BANGOR, Maine — As the national anti-war movement prepares to ratchet up its efforts Saturday to coincide with the eighth anniversary of the Iraq war, the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine endorsed several rallies taking place across the country this weekend at a press conference Friday.
Before a group of reporters, a number of activists from local organizations turned out not only to show their support for a Veterans for Peace rally being staged in Washington on Saturday and separate demonstrations taking place in New York City and San Francisco on April 9, but also to implore the general public to rethink how the United States is spending vast amounts of money on conflicts in the Middle East.
“After eight years, people are seeing the futility of war and the trillions of dollars being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Ilze Petersons, program coordinator at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine. “We need this money back at home.”
Friday’s press conference largely surrounded the concept of “bringing the war dollars home.” Officials from local activist groups who spoke made a case against the two wars, which they view as being a large part of the cause of the budget deficits the U.S. is currently experiencing.
Rather than targeting domestic programs for spending cuts, they called for an abrupt withdrawal of the remaining troops in Iraq and a “speedy” conclusion to the war in Afghanistan, so that the money being spent on those conflicts can be put to balancing the country’s budget.
“Over the years, the price tag in Iraq has risen while programs here in Maine and the United States continue to struggle for even basic levels of funding,” said Ryan Tipping-Sptiz, the Penobscot Valley organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance. “Taxpayers in the state of Maine have paid [billions] for total Iraq war spending since 2003. For the same amount of money, we could have provided much-needed resources for our communities right here at home.”
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. In the time since then, 4,421 U.S. servicemen have died in Iraq and 1,489 in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.
Doug Allen, a member of the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, said the wars are based “on lies” and maintained that the situation in both countries is deteriorating.
Allen cited a number from a former chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, who estimated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — including the costs of operations, personnel, and the care associated with veterans after returning from the conflicts — would cost the U.S. $3 trillion in the long term.
If the money were saved and redirected, said Allen, it would go a long way toward solving many problems with health care, jobs, infrastructure and the pension crises taking place throughout the country.
“Instead of spending blood and treasure overseas, we could be ensuring a safe, healthy and prosperous America at home, with secure safety nets and assistance programs to any and all that need them in these uncertain times,” said Tipping-Spitz.