Guest commentary: Eight years of protesting the war on a Cambridge street corner

By Elliot G. Mishler and Vicky Steinitz
Wicked Local Cambridge
Posted Dec 09, 2009 @ 08:34 AM

Cambridge — A week ago Tuesday, on the first day of December, President Obama announced an increase in U.S. troops for Afghanistan, bringing the number to 100,000.
For those of us old enough to remember the quagmire of the Vietnam War, this brought back memories of a country torn apart. That war dragged on for a dozen years, led to a deep split between the younger and older generations, and cost the lives of more than 50,000 U.S. troops and more than three million citizens of the countries of South East Asia. It would be difficult to find anyone who lived through that period, whether they supported or opposed the war, who believes our country followed a wise course. It would be equally difficult to find any independent observer of the current situation, outside of the administration and the usual war hawks, who believes that our increased involvement in Afghanistan is any wiser than that earlier decision.
Reports of human rights groups from many countries are in agreement that conditions for the Afghan people are worse than they were before the beginning of the U.S. occupation about eight years ago. Afghanistan now has the highest infant mortality rate in the world and high levels of rape and violence against women. About 70 percent of the population lack access to clean water. Despite eight years of efforts to create stable, democratic institutions, observers report an increase in corruption among U.S. contractors and the U.S.-supported Afghan government.
There is no evidence that sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan will change the situation for the better. What is needed is a serious effort by the U. S., in collaboration with European allies, to engage in full-scale diplomacy that will bring together the different parties to the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The negative impact on the U. S. of this current war-at-a-distance parallels the Vietnam experience, but has been kept in the background. Nearly 300 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives so far in 2009. Tens of thousands of returning troops are damaged by physical injury or suffer from PTSD, psychological damage, domestic violence, or attempted suicide. With the U.S. economy reeling, the cost of the combined wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is estimated to be nearing one trillion dollars in supplemental appropriations — additions to the basic military budget of roughly one trillion dollars per year.
We cannot afford these continuing wars. We need fiscal relief in the form of tax dollars flowing back to our communities from the federal government. There has been plenty of money available for war and bailing out Wall Street financiers while ordinary citizens in communities across the country are getting the short end of the stick. The war’s cost is more than the health care bill now being debated in the U.S. Congress. If savings from ending the war were shared among the states by population, Massachusetts would receive about two billion dollars, which is approximately the gap between state spending and revenue in fiscal 2009.
Many Cambridge citizens worked hard to elect Barack Obama to the presidency, yet the great majority of Cantabrigians oppose the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Now is the time to make our voices heard. Cambridge United for Justice with Peace (CUJP) held peace vigils at Cambridge T stops in October on the eighth anniversary of the war. We were out on the streets again last Tuesday protesting the president’s escalation of the war. We will be holding vigils in Central Square every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. until these destructive wars end. Please join us.

Elliot G. Mishler and Vicky Steinitz are members of Cambridge United for Justice and Peace.

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