This past September, I wanted to write something about the juxtaposition of the extremely successful mobilization against the war in Iraq on September 24th with the failed mobilization the following day in support of the war. A phrase kept running in my head from someone progressives do not generally quote: Winston Churchill. After the British defeat of the German Afrika Korps in Egypt in November 1942, during World War II, Churchill stated, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” And I couldn’t get that phrase-the end of the beginning-out of my head. Yet that article, that I could’ve and should’ve written, got lost in the day-to-day hub-bub of my life.
What a difference two months makes! On November 17th, Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman John P. Murtha made a speech, pointing out that not only did the Emperor have no clothes on, but that the Emperor had lied about ever having clothes in the first place. In Murtha’s statement, he’s summarizes some of what the Department of Defense has told Congress:
Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects has been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year (emphasis added). Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown more dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled. â€¦ I have concluded that the presence of US troops in Iraq is impeding this progress. www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines05/1117-08.htm .
And Republicans-and a number of weak-kneed Democrats-either condemned Murtha or ran as far away hastily as they could.
However, we progressives need to understand what this meant. Murtha is a former Marine, who was decorated for bravery for fighting in Viet Nam. He’s been a long-time supporter of the military, and has long-time relationships with senior officers throughout the military. He’s served in the US Congress, and on the House Defense Appropriations Sub-committee, for over 30 years. In other words, this wasn’t Ted Kennedy condemning the US invasion, but it was John Wayne, or Rambo, or who ever is the most militaristic, gung-ho, crazed symbol around today, defecting from the President. And telling everybody that was what he was doing. This was BIG.
Now, let’s be clear: Murtha hasn’t become a peacenik: in fact, there were problems with his approach, as he wants to keep the US military in the “Middle East” for the future, and he wants to station Marines just “over the horizon” from Iraq (i.e., so they can re-invade immediately). But he said, unequivocally, that the President’s war was “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.” Bush and his War Machine was hit right between the eyes and cold-cocked: he couldn’t have been hit any harder other than by impeachment, and I’m not even sure of that. (Sy Hersh, in an article published in the New Yorker on November 28th, quoted an unidentified defense official as saying that the White House was “beyond angry at [Murtha], because he is a serious threat to their policy-both on substance and politically.”)
Murtha’s statement moves us from “the end of the beginning,” I believe, to “the beginning of the end.”
Between September 24th and November 17th, however, there was Hurricane Katrina. There are many others who have written and spoken much more eloquently than I can about this, but one point needs to be made about that hurricane and the aftermath: as limited as it’s been, for the first time in 25 years, we’ve have been able to have a serious widespread public discussion about poverty and race in this country. Katrina tore the scab off these issues.
And the National Priorities Project brought out research showing that 44 percent of all military service people recruited during 2004 are from the rural areas of the US, which basically means they are poor whites. Along with this, as Michael Moore has shown, we also know that recruits are coming out of the impoverished inner cities, with African Americans and Latinos being forced into the military by lack of viable economic alternatives. In other words, we have a economic draft currently taking place in this country, “drafting” our poor men and women of all colors into the military-and many, to Iraq.
Tied to the above is that the US is spending approximately $450 billion for the military this year. That does not include the almost $250 billion for the Iraq war to date, nor he $44 billion for our vaunted intelligence systems that failed so obviously on 9/11.
At the same time, we know several things: our society is becoming more and more unequal-in fact, not only much more unequal than any other so-called developed country in the world, but more unequal than a number of the poorest countries on the face of the Earth, including Bangladesh! (See www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?sectionID=18&itemID=6061 for a report from last year.) We have General Motors, once the most powerful corporation in the world announcing 30,000 jobs will be cut in the near future. We know 45 million Americans have no health insurance. We know African-American and Latino poverty rates are more than double that of whites. We know women make around 74% of what males make. Additionally, our schools are in desperate shape and our drop-out rates are incredible.
And we know that in 2003, of the world’s military spending, the United States spent 47% of that total amount. Our next closest competitor, Japan, spent 5%. And, in fact, the 14 closest competitors to the United States, spent less money combined on their militaries than the US did alone. Who are we afraid of?
Without trying to elaborate these points or add others, I think the basic situation has been delineated. Our social situation is terrible: take away credit cards and mortgage refinancing, and our economy in general would be in terrible shape. Millions of blue-collar workers have lost their jobs over the past 30 years, and many will never see the jobs or make that kind of money again. We see growing numbers of mothers with children under three going into the work force to try to make ends meet, whether they are alone or with a partner. A college degree won’t even solve their problems: where in the past, a college degree used to guarantee a good job, today all it will guarantee is the chance to apply for a good job.
And, amazingly, the left has seemed incapable of taking advantage of the situation. Our organizations should be growing like crazy, our finances expanding. Yet, if this is happening, it certainly is not being made obvious.
There are all kinds of reasons for this. Rather than rag on the left for our deficiencies, I’m going to argue that our biggest problem collectively is that we are being too timid; we have not taken advantage of what is going on. And we need to get off our butts and strike while the iron is hot!
Yet, I don’t think it is enough to challenge the war, and the “war president.” I basically think that the war is over, politically, although that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot more killing and dying going on between today and when the US withdraws (and afterwards).
I believe that for the first time in 30 years we can have perhaps our biggest issue heard and responded to by the American public. We need to ask in every place, and in every way imaginable, a simple question: How should the US act toward all the other nations of the world: do we want to continue trying to dominate them, or do we want to find ways to help other countries and try to live in peace and harmony?
The choice is stark. If we want to continue dominating other countries, we will have to keep pissing away $400 billion (give or take) every year from here until infinity. We must be willing to force our sons and daughters into the military to fight wars for the US Empire-and no one can explain satisfactorily how Rumsfeld can keep 135,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely without reinstating the draft. We have to accept our social problems, since we won’t have the resources to address them and fight the war, so that means millions will be uninsured, and our schools will only get worse, as millions suffer from inadequate health care.
On the other hand, if we want to live in peace and harmony, the US military could be drastically reduced, confined simply to defense of the country’s borders (and not allowed overseas); the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank could be used to address developmental and international financial failures around the world, rather than causing them; our health care “system” could be replaced with a single-payer plan than spends its resources in preventing and treating bad health while promoting good health; and we could address the glaring disparities in our residentially-based school systems, which hurt people of color the most. And we could use the money to create jobs, and/or create opportunities for all to contribute to the well-being of our society.
The beauty of this idea is that we do not have to come up with the answers! (All contributions and ideas are welcome, however!) We can ask the question, clarify the issues, discuss the ramifications, and help encourage our fellow Americans to consider and address the issues. We may not get to solutions in the quickest, most eloquent manner, but we will at least be moving in the right direction, toward social and economic justice.
Like I said, Murtha’s rolling over was the beginning of the end. We need to make sure “the end” is not just confined to the war-we need to go much farther than that: we need to get the American people to decide whether they want to continue supporting the Empire, or if they want to build a new world out of the ashes of the old.
Kim Scipes is a member of the National Writers Union, and a long-time global labor activist in the US. He currently teaches sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana. His on-line bibliography on “Contemporary Labor Issues” can be accessed at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes/LaborBib.htm . He can be contacted at email@example.com .