Paving Roads to Nowhere

b52
B-52 with lots of bombs on Guam during the Vietnam War

W.J. Astore

I have a simple proposition: Let’s rebuild America instead of paving roads to nowhere in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has spent nearly a trillion dollars on fighting and (mostly) losing the Afghan War over the last seventeen years.  That price tag includes paving roads that have already fallen into disrepair.  Yet as money continues to flow freely to the Pentagon and to America’s fruitless wars overseas, money for America’s infrastructure barely flows at a trickle from the federal government.  How stupid is that?

I was talking to a guy yesterday who owns a local landscaping company.  Like me, he couldn’t stomach Trump or Hillary for president in 2016, so he voted for a third-party candidate.  He got to asking about my latest writing efforts and I mentioned my recent article on the Air Force’s $100 billion stealth bomber.  He asked if I was for it or against it, and I said against.  Good, he said.  And he started talking about the 1930s and how America invested in itself by building bridges, roads, canals, dams, and other infrastructure.  Why aren’t we doing more of that today?  Sensible question.  Our infrastructure is decaying all around us, but our government would rather invest in military weaponry.

Today, I had to go to the auto dealership, and I got talking to an old buck who served as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam in 1967.  What he recalled about the war, he said, was its enormity.  All those B-52s lined up at Guam.  All those napalm tanks in Vietnam.  He remembered pilots dropping napalm in the morning, coming back after the mission to drink (and some to get drunk), then flying the next day to drop more napalm.  (The stuff worked, he said, meaning the napalm, but he might have added the alcohol at the club as well.)  He had thought about extending his time in the Army, but a lieutenant colonel talked him out of it.  (The LTC explained that he’d be coming back to Vietnam much sooner than he thought, probably as a company commander, and so my conversational partner voted with his feet and left the Army.)

America is incredibly profligate in war.  We spend like drunken sailors (or pilots) on everything from the biggest and most destructive weapons to bubble gum and comic books for the troops.  Yet at least in the olden days our wars had some sense of closure.  Nowadays, America’s leaders talk of “long” war, “generational” war, even “infinite” war, as Tom Engelhardt and Colonel (ret.) Andrew Bacevich note at TomDispatch.com.  Infinite war — again, how stupid can we be as a people?

Long war or infinite war is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  America is on a permanent war footing, at least in terms of the federal budget and societal propaganda enjoining us to “support our troops” and to be cheerleaders for whatever they do.

We need to call BS on these wars — and also on prodigal weapons like the B-21 — and start rebuilding this country. How about some new roads, bridges, dams, etc.?  Instead of paving roads to nowhere in Afghanistan, or blowing cities up in Iraq, let’s pave new roads and rebuild cities right here in the USA.