In March, while the rest of us were busy getting ready for spring by making vacation plans, cleaning out closets, turning over the garden, and the like, hundreds of US veterans of the Iraq war and their loved ones were walking to New Orleans, to mark the war’s third anniversary and to extend a hand to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Their point was simple and powerful — that the estimated $2.5 trillion to be spent by the US in Iraq would be better used to help our own suffering citizens.
This march and the moving poster designed for it — featuring the line, “Every Bomb Dropped on Iraq Explodes over New Orleans” — came to mind as I watched the endless recent television coverage marking Katrina’s one-year anniversary.
There were still-closed hospitals and children without schools to attend. One man in his nineties was still trying to rebuild the little house in which he had raised his family.
The coverage depicted people who had lost everything and everyone they loved, medical staffs frustrated by their inability to save lives, frustrated aid workers and politicians spewing useless rhetoric, and volunteers and citizens of New Orleans, all wondering when Uncle Sam would help heal his children.
I wondered the same thing. Beyond the millions thrown at the levees and the depressing sight of FEMA trailers parked side-by-side across the Louisiana landscape looms a question: how much does America really care about its own? As the death toll steadily rises in overseas war zones, and the national debt balloons with the cost of a dubious conflict, “homeland security” takes on new meaning.
For most of us, security is something much more personal than airport screening procedures or the Patriot Act. To the average American, a secure day is one in which our loved ones are fed and children safely go off to a classroom to learn. We are secure when our elders can pay for their medicines, and when the fuel we need to heat our homes and to take us to work is available and affordable.
We feel secure if our homeland is a place offering breathable air and drinkable water, and enough law and order to make it safe for us to negotiate at night. We feel safe in the absence of an overbearing government in our personal decisions and in our daily lives.
Security is expensive, but the Iraq Veterans Against the War — on whose Web site (www.ivaw.net) the poster for “Walking to New Orleans” appears — may have the right idea. End the war and spend the “guns” money here at home to buy more “butter.”
Real “homeland security” — what a concept!