Guest columnist Olin Rose-Bardawil: Staggering costs of war too great for our nation to bear

By OLIN ROSE-BARDAWIL

Published: 08-05-2023 7:42 PM

In a recent letter to the editor, Claudia Lefko accurately captures the hypocrisy of support for the war in Ukraine by those who have been staunchly antiwar in the past [“Peace is the answer, not war,” Gazette, July 18].

There is obviously a strong desire to promote democracy and freedom motivating many to support Ukraine in this conflict. Certainly, this is a noble cause. However, as Lefko notes, the cost of war is simply too high to make this cause worthwhile.

Since the war began, the Biden administration has made it clear that defending Ukraine against Russia is a high national priority. To claim that engaging in overseas conflict should be a priority at a time when Americans are facing historic poverty, a homelessness crisis, and the burden of inflation is deeply misguided.

As these issues — and countless others — are ever present in millions of Americans’ lives, it is unfair for the administration to expect continued support for a war that to some appears disconnected to the crises touching the lives of millions of families domestically.

Many will cite polling that suggests that Americans are mostly in support of continued funding for Ukraine, but these polls do not paint the whole picture. In fact, most Americans are opposed to American involvement in foreign wars overall. Research from the Brookings Institute reveals that only 16% of voters favor deployment of troops overseas, and nearly half of voters want to see levels of deployment diminished.

These numbers beg the question: Should the U.S. really spend billions on a war they can’t sustain support for?

Speaking of billions, the financial cost of this war alone should be cause for concern. Since Russia’s invasion, we have allocated $75 billion in funding to Ukraine. If you are not concerned by this figure, compare it to the budgets of some of the nation’s largest federal agencies: the FDA, ($7 billion), the CDC, ($11 billion), and the EPA ($12 billion). The lack of progress in addressing the numerous environmental crises we are facing should not come as a surprise when you learn that we are spending six times more money to fight overseas than we are to regulate polluters here at home.

Many of those who strongly oppose the “military-industrial complex” have stayed strangely quiet about this war’s contribution to the industry of war, despite the staggering amounts of weaponry that the war has required. Instead of providing humanitarian aid, a majority of the allocated funds — $47 billion — has been invested in weaponry and equipment. An investment in deadly weapons of this scale is an obvious continuation of the military-industrial complex that so many decry.

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As I see it, this spending is comparable to the money spent on weaponry during the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam, conflicts widely seen today as futile and tragic. I know many consider our presence in Ukraine to be exceptional because the defense of a democracy as vulnerable as Ukraine is an important cause. Yet when thousands are dying and we are spending billions of dollars on weaponry as we have in past wars, just how much of an exception really is it?

Every time we make an investment in a foreign conflict, whether or not its cause is justified, I want you to consider what those resources could otherwise be directed toward. As Dwight D. Eisenhower, who first coined the term “military-industrial complex,” observed in 1961, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, [and] every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, and those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Eisenhower’s words serve to remind us of the true impacts of war. Inevitably, people are going to suffer for the unjust cause of war. And even when our ally “wins” a war, human suffering is still immeasurable.

Understandably, we want to see Putin and his pernicious, expansionist plans for Russia fail. Likewise, we want to see Ukraine prosper. But how much destruction will be sowed before these goals are met?

A better way forward does not have to mean conceding or abandoning our support for Ukraine, but instead pursuing diplomatic measures that can allow for peace. Eisenhower also recognized that “under the cloud of threatening war is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” We have found ourselves there before, and we just can’t afford to find ourselves hanging from that cross of war ever again.

Olin Rose-Bardawil is a student at the Williston Northampton School. He is the editor in chief of his school’s newspaper, The Willistonian. He lives in Florence.

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