[This OpEd refers to Durham, North Carolina, but its reasoning applies to virtually every community in the United States. You can find your own community’s figures at http://nationalpriorities.org/tools/tradeoffs/. – Ed.]
What do Durham and Afghanistan have in common? We are worlds apart, but we both have people who need jobs, health care, schools, transportation and sewers, and help for our homeless, elderly and hungry. Neither of us is getting our critical needs met in part because a war neither of us really wants is draining our economies, killing and injuring our young people, and depleting our spirits.
Our Wars Are Bleeding Us Dry
We don’t often make the connections with this far-off country, but we need to.
We’ve been told that deficits and debt are why we must endure major cuts in educational programs, health care, environmental protection and a wide array of services offered by non-profits. We are rarely told that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to account for 23 percent of our deficits since 2003 (as reported in an article by N.C. Rep. Walter Jones in the Feb. 18 Washington Post).
A look at the numbers helps to understand how Durham and the countries where we’ve been at war are connected. In fiscal year 2011, the United States funneled $122 billion into the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan and $47.4 billion for military in Iraq. The combined $169.4 billion amounts to $3.2 billion a week.
Taxpayers in Durham are paying $106.8 million of that bill in 2011. With just a fraction of that money, we could easily cover the shortfalls in Durham’s education budget. Instead we will need to raise the sales tax just to keep schools afloat and begin funding a light rail system.
What else could Durham do with that $106.8 billion in war taxes? We could pay for:
45,204 children receiving low-income health care for one year;
Or 1,977 elementary school teachers for one year;
Or 13,817 Head Start slots for children for one year;
Or 15,351 military veterans’ VA medical care for one year;
Or 2,111 police or sheriff’s patrol officers for one year;
Or 19,238 students receiving Pell Grants of $5,550.
With state and federal deficit hawks cutting everything from education programs to environmental protection, we have an obligation to ask: “Do we have our priorities straight?”
We Lose, Afghanistan Loses
In case anyone thinks that Afghanistan is profiting from the huge influx of money and soldiers, consider these sad numbers: The per capita annual income is $330. The entire gross national product of Afghanistan is only $11.7 billion. (Recall the U.S. war there costs $122 billion.) It is a desperately poor country that needs schools, clinics, water systems, and health care. One out of eight Afghan mothers dies in childbirth. If they are ever going to rebuild, they need peace.
Neither Durham nor Afghanistan, Pakistan nor Iraq is getting what is needed to sustain a decent, secure life for their citizens, and they won’t until we make the connections and speak up about our priorities.
Durham citizens and community leaders are posing this question to our local elected officials. The U.S. Conference of Mayors and Los Angeles City Council passed resolutions to end the wars and fund human needs, sending a clear message to federal officials. Durham can do the same.
We invited concerned citizens to join the discussion with our local elected officials on Sept. 10, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St., Durham. Members of the City Council, Board of County Commissioners, Board of Education, and members of the General Assembly from our area will be present. All are welcome. Φ