When the U.S. military began a major offensive in southern Afghanistan over the Presidents Day weekend, the killing of children and other civilians was predictable. Lofty rhetoric aside, such deaths come with the territory of war and occupation.
In mid-January, President Obama pledged $100 million in U.S. government aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. Compare that to the $100 billion price tag to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a year.
While commanders in Afghanistan were launching what the New York Times called “the largest offensive military operation since the American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001,” the situation in Haiti was clearly dire.
With more than a million Haitians still homeless, vast numbers — the latest estimates are around 75 percent — don’t have tents or tarps. The rainy season is fast approaching, with serious dangers of typhoid and dysentery.
No shortage of bombs in Afghanistan; a lethal shortage of tents in Haiti. Such priorities — actual, not rhetorical — are routine.
Last summer, I saw hundreds of children and other civilians at the Helmand Refugee Camp District 5, a miserable makeshift encampment in Kabul. The U.S. government had ample resources for bombing their neighborhoods in the Helmand Valley — but was doing nothing to help the desperate refugees to survive after they fled to Afghanistan’s capital city.
Such priorities have parallels at home. The military hawks and deficit hawks are now swooping along Pennsylvania Avenue in tight formation. There’s plenty of money in the U.S. Treasury for war in Afghanistan. But domestic spending to meet human needs — job creation, for instance — is another matter.
Joblessness is now crushing many low-income Americans. Among those with annual household incomes of less than $12,500, the unemployment rate during the fourth quarter of last year “was a staggering 30.8 percent,” Bob Herbert noted in a February 9 column. “That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression.”
Herbert added: “The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent. These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution.”
The current situation is akin to the one that Martin Luther King Jr. confronted in 1967 when he challenged Congress for showing “hostility to the poor” — appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”
Such priorities are taking lives every day, near and far.
Early this month, the National Council of Churches sent out an article by theologians George Hunsinger and Michael Kinnamon, who wrote: “What the Haitians obviously need most is massive humanitarian relief. They need food, water, medical supplies. They need shelter and physical reconstruction. . . . Over half of Haiti’s population are children, 15 years old or younger. Many were already hungry and homeless before the earthquake hit.”
But the warfare state, with vast budgets for military purposes, has scant funds for sustaining life.
These priorities kill.