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Understanding the Suffering War Brings

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Remarks at Houston Peace and Justice Center Conference on April 25, 2015.


Why War
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I hope to be brief enough to leave lots of time for questions after I talk.

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I know that most of you are probably exceptions to what I'm about to say, because I suspect that most of you came here voluntarily. If you're here on duty for the FBI, raise your hand.

You may all be the exceptions, but most people in the United States have no idea of the suffering that war brings.

War brings suffering first through the wasting of some $2 trillion every year, roughly half of it by the U.S. government alone, but much of the weaponry purchased with the other $1 trillion, spent by other governments, is U.S.-made weaponry. Never mind what the money is spent on. It could be dumped in a hole and burned and we'd all be better off, but the most suffering is caused by what it's not spent on.

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For tens of billions of dollars the world could end starvation, unclean drinking water, and various health problems; it could invest in green energy and sustainable agriculture and education in massive, undreamed of ways. Yet $2 trillion is wasted every year on a criminal enterprise without redeeming merit of any sort. To get a sense of the scale of the funding, all the accumulated student debt of former and current students in the United States is $1.3 trillion. The United States spends $1.3 trillion on militarism in a single year, and the same amount again the next year, and the next year. For tens of billions, college could be free. Whether the students who emerged would have learned to love the bomb would depend on how the funding was handled and other factors, but a tiny fraction of military spending would do it -- I'm referring to military spending across numerous departments of the government, and it has doubled or close to it during the Bush-Obama wars. Military spending is over half the money Congress spends each year. The recently proposed Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by 1%, which gives you an idea of the extreme limits of debate in U.S. politics, which I think Robert Jensen will be telling us more about. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut.

Now, it's hard to separate deaths due to disease and starvation, from the direct effects of warfare, with warfare creating refugee crises and destroying farms and so forth. It's also true that the financial resources to address human needs could be found in another place other than war, namely in the pockets of the greediest 400 people in the United States. Their hoarding of wealth, even those of them not principally funded by the war machine, can certainly be blamed as well when a child starves to death anywhere on earth. But blame is not a finite quantity. You can blame plutocracy or militarism, and niether one exculpates the other. Military spending could end starvation for the price of a small rounding error and is therefore culpable.

Most people, I think, also fail to understand that the suffering created by military spending is mostly created by routine war preparations by an empire ever planning for more wars, and much less by the wars themselves. We need to stop announcing how many schools we could have had instead of a particular war, because we could have had 10 times as many instead of the routine so-called non-war military spending during the same period. Or, better, we could have provided 10 times as many to the world rather than to one particular little country that is far from the worst off.

Most people also fail to understand that there is no up side to military spending, that it doesn't balance the slaughter of human beings with the creation of jobs. The same money, if spent on peaceful enterprises, would create more jobs and better paying jobs. Military spending is a drain on the economy of the aggressor.

The U.S. weapons industry is the leading arms dealer to the world, and it arms and props up dictatorships on a permanent basis. Who can calculate the suffering that causes? A former president of Egypt was just sentenced to prison for killing protesters, while the current president tortures them to death and gets a personal phone call from President Obama promising him more free weaponry -- billions of dollars worth for free every year, just as for Israel. And when Israel engages in one of its genocidal fits of bombing, the U.S. rushes more weaponry over to fill the armories. The Saudi war on Yemen is a proxy war, not between Iran and anyone but between the United States and the United States. U.S. weapons provided to support a brutal dictator in Yemen are blown up by U.S. weapons sold to a brutal dictator in Saudi Arabia who also uses them to prop up the U.S.-armed brutal dictator in Bahrain.

Wars and arms races around the world are fueled by the United States, but the United States is also the leading direct user of war. And, again, I think most people do not understand the suffering inflicted. U.S. newspapers refer to the U.S. Civil War as the deadliest U.S. war. It killed some 750,000 people, or 2% of the population. Compare that to a million and a half killed out of a population of 6 or 7 million in the Philippines, or 2 million killed in Korea, or 4 million killed in Vietnam, or 3 million killed by war and sanctions in Iraq since 1991 -- 11% of the Iraqi population. Nobody knows these numbers, but even if they did, the lack of understanding would be intense because the United States still thinks of wars in the terms of the last war fought here, other than the wars of Native American genocide, namely the U.S. Civil War. Everyone still talks about so-called battlefields, while the wars are fought in people's cities, towns, and farms. Most people killed are on one side; most are civilian; as many are women and children and elderly as men. More are injured than killed. More are traumatized than injured. Huge areas are depopulated. Permanent refugee camps are created. Poisons unknown during the U.S. Civil War create permanent health crises and birth defect epidemics. Children unborn during wars die later when picking up cluster bombs. And urban societal structures of energy, health, transportation, and education, unknown in the 1860s, are devastated by war's destruction.

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On January 26 of this year, Mohammed Tuaiman, age 13, of Marib, Yemen, became the third member of his family to be killed by a U.S. drone strike. The drone struck a car carrying Mohammed, his brother in law, Abdullah al-Zindani, and another man. Mohammed's older brother Maqded told the Guardian newspaper, "I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal. When we arrived we couldn't do anything. We couldn't move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car."

During the 20th century, not counting the lives that could have been saved with the same money, 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war -- more than in the previous four centuries. The 21st century is in the running to dwarf that record, or indeed to shatter it through nuclear or environmental catastrophe.

Is there any imaginable way in which the most recent 200 million war deaths could have each been just? If 200 million men, women, and children are guilty of something deserving murder, then must we not all be? If even 10 percent of them are, then must we not all be?

On May 15, 2012, Ahmed Abdullah Awadh of Ja'ar, Yemen, was killed. "It was 9 am in the morning," said his neighbor. "I was at home with my son, Majed. Suddenly we heard a loud noise and we all ran out to see what happened. Everyone in the neighborhood came out. To our surprise, we find our sweet neighbor, Ahmed, a taxi driver, burned and in pieces. About 15 minutes later a second strike struck the same place. I survived but my 25 year old son, Majed was hit pretty hard. 50% of his body was burned. When we went to the only clinic we have here in Ja'ar, they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 a.m., Majed's heart stopped and he died."

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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