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Always Money for War, But Never for Schools

Every day, I receive solicitations from deserving charities helping everybody from children born with cleft palates to Haitian earthquake victims to elderly impoverished Israelis to paralyzed American veterans to retired nuns; the list is endless. From these cries of pain from all over the world, I have to decide who I can help. There is no question that no matter how much I give or how broadly I spread my contributions, I feel niggling guilt that I cannot help more groups every time I read my snail mail. The bottom line is that I have a limited amount of disposable income; I cannot give it all away. From one point of view, I am fairly prosperous; I have a tenured professorship; I own a nice house in a nice area though it is mortgaged; my car, though 13 years old, is a dependable Toyota Corolla that continues to transport me so long as I keep up the regularly scheduled maintenance. In the eyes of many, I am in an enviable position.

So when someone comes to my door asking for money for a local cause, always with a heart-wrenching story, it is very hard for me to say no, but I have to be sensible. I cannot support everyone.

My situation mirrors President Barack Obama’s geopolitical situation. He is the head of the most prosperous country in the world. It has one of the highest standards of living. We have the most well-equipped and trained military.

Nevertheless, the country is heavily indebted to the Chinese. It is struggling along with 9.5% unemployment (though in some states, like my home state, Rhode Island, the rate is almost two percent higher). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among our Latino citizens, the unemployment rate is 13.4%; among our African American citizens, the unemployment rate is 16.2%, almost twice the rate of white citizens but down from the whopping January figure of 17.3%. Providence, RI’s Mayor Taveras was forced to fire all of our city’s teachers for the fall term, and to close four schools as his partial response to what is being called our “Category 5 hurricane,” a structural deficit of $110-million.

Throughout Rhode Island, the roofs of schools are being inspected as a result of two roofs collapsing under the weight of the snow. Heaven knows how much those repairs will cost.

So you’ll understand why my reaction to the President’s decision to participate in the attack on Libya was to spend the afternoon writing to President Obama, Rhode Island’s two senators, and my congressman, protesting vigorously against engaging in military actions in Libya. We cannot afford it. It may be a good cause but WE CANNOT AFFORD IT. Yes, I know we are the richest country in the world, but I want to know how much ONE day of bombs over Libya cost? How many schools could be built and maintained? How many teachers could be employed with what it costs to bomb Libya for one day?

Is President Obama aware that there are schools in California, New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Georgia, and Maine where students only go to school four days out of the week because they cannot afford to be in session five days a week? There is always a lot of handwringing when the statistics show that American students are significantly behind students from other countries in reading and math scores, but with a little macho provocation, our leaders forget about the straits our schools are in and the U.S. is drawn into another war.

Listening to the news last week was especially aggravating, knowing that the outcome was predictable: The air was abuzz with commentaries about President Obama’s indecision; about his weakness and inattention; about his inability to rise to the occasion. It was like watching a train wreck; I knew that the inevitable response would eventually be to find a way to get in with the other guys; to find a way to participate in this new Mid-East conflict. To his credit, Secretary of Defense Gates counseled against our participation, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined.’” If only President Obama had listened! It will take a miracle for us to refrain from sending in ground forces. At the beginning, wars always look like they will be quick.

I am not a pacifist but I ask the same questions pacifists have traditionally asked: Why is there always enough money for wars but not for schools? If President Obama wants to spend American dollars, why not start public works programs that will restore our infrastructure? Doing so would not only take people off of the unemployment rolls but it would stabilize the housing market, put money back in the hands of consumers and help revitalize the economy. What will it take for an American president to ignore the _machista_ taunts of neo-Cons and military leaders champing at the bit to get into the latest fight? How soon will we be forced to cut the number of days students attend school to three per week? How many more teachers will be fired and schools closed as American presidents drop bombs? Why always bombs and not books?

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do.

Rosa Maria Pegueros

Dr. Rosa Maria Pegueros, JD PhD, ( is an Associate Professor of Latin American History & Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Her other writings can be found on her blog Professing History.

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