could talk about the war’s numbers – $513 billion spent so far, a final tab expected to fall between $2 and $5 trillion, more than 4,100 American soldiers killed, more than 35,000 wounded. The billions spent on the war so far works out to around $4,681 per U.S. household, or about $1,721 for every man, woman and child in this country. War spending continues at the rate of $341 million a day, $10.3 billion a month. The amount we spent on the war in fiscal year 2007 alone works out to be $4,988 for every single person in Iraq (excluding the hundreds of thousands or Iraqis who are no longer alive or have fled the country, of course). Maybe we’d have been better off to just offer them all the five grand and call it a day. Maybe spending $5 trillion to overthrow Saddam Hussein was worth it, but it sure looks to me like a case of burning down the barn in order to roast the pig.
We could talk about what all that money could buy – health care for all uninsured residents of the United States, solvency for Social Security for three generations, implementation of all of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, 8 million housing units, 15 million public school teachers, university scholarships for 43 million students.
Of course, it’s not like we have to pay for the war ourselves. By continuing to increase domestic spending while at the same time cutting taxes, we’ve elected to pay for the war with deficit spending, effectively transferring the entire cost of this war to future generations. If having several hundred thousand U.S. troops in Iraq is indispensable to our national security, then you’d think we would at least be willing to pick up part of the tab for it ourselves rather than burden our children and our children’s children with the entire bill. Ambrose Bierce may have had this exact situation in mind when he said politics is a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.
I suspect many of us cling to the desperate hope that the war is not the tragic and terrible mistake that it increasingly appears to be, but will yet be shown to be something noble and honorable, and in the end will be remembered as a glorious victory of good over evil. That is certainly the view expressed by many retired military experts in the media over the past five years. Unfortunately, it turns out many of those “experts” were effectively still on the payroll of the Bush Administration. That’s certainly an interesting approach to “supporting our troops.”
Garrison Keillor said it well recently when he pointed out that it’s important to separate the idea of supporting our troops from supporting the decisions that sent them to Iraq and keep them there: “The troops are not mercenaries; they are American soldiers in a long proud tradition going back to George Washington’s Continental Army at Valley Forge, and what gives their mission dignity and meaning is that it comes from a constitutional government in which war is not a point of personal privilege but a matter to be openly debated, opposed, protested, reported. For the troops to fall into line is a noble thing; for civilians to do so is shameful.”
Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney
for the Trust for Public Land. He is author
of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”
a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.