"What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice, more constant work and less crime, more leisure and less greed, more justice and less revenge. In fact more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright." - Samuel Gompers
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." - James Madison
"War being the greatest of evils, all its accessories necessarily partake of the same character." - Herman Melville
"Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold, and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Yet here we are four years after the beginning of the war on Iraq - a war originally touted by the White House as necessary to disarm Iraq and abate the threat posed by the Iraqi government. As the fabricated justifications unraveled into mere shreds, the newly fabricated excuse emerged that we would go to free the Iraqis. And the war on Iraq proceeded. In the initial onslaught of bombing, it is estimated though not discussed much, about 10,000 Iraqi civilians died. Most of these deaths were in Baghdad where approximately 50% of the population was under the age of 16, making it reasonable to assume that several thousand children were massacred by order of George W. Bush. Although this President ought to be held accountable in criminal prosecution for violations of United States and international law for this war of aggression, one cannot deny the complicity of nearly every member of the U.S. Senate and most of the House of Representatives.
Yet here we are four years later, with seemingly little chance of the barbarity coming to an end any time soon. This war on Iraq - naturally, as war does - unleashed all manner of evil. The gates of hell were opened by George W; their effluence has caused the destruction of one of the world's ancient seats of civilization and has wrought misery and turmoil for millions of innocent people.
Just as the war itself imposes the greatest of evils, so too do its accompanying effects impact the lives of people whether directly or not directly involved. On the excuse of waging a continuous war, of which the war on Iraq is only a part, the Constitution of the United States has been imperiled by our own government. And because of the dedication of vast sums of money to war, every other aspect of society suffers lack of resources. In one of the cruelest ironies, even the veterans of this war - political exhortations to "support the troops" notwithstanding - suffer from the failure of this government to properly fund veterans' programs.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that labor ought to vigorously oppose war as a matter of standing principle. While the military-industrial complex we were warned against by the departing President Dwight D. Eisenhower benefits from an obscene portion of federal spending, this actually has done very little to provide the benefit of jobs. The economy has not flourished as a result of war - even though the military spending of this country exceeds the combined total of military spending of every other nation on the planet. And, worse yet, the makers of war have imposed economic theories on the federal government designed only to fatten the wallets of the wealthiest.
The Bush White House operates from a general premise that the federal government ought to be starved into non-existence - except, of course, for the necessary spending of hundreds of billions of dollars on warfare. The effect on the world and on working people here is disastrous. While counterterrorism experts broadly agree (and even Bush has asserted) that terrorism cannot be defeated by military action, but rather by relieving the underlying causes of terrorism - in the United States, programs directed toward this end are being starved into extinction while spending on conventional and nuclear warfare goes unabated.
Odd as it may seem, supported by our Congressional representatives, at the very same time hundreds of billions of dollars are diverted from the welfare of societal needs to the costs of perpetual war, the wealthiest of the nation grow obscenely wealthier and pay less and less taxes in exchange. In the meantime, the median income of working families has declined since 2000; the ranks of the poor have continued to swell; and those deemed extremely poor have become more numerous than ever, increasing at a faster pace than any other segment of our society. In spite of reduction in the number of people receiving direct welfare benefits, the number of people receiving Medicaid benefits for the poor, food stamps and other forms of assistance has burgeoned to the highest in two decades - one in every six persons. And yet the federal government continues the path of demanding more and more cuts in spending for societal needs - while increasing again and again spending for warfare.
In spite of the fact that the economy is reported by the bastion of American capitalism, Wall Street, to be strong, the real fact is the economy is rotting away. Today and for the last two decades America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rate among 31 developed countries of the world. And the last reported census figures (2005) reveal that, while the numbers of those in poverty have grown between 2000 and 2005, the fastest growth is in the number of severely poor. Between 2000 and 2005 the ranks of severely poor have increased by 26% - 16 million Americans living today in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is defined for a family of four as having an annual income of less than $9903, for an individual as having an annual income of less than $5080. And the total number of Americans living in poverty now stands at 37 million - the highest percent of the population since 1975. Couple this with the fact that the (inflation adjusted) median household income for working-age families has fallen for five straight years, and you have a much truer picture of how healthy our economy is.
In spite of the growing impoverishment of the American people, investment into the country itself, into the infrastructure, into the people themselves is sacrificed for war. In spite of the high ideals on which this nation was founded and for which thousands have sacrificed, this country is squandering its resources and its future on war. Manufacturing of weaponry drains the economy and leaves nothing useable as a result - the end product is itself destroyed in the process of creating further destruction.
The time to end this war was before it was begun. Congress failed us then. We ought not allow Congress to fail us again. The price of war is the destruction of countless lives, the corruption of the moral fiber of the nation and the mortgaging of the future of our children and grandchildren. This is a labor issue because the quality of human life is a labor issue.
(First published in March 2007)