McConnell & Narain: NATO must focus on helping humanity
By Michael McConnell and Errol Lloyd Narain May 16, 2012 8:16PM
Michael McConnell, director of the Great Lakes region of the American Friends Service Committee, says attention on the upcoming NATO Summit has focused on the potential violence of some protesters while ignoring the last 10 years of war supported by the alliance that’s meeting in Chicago this weekend. | File Photo
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:17AM
Irony abounds as the attention of the city of Chicago and the international media on the upcoming NATO Summit has focused on the potential violence of a few protesters, while ignoring the last 10 years of actual violence of the alliance that’s meeting here.
Through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has lost more than 6,400 troops with a total of wounded at least seven times that number, many of them with multiple severe injuries that will require 24-hour care the rest of their lives. Brain trauma, the signature injury of these wars, carries a lifetime of uncertainty as to its long-term effects and its long-term costs.
The Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties are of a far greater magnitude. Hundreds of thousands were killed, millions displaced and virtually no person in either country has been untouched by the trauma of war.
If we think post-traumatic stress disorder is rampant among our returning veterans, the civilians of both invaded nations suffer daily and excessively, with no end in sight.
But Chicago-area residents have not escaped the effects of war, even though it seldom passes into our consciousness. Over the last decade, Chicago taxpayers alone have spent roughly
$32 billion on the two wars and will spend an equal or greater amount paying off the debt from the wars and caring for the health needs of the returning veterans.
That’s $64 billion when the city’s community mental health clinics are asking for a measly $3 million to stay open so they can help treat, again ironically, some of those returning vets.
The approximate $700 million shortfall that Chicago Public Schools faces is no more than a mere rounding error on these $3 trillion wars, and that is probably a conservative estimate of their total costs.
The irony and contradictions of NATO being welcomed to Chicago are not lost on an inner-city congregation such as Trinity Episcopal Church. Its faithful have opened their arms to welcome NATO protestors, knowing that it is real people’s lives and the quality of life that is at stake.
Trinity believes in the Jewish-Christian God whose heart is always on the side of the poor. The church’s identification with peaceful protesters is sending a message of responsible, good stewardship of our environmental, human and monetary resources.
The hope is that these resources not be wasted in the guise of security for this nation but rather for the well-being of all who reside here — accessible health care, adequate food, affordable housing. That is real security.
Turning swords into plowshares means directing a significant portion of the $1.12 trillion NATO budget earmarked for war last year into resources that care for humanity.
On NATO’s agenda in Chicago is its expansion from a purely European defensive alliance to an interventionist one. NATO has more than 20 partnerships from Mauritania to Turkmenistan, with more to come from Latin America to East Asia.
Having lost its rationale as a defensive military alliance with the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 2010 NATO adopted its “new strategic concept” for far-flung military operations. The Chicago summit is slated to reaffirm and reinforce this focus on such wars — at a cost of more billions of dollars from Chicago-area taxpayers.
But we as residents of the Chicago region should not just care because of the taxes we are paying but for the humanity we are losing. People of faith and conscience prefer the possibility of bringing a new kind of humanity into this world rather than a cold military machine that has wreaked hell and havoc upon God’s world and people.
Swords destroy while plowshares bring food, jobs and life. More plowshares, fewer swords — no irony there, just authenticity with the faith this nation espouses.
Michael McConnell is director of the Great Lakes region of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service.
Errol Lloyd Narain is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Chicago.