November 8, 2004
Martin E. Marty
Monday Sightings chose to do little sighting of religious issues in the campaign this year. But not for lack of topics. Commentators tell us that citizens lined up "faith-basedly" in the recent election to vote their "values and morals" -- mainly the anti-gay marriage ones, they concluded. Other citizens, in both parties, sputtered in frustration, trying to get some motion going on issues of war, peace, and justice.
Now realism will begin to soak in, as it would have also for the supporters of the losing candidate. He would have inherited the burden of the Iraq war, with little vision of how to lift it. Realists mention the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi people and over 1,100 sacrificed American lives. Many are making use of data served up by the National Priorities Project (NPP) website, www.costofwar.com. The National Priorities Project feeds figures that, according to critics of the way the war began and is being prosecuted, should fit somewhere into the nation's "values and morals" calculus. Exit-pollers say it evidently did not rate highly.
Consult the running clock and the spinning adding machine that appear on the NPP web site and you will find this column to now be out of date. When I wrote it Saturday, the war had cost $143,785,479,679.00. Now cut that figure down to bite size. My little town of Riverside has 8,895 people. Our share of the war cost thus far is $6,550,556.36.
Suppose our "faith-based values and morals" had led us to put such funds to work in other areas. Pre-school? The U.S. could have allotted 19,044,076 for children to attend a year of Head Start. Health care is a religious justice issue. For the cost of the war so far, we could have insured 86,047,783 children nationwide for a year. That would translate to 3,225 tots in Riverside (if we had that many children here).
For the current cost of the war, the U.S. could have hired 2,490,336 new teachers and paid them for a year. This would give my little Illinois suburb a super-abundance of 113 new teachers next year, and, we presume, roughly the same amount for each year of this war, which has no end in sight.
We might also like to make higher education available for more Americans. Had we not entered the war in Iraq, we'd have been able to send 6,970,423 people to four-year colleges and paid for all four years. There'd be 1,123 such scholarships in my burg. Or we could have built 1,294,697 new housing units, 59 of them in Riverside.
Looking globally, as churches are called to do, the cost of the war could have funded all global anti-hunger efforts for five years, or all AIDS programs on the African continent for 14 years, or we could have immunized every child in the world for 47 years.
Admittedly, national security is an urgent issue and demands plenty of "investing," and there were and are "values and morals" issues on the Iraqi scene. But when it comes to all "investing," we have to ask which values-and-morals causes must suffer at the expense of those we choose and support with our votes. We are likely to have to do that asking of ourselves for the years of the Iraqi war to come.
The NPP dollars-clock says that by now the cost of the Iraq war to each American household has been $2043.00. Our great grandchildren can take care of that, while we vote on issues more urgent than war.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.