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Military Spending is Killing U.S.

 ARLINGTON, MASS. - At this time of year, as we submitted our tax returns, we felt it was ever more important to pay close attention to where so many of our tax dollars were going. We write this to highlight concerns about the escalating U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the continuing conflict in Iraq. The United States is militarily involved in each country in different ways.

The country of Iraq was invaded in 2003 and the U.S. has occupied that country for over six years. Although the new U.S. administration is saying that it will withdraw troops from Iraq over the next 18 months, a number of combat brigades and military bases will stay. Some brigades will be renamed “advisory and assistance brigades,” so that the reality of a continuing occupation will be obscured to the public. In addition, it is expected that the tens of thousands of militarized personnel employed by private U.S. contractors will remain in Iraq, at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. That’s us.  

The United States is using unmanned drones — Predators and Reapers — to attack tribal areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These drones, sometimes secretly launched from within Pakistan by the CIA, are controlled remotely, once airborne, by pilots at Creech Air Force base, in Nevada, and other U.S. sites.The drones carry lethal payloads of 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles, which they drop on the rural population, resulting in civilian casualties.

Such attacks are a violation of the UN Charter Article 2(4): “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

The tribal area in Afghanistan and Pakistan share a long history of language and custom. Although the British (in 1893), created an artificial boundary, demarcating an imperial claim, the people living in the area have never accepted it. The tribal area is home to 40 million people, most of whom live under conditions of extreme poverty. 74% of the people of Pakistan (122 million) live on less than $2/day, and Afghanistan ranks 169 on the rank list of the 174 poorest countries in the world. At this writing, as many as one million people have fled their homes to escape both the drone attacks and attacks by the Pakistani Army – again, our tax dollars at work, destroying a culture.

These low-level air conflicts are causing dangerous instability in the region, leading to threats of reprisal violence as well as an escalation in suicide attacks within Pakistan. By using these drones and planning to escalate the attacks, the United States is well on its way to creating a catastrophic situation in the region. It is stupid, if not insane to increase tensions and create more political instability within Pakistan. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation; it is considered a U.S. ally, with a powerful and nationalistic military that is getting angry at air attacks within their sovereign territory.

Meanwhile, our nation has been catapulted into an extraordinary economic crisis. Never before in our history has the public been required to pick up such an extravagant bill (bailout) for a party held by and for the rich – to which none of us were invited – $3.8 trillion and climbing. Our state and local budgets are faced with draconian cuts, which are sure to affect our daily lives and our children’s lives for decades to come. 

Currently, U.S. military spending tops one trillion dollars per year. The wars are costing hundreds of billions of dollars, on top of that trillion, as supplemental appropriations are needed to finance them, with the latest supplemental an $84 billion request to Congress from President ObamaU.S. military spending exceeds all other nations military spending – combined! Excluding trust funds - such as Social Security, which is raised separately for specific purposes - fifty-one percent of the federal budget is spent on war – past (23%) and current (28%). Although the Secretary of Defense himself has called for “cutting the military budget,” this means a shift in how the money is spent by the Pentagon, not a reduction in spending that provides a “peace dividend” for our communities.

The wars the U.S. is embroiled in do not make us safer or more secure. We kill civilians in faraway lands, lose soldiers and waste resources that could be put to constructive purpose rather than destructive. As we face devastating economic and environmental crises, right now is a crucial moment to demand a shift in our nation’s priorities.

Here in Arlington, we just celebrated another anniversary of our nation’s founding. We recognize our history every April when we remember our struggle with the British Army. The “regulars” were hounded out of Lexington and Concord down Battle Road through Arlington back to Charlestown, where they were based. We would do well to recall that history before we sign onto escalating wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We ask that you take time to educate yourself on these pressing concerns, that you write your elected representatives, and that you join local Arlington vigils to call for an end to these (and all) wars and occupations.Vigils take place on Mondays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Mass. Ave, and beginning May 2, on the first Saturday of each month from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., at Broadway Plaza — the intersection of Mass Ave. and Medford St.

It’s not “over” until all the troops are home, all the “advisors” are home, all the contractors are home, and reparations made to the peoples and nations our government has done violence to. Think carefully about where your tax dollars are going. Take positive action to direct these dollars to meet pressing needs of healthcare, education, public transportation and renewable energy.

— Thea Paneth, Emily Snyder and Noble Larson are members of Arlington United for Justice with Peace.

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