Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Math of War and Waste

While Gov. Walker batters working people of Wisconsin and fingers them for Wisconsin's deficit of $6 billion he neglects to mention that $12 billion of that state's funds paid for the war in Iraq while $6 billion paid for the war in Afghanistan (

Our national bill for war is $1,167,300,000,000. Some of us – me included – can barely comprehend that staggering number. Added to that tragedy of my fiscal illiteracy in a capitalist nation is another, more important tragedy: large amounts of this money is simply wasted in war zones.

According to Zach Choate, an Iraq war veteran, Purple Heart awardee, current president of Baton Rouge chapter of Iraq Veterans against War (IVAW), war zones offer military personnel just about any consumer item found state-side. Barring the constant stress of seeing friends and civilians killed and the fear of being killed, off-hours in the war zone are spent at a shoppers home-away-from-home where troops wearing battle gear mosey around picking-and-choosing from military bases' well-stocked aisles. Dominoes Pizza might not deliver but troops nevertheless consume vast amounts of pizza, burgers, fries, apple pie, donuts, and candy washed down by gallons of soft drinks whiling away off-hours playing video games simulating war.
But only the miserly would criticize troops for wanting to keep up with their version of the Joneses who have the luxury to shop in malls back home. Besides, troops pay for these items out of their own pockets; consider the captive audience that is deployed, bored, and frightened troops and you find an excellent business model.
But then there's the model that is seldom mentioned, that generated by “following false intel.”
Choate explains, “An enormous amount of ammunition and fuel is wasted following false wasted man-power hours and the waste of young lives killed on these missions. Add to that cost is the incalculable cost of bad faith and negative impression created in the minds of civilians who lose loved ones to military strikes based on that false intel.”

While Wisconsin's Gov. Walker – and those whose share his mindset – accuse teachers, fire fighters other public employees, and union members of taking more than their fair share in hefty annual salaries a quick look at the salaries of those other public employees, military personnel, puts things in perspective.
First, understand that the basic salary for an entry-level American private military contractor (training courtesy of the US military) is more than $8,000 per month or $100k per year.
According to an Army Times article on basic pay in 2007, an enlisted person with less than 2 years of service was paid $1,301.40 per month while a CO 1 with less than 2 years of service earned $2,469.30 per month. Add to that hardship duty pay from $50 - $150 per month; troops involuntarily spending more than 12 months in combat zones receive an extra $200 per month; imminent danger pay is $225 per month. (A four-star officer with 38 or more years of service tops out at $16,795.50 per month.)
But, surely, if anyone can claim the moral high ground it is Gov. Walker; after calling the salaries of other county workers “excessive” he voluntarily gave back slightly less than half of his annual salary, that is $60,000, until 2008 when he cut his give-back to $10,000 per year.

Then there is the hidden cost of that other waste, the waste of resources as human beings struggle for 'normalcy' after seeing the devastation of war.
In a recent Raising Sand Radio interview Mike Ferner of Veterans for Peace presented the costs shared by those in his war in Vietnam and Choate's in Iraq: deaths, suicide, ongoing physical and health problems, homelessness, and violence within military families. If anything, current wars re-stimulate fears and feelings that many Vietnam war veterans kept dormant for years and they seek mental health care.

One thing that has changed is the ubiquitous use and availability of pharmaceuticals in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Choate explained, “When I got back to the combat zone in Iraq after I'd been treated for wounds [sustained by an explosion] I had medication laid out and waiting for me: 120 Klonopin (or Clonazepam used alone or in combination with other medications to control certain types of seizures – Choate was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury), a few Xanax (Alprazolam used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks) and Lexapro (Escitalopram to treat depression and generalized anxiety disorder). “If I wanted more all I had to do was ask the Physician's Assistant in our unit. Gunners I worked with used Ambien to help them sleep but they never slept anyway. I wouldn't trust anybody doped up on Xanax or Ambien but asking the PA is all it took to get drugs.”

Ferner summed it up. “We are all citizens of a republic and, as such, ultimately responsible as citizens.” Just as Gov. Walker cannot just point to hardworking people to shoulder the blame, continued Ferner, “we can not just point to Washington and complain about what's going on there while we go about our lives, pay our taxes, and allow this wasteful system to to go. No matter our walk of life, every one of us needs to look into our hearts then show up and speak out. We need not go along with the current wasteful policy of war. If we do we are complicit. These days, no one is able to say, 'I didn't know.'”

No comments: