Diane Farsetta

Wars carry a huge price tag.

Most tragic, of course, is the cost in human lives. More than 6,500 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 50,000 more wounded, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wars — and the robust, taxpayer-funded industry that prepares for yet more wars — also drain our economy. The Pentagon budget, plus military-related intelligence, homeland security and nuclear programs; veterans’ affairs; and defense-related interest on the national debt account for nearly one-quarter of the entire federal budget or more than half of discretionary spending.

Do we really need to spend $832 billion a year to be safe? The United States spends more on war and weaponry than all of our potential adversaries combined. In fact, U.S. military spending could be cut by 80 percent and still remain the largest military budget in the world.

Yet what political discourse there is at the federal level about spending and the deficit is too timid to acknowledge that the U.S. military budget is bloated and growing.

For example, the so-called sequestration cuts outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act would simply return Pentagon spending to greater than 2006 budget levels, after being adjusted for inflation. Yet this slight decrease is frequently portrayed as potentially devastating to our national security.

That’s why we have — and why we desperately need — a robust, informed and independent grassroots debate about military spending and our budget priorities. The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice is proud to be part of the Bring Our War Dollars Home campaign and thanks Sup. Kyle Richmond for putting this vital issue before the Dane County Board.

To claim that these arguments don’t make sense because of the federal deficit, as the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board did in its Thursday editorial, “Winding down war no windfall,” misses several points.

One is that we’re already spending too much on the military. Another is that public spending on community priorities such as education, health care and housing is many orders of magnitude smaller than military spending.

We can and we must act to reduce the Pentagon budget, pay down some of the deficit and do a better job of meeting human needs at home. Claiming otherwise is like saying someone with a maxed-out credit card should stop buying food to keep paying the interest on their new plasma screen television.

We urge the Dane County Board and County Executive Joe Parisi to support the War Dollars Home resolution. It is a local issue because our schools, our community services and our families are paying the price, in more ways than one.

Farsetta is the executive director of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice (wnpj.org), a statewide network of more than 160 organizations.

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