"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people ... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
Wars cost money. And, when the federal government is run by ideologues who refuse to raise taxes to pay for their wars, that money is stolen from the towns, villages and cities that provide the basic services upon which Americans rely.
Madison is one such city.
And the war in Iraq is taking the shirt off this city's back.
According to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the impacts of federal tax and spending policies at the community level, the war has cost Madison $128.2 million.
Considering the cost of the conflict, it would seem sensible for Madison to try to get a message to the Bush White House and Congress.
This city ought to join other communities across the country in signaling that it is time for the United States to begin organizing a withdrawal. And the best way to do so is with a referendum vote on whether Madison thinks this war should continue.
San Francisco put the issue to the voters of that city last November. They voted by a 2-1 margin for a measure that declared, "The federal government should take immediate steps to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and bring our troops safely home now."
Fifty towns across Vermont sent a similar message in early March, when they voted for anti-war resolutions. And the movement is spreading. In fact, the Vermont Network on Iraq War Resolutions, which coordinated the town meeting votes in that state, is preparing materials so that activists in other states can develop similar campaigns. (The Vermont group, which argues, "The Iraq war is a quintessentially local issue," can be contacted via its Web page: www.iraqresolution.org.)
Unfortunately, when Madison voters go to the polls two weeks from today, they will not have an opportunity to register their sentiments. And, because this is a so-called "off year" for elections, Madisonians won't have another regularly scheduled local election until next February.
That does not mean, however, that Madisonians have to wait almost a year to send a message to the president.
The Madison Metropolitan School District is planning to hold a special referendum in May. Polling stations will be staffed, ballots will be printed and citizens will be expected to cast their ballots anyway. Why not place an advisory referendum regarding the war on the May ballot?
After all, this war is stealing federal dollars that could be used to ease school budget constraints in communities across the country - including Madison, Shorewood Hills, Maple Bluff and other areas that are part of this school district. What better Election Day could there be for pondering the economic cost of war than the one on which voters are asked to address the shortfall in funding for our schools?
John Nichols is a native Wisconsinite, who has written for The Capital Times for the past decade.
© 2005 Capital Times