Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute calls for Dedication and Reevaluation

2010 slideshow of Memorial Mile Tribute

by Bill Salmon
It sometimes takes a while for the meaning of events to sink in. We need to have perspective over time to really understand how major events figure into our daily lives.
We find ourselves now, after many years, reassessing and reexamining the armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some conclusions can be reached regardless of the sources of information one chooses to use.
There can be no question of the loss of our young women and men in uniform who daily are ordered to action that could result in the ultimate sacrifice. Not just on the battlefield but also as the result of the separation from family; delay of education and careers; life-threatening and lifelong physical and mental injuries and reestablishing their lives upon their return to civilian life.
For all of us there is the never-ending quest to grasp the huge costs and tradeoffs between claims for physical security and declining support for other programs: education, health care, our economy, our commitment to basic human rights and aid to others less fortunate. Those are the things our country is rightly dedicated to and which deserve recognition as a world leader. That status is slipping.
For a proper perspective from which to examine our current circumstances we need the facts regarding the costs and consequences of this county's actions over the last nine or ten years.

First, the costs. Over 59% of Mr. Obama's 2011 budget will be spent on military matters while a mere 6% will be applied to health and human services, 4% to education, just 3% to homeland security and 3% to necessary housing and urban development.

The $51.1 billion scheduled to be spent in Iraq in FY2011 could provide:
* 782,542 elementary school teachers for one year OR
* 894,529 firefighters for one year OR
* 6.7 million Head Start slots for children for one year OR
* 6.6 million military veterans receiving VA medical care for one year OR
* 774,095 police or sheriff's patrol officers for one year OR
* 6.5 million scholarships for university students for one year OR
* 9.2 million students receiving Pell Grants of $5,550

The $119.4 billion scheduled to be spent in Afghanistan in FY2011 could provide:
* 1.8 million elementary school teachers for one year OR
* 2.1 million firefighters for one year OR
* 15.7 million Head Start slots for children for one year OR
* 15.3 million military veterans receiving VA medical care for one year OR
* 1.8 million police or sheriff's patrol officers for one year OR
* 15.1 million scholarships for university students for one year OR
* 21.5 million students receiving Pell Grants of $5,550

Next, the consequences. No one can ignore the immense costs and sacrifices that have been expended over those years to install the governments of our choice in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We did not have the legal right to invade and occupy Afghanistan or Iraq. Respect we have had from the rest of the world we are in jeopardy of losing.
It must be remembered that there are just two legal and constitutional justifications for attacking a foreign country. One, if we are attacked on our shores, and two if the United Nations declares war. These are grounds we are committed to by signing the treaty. (A signed treaty is the second highest level of law, just below the Constitution itself.) Netiher of them have occurred in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
Is there evidence of progress, which has really never been defined, and allows Washington to continuously reinvent justifications for these conflicts, and what constitutes the mission and progress? After all these years, the answer to whether our continued commitment is justified seems to be, questionable. Actually that decision was made on October 27, 2007 when Barack Obama said, "I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out [of Iraq] by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do."
Those expenditures, at the cost of our own needs, must be examined and challenged by all dedicated citizens. Veterans are a key source for these efforts and there are many local organizations one can turn to. One particularly dedicated to pursuing peaceful solutions is Veterans for Peace. The chapter here in Gainesville has been tireless for years in its efforts to raise our awareness and educate us, Specifically:
* Veterans for Peace has honored and recognized the ultimate sacrifice of every citizen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq by erecting monuments every Memorial Day on Miracle Mile (NW 8th Avenue between NW 34th Street and NW 23rd Street.) The monuments include the particulars of every individual and are cataloged so as to allow a loved one to locate their Honoree's monument almost instantly. The Memorial is monitored 24 hours a day.
* For many, many years dedicated veterans and supporters have appeared with signs expressing the need for peace on Tuesdays at major intersections here in Gainesville.
* Veterans for Peace sponsors a Peace Poetry contest in all Alachua County schools. The purpose is to raise awareness and open a dialog on the subject of Peace. It is always enlightening to see and read what our children, our future, have to say about our current circumstances.
* Veterans for Peace provides booklets, pamphlets, videos and informed expert speakers, available at any time upon request.
* Scholarships are provided to deserving students striving towards new directions.
These are among the major priorities of Veterans for Peace, revealing not only a dedication to peaceful alternatives but more importantly that we as a community have a local, easily accessed means of learning, understanding and achieving a global impact when called upon to act.
Along with the Memorial Day monument walk is presented a telling, eye-opening explanation of where our immense resources go and what could be done alternatively for the betterment of not only the security of our own shores but also the vital interests of our health and well-being, fiscal responsibility, economic growth and adherence to fundamental precepts set out in our Constitution that make our country great.
For more information, contact Scott Camil at 375-2563 or visit VFP's website at or email at

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