During the past five years since I moved back to Charlottesville, Virginia, I had yet to observe the slightest violent incident, prior to the recent spree of horrific mass murders. There was crime, but I hadn’t ever seen it. I had only heard about it in the local media. First there was a young woman picked up hitch hiking and murdered. That was many months ago now. Then there was a man from Charlottesville attacked out of the blue up in the mountains, not actually in Charlottesville. Most recently, a University of Virginia student was alleged to have killed his girlfriend; this made national news, apparently because they were both Lacrosse players.
That was the situation before the blood started flowing. Charlottesville was the kind of town where murder was so rare that any occurrence of it was publicly discussed and mourned in detail. Everyone felt for the victims, whether they knew them or not. All of that has changed.
The change came when I learned that the good people of Charlottesville, some 40,000 strong, had gotten together, pinched pennies, pooled their resources and come up with a fund of $345 million for murdering strangers. How did this happen? No great initiative and organizing was required. It was more an act of absent-mindedness. In fact, if asked, a strong majority of the people of Charlottesville will tell you that they oppose what they’re doing, and most of those will explain that they aren’t entirely clear what it is they’re doing in any detail. Nonetheless, they’ve been pouring their money into this fund at an increased rate this past year and a half.
Allow me to explain. With the full support of Charlottesville’s and Virginia’s representatives in Congress, the people of Charlottesville have been billed or put into debt for payments of $115 million to cover the illegal wars being conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This price tag does not include interest payments on the debt, the cost of caring for veterans, or the impact of the wars on the price of fuel and the larger economy. By a very conservative estimate, we have to multiply the direct cost by at least three to arrive at a complete tally. Adding reparations for what we’ve done would increase the total further.
These wars have killed over a million people already. Charlottesville’s proportional share in that scalp count is at least 115. For $345 million, we’ve killed 115 people. That’s one person for every three million dollars, or one person for every million dollars in direct payments into the wars. Imagine if the local Charlottesville media gave us saturation coverage of the life stories of each of those murder victims. Imagine if we knew their faces, their childhoods, their friends and loved ones. Imagine if rewards were offered on billboards for tips leading to the prosecution of their murderers.
Then there are the many people we could have saved from easily preventable deaths, in the United States and abroad, for each $3 million. There are kids without clean water, diseases without cures, and workplaces without safety standards. We’ve killed millions of people we haven’t even thought about. Imagine if we were thoroughly introduced to all of their stories. What if we’d put our whole $345 million into green energy and banned BP stations from Charlottesville? The National Priorities Project offers these alternatives for what Charlottesville has spent thus far. (I’ve multiplied all the figures, which were based on $115 million, times three to get a more complete count.) Instead of pointless, murderous, illegal war, Charlottesville could have chosen:
69,579 People Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR
5,871 Police or Sheriff’s Patrol Officers for One Year OR
6,435 Firefighters for One Year OR
36,411 Scholarships for University Students for One Year OR
64,764 Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 OR
125,637 Children Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR
47,424 Head Start Slots for Children for One Year OR
63,840 Households with Renewable Electricity – Solar Photovoltaic for One Year OR
5,055 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR
170,241 Households with Renewable Electricity-Wind Power for One Year
Remember, this is a town of 40,000 people. We don’t have 170,000 households to provide with green energy. We could have funded more than one of these categories to full capacity. We could have given solar and wind energy to every home and set a national standard, and still given all our kids college scholarships. All of them. Should we have done that or aided those least well off in the world? We would have to choose. Instead we’ve chosen mass murder.
But, I can hear Charlottesvillians remarking, we oppose the wars, there’s nothing we can do about it, and wars aren’t the same as murder. But, legally these wars are precisely the same as mass murder. Article VI of the US Constitution makes treaties that we are party to the supreme law of the land. One such treaty is the United Nations Charter. That charter makes war illegal except under two extraordinary circumstances. One would be if the Iraqis or Afghans or Pakistanis came here and attacked us. Then we would have the right to self-defense. (Hence the propagandistic need to portray a crime by a handful of Saudis as an act of war by Afghanistan and Iraq.) The other would be if the UN Security Council authorized an invasion, but in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq it refused, and in the case of our drone war on Pakistan we’ve never asked.
Do the people of Charlottesville oppose what is being done with more of their money than anything else? We’re dumping ten times the war money into the Pentagon for its day-to-day affairs, and the war money is extra on top of that. There’s no money for schools or libraries, housing or parks. Why? Because more than half of every federal tax dollar that comes out of Charlottesville goes into the killing machine. The same is true for all the surrounding towns and counties, but internationally Charlottesville stands out as extraordinary. We pay more of our money into war-making than the rest of the world combined. This is why wealthy countries other than ours have healthcare, paid parental leave, paid vacations, free college, and so many other things we don’t even dream about or calculate the possible trade-offs for. And it’s why some poor countries have advantages our wealthy one can’t afford.
Do we oppose this? Well, some of us used to. When our congressman was a Republican, we denounced this course of action in the media, phoned his office, picketed his office, and went to jail for sitting in his office. But for the past year and a half, while the military budget and the war budget have both increased, we’ve said almost nothing. A small group of us have begun organizing protests at the new Democratic congress member’s office, but we’re the only ones he hears from. We’ve spent a good deal of time in his office on two occasions, and I think I have heard his phone ring there a total of twice. Nobody’s calling. And everyone who is not calling is communicating their approval of the mass murder of individual and remarkable and precious human beings.
Congressman Tom Perriello is about to vote for another $33.5 billion to escalate the war in Afghanistan. His phone number is (434) 293-9631.
David Swanson is the author of the new book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.