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It's Time for Change, Not Celebration

I’d like to propose that we, as Americans, reserve boisterous chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” for events other than war, killing, and death.

Instead, let’s repeat our nation’s initials and wave American flags when we cut our ballooning child-poverty rate in half, and then by three-quarters, and then to zero.

Let’s rally outside the White House on that day when no American goes without quality health care or is forced into bankruptcy because of illness. Or to celebrate bold action to address the environmental crises that are rapidly destroying what’s necessary for human life.

Let’s hoist our star-spangled banners when sustainable prosperity for all replaces greed, concentration of wealth, and the steady transfer of our shared commonwealth into private, profit-seeking hands.

And let’s help those who’ve lost loved ones to violence find closure – as much as that’s possible in their heartbreak and grief – without resorting to even more killing, the terrorists’ preferred tactic.

The death of Osama bin Laden is not something to cheer like a touchdown or a home run, though this week’s initial response was, perhaps, understandable. The news came after nearly a decade of death, war, torture, secret prisons, budget-busting expense, and too-frequent compromising of core American ideals. In this context, it calls for sober reflection rather than jubilation.

Today our politicians are largely united in their support for ongoing militarism. In recent days government officials have, confusingly, cheered bin Laden’s death as a huge victory, then said it won’t matter in the “war on terror,” then urged us to remain “vigilant” (aka “afraid”), and then comforted us with more promises of permanent war.

I’m not cheered, reassured, or comforted by their statements, warnings, and promises. It’s time for them to change our martial foreign policy.

Today in Afghanistan, after a decade of U.S.-led war, life expectancy is 42 years. One-fifth of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday. Nearly 10 percent of Afghan women perish during childbirth. Tens of billions in U.S. reconstruction aid have vanished into the pockets of military contractors and corrupt Afghan officials with little to show for it. And President Obama has now requested another $100 billion for war-fighting there, on top of a base military budget of nearly $600 billion.

This comes as Congress cuts money for food stamps, Pell grants, disease research, home-heating assistance, and funds for local firefighters. Congressional leaders, ignoring the trillions spent on war, say we can no longer afford to keep our seniors out of poverty with adequate Medicare and Social Security benefits – an outright lie.

Beyond the sad failure in Afghanistan, what does our military dollar buy? Right now in Iraq, daily assassinations, car bombs, government corruption, and the torture and imprisonment of Iraqis by secret police are the legacy of the U.S.-led war. In Libya, the banner of “humanitarian intervention” is flown while regime change is pursued via targeted assassination. At this moment in Pakistan, drone aircraft routinely kill civilians, including children, stoking outrage that undermines any goal of long-term security.

And today in America, our own children – one-fifth of whom now live in poverty – play video games about war. Perhaps fittingly, the U.S. military uses a violent video game, “America’s Army,” as a tool to recruit children as young as 13 years old, a violation of international law and human decency. (The Pentagon boasts that it is their most-effective recruitment tool.) Movies and prime-time television offer an unavoidable sea of guns, violence, blood, murder, and dead bodies.

In this atmosphere, American children watched this week as real-life killing was cheered with flag-waving and celebration – powerful scenes that can only convince them that the proper response to inhumane violence is more war and violence. Just as they see daily on their screens.

The president said that the death of bin Laden will help to bring Americans together. We are a nation divided, no doubt, but the citizens of a free, democratic society should never find their way back to each other, and to much-needed common ground, by following a trail of blood.

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

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Bill Shein

Bill Shein lives in western Massachusetts. His syndicated newspaper column, "Reason Gone Mad," is a three-time winner of the National Press Club Award for Humor. Connect with him at

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