According to Charles Blow, “If an F-16 were to take off from Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and fly two hours to Erbil, Iraq, and successfully drop both of its bombs on one target each, it costs the United States somewhere between $84,000 to $104,000 for the sortie and destroys a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $12 million in U.S.-made equipment.” (The Cost of War.) Ok … but … What of the people on the ground?
It is September 11 and the war against terror rages on. President Obama has laid out his plan for air strikes against ISIS. “The president made it clear he does not want boots on the ground,” noted Speaker of the House John Boehner. “Well, somebody’s boots have to be on the ground.” What about the people on the ground?
In a video posted on the New York Times web site, Salmon Rushdie asks: What do we do with the world we have made? (Pulling Big Brother’s Strings Instead.) Since September 11, 2001, we have created a world of surveillance and bombs. Spy, then bomb. We have done it; and we have been “done to”. As Mr. Blow notes in his column America makes weapons, sells them or gives them away, and then has to go back and bomb them when they fall into the wrong hands. We don’t have as much control as we would like to think we have when it comes to what happens on the ground no matter how much spying we do. And there is all that “collateral damage”, all that suffering that happens after the spying and bombing are over.
What about the people on the ground?
I am getting to know five of the 1.2 million Palestinian people whose homes and lives have been destroyed in Syria’s Yarmouk Camp. Once a thriving mini-metropolis complete with pizza delivery, Yarmouk Camp was established in the 1950’s when Palestinians had to leave their homes and land. Today as we studied English together, my friends and I discussed the idiom: “Caught between a rock and a hard place.” They told me there is a similar idiom in Arabic. The imagery used there is that of a hammer and an anvil. They also shared with me that there is a story – one of those humorous kinds of jokes that masks the pain of a situation. It goes like this: At the judgment day God will gather all the peoples of the world together. Some will be invited to enjoy the bliss and blessing of heaven. The rest will be condemned to hell … except for the Palestinians. God will shrug his shoulders and tell them they are neither permitted to enter, nor are they welcome in either place. “Even at the last judgment,” they said to me with sad smiles on their faces, “there will be no place for us to go!”
The image at the top of this post shows the entrance to Yarmouk Camp – before and now. That was home to my friends until they had to flee for their lives. They are now in this country legally on a tourist visa. They have applied for asylum. Lacking any official status in the US, they cannot work. Their children cannot attend the university. They are not eligible for any programs of public assistance. At this moment they have fewer options than if they were homeless Americans.
The on-going war in Syria that is spreading throughout the Mid-East is creating yet another crisis for simple, hard-working folk who have no country, no passport and no place to turn. Our proposed response – spy and bomb – simply has not worked. It’s not for lack of trying; nor is it for having not spent enough money. We have poured trillions of dollars into this strategy and we seem poised to spend trillions more – on spying and bombing. We have arrived at that moment predicted by science fiction prognosticators – a world perpetually at war. That’s how it feels for my friends just now. They wait, study, worry and wonder what will come next.
It’s 9 / 11 … and we are still spying and dropping bombs. I keep hoping, when it comes to what’s next we can do better than that.
Yarmouk in June 2014 United Nations News Center