Posted by: Yuval D Bar-Or on Jan 09, 2009
At time of writing, America's war in Iraq had lasted over five years. Thousands of our finest men and women made the ultimate sacrifice, many miles from home, and thousands of others came come home with horrific injuries. On the economic front, our nation's coffers have been depleted to the tune of many hundreds of billions of dollars, over this distant war. Many experts believe this campaign has not made us safer, raising the painful conclusion that all those lives and dollars have been squandered in a far-off land, representing a severe drain on our national resources.
At the risk of adding to our national agony, imagine what we could have achieved with all those dollars and people back home? Better schools, safer neighborhoods, fewer gutted homes and impoverished families?
Our nation has fought many wars over the centuries. We've won some and lost some. But we have been losing the most important war of all: the one waged daily on the streets of our inner cities. This is an insidious war that has consistently reduced our national productivity and growth, taxed our law enforcement, legal systems, and medical facilities, doomed millions to despair and crime, and fed class and race conflicts.
This is not a war that is going away anytime soon. Long ago it reached a self-sustaining state, in which the enemy reproduces with unflinching consistency. Its gang and criminal armies predictably swelled by a never ending line of youth who know nothing but distrust and violence, racism, and lack of opportunity or hope.
We are losing this war because we are unable to break the cycle underlying the violence and desperation. The battles take place in our major population centers, in the ghettos and projects of inner cities and poor neighborhoods. Our efforts treat only symptoms. We try to put more law enforcement officers on the streets to thwart, arrest, or kill criminals. In doing so we continue to antagonize a population which has nothing to live for. It exists under the threats of violence by gangs, individual criminals, frustrated and intimidated law enforcement officers, and with no alternatives in sight, its youth are invariably recruited to the dark side.
What we need are new approaches that allow us to break the cycle of drugs, violence, and poverty, and we need to introduce that break to an entire generation. The solution is to provide an environment to subsequent generations that creates that break and provides alternatives. The most obvious alternative is education.
In this article I touch on seemingly unconnected issues: the negative return on investment in the Iraq war, with its devastating losses of both human and financial capital, as well as the self-sustaining cycles of violence in urban communities. These two concepts do come together, as follows.
When our veterans return home, they will be returning to a devastated economy, with few prospects for employment. We have an obligation to help them get absorbed into civilian society, and we have an opportunity to make a real difference here at home. Over five years these heroes patrolled Kirkuk and Karbala. Imagine the prosperity they can help create by patrolling the inner city streets of Chicago and Detroit. Let's employ these loyal souls in a cause that makes social, economic, and moral sense.
When our veterans return home, we can provide them with the opportunity to decommission directly into police forces in inner city communities. Their primary mission will be to protect schools and the routes leading to them. Their goal will be to make it impossible for drug dealers and gangs to get anywhere near our children. Soldiers turned police officers can stay in this role for a year or more if they wish, and they will be replaced by other cohorts of returning soldiers, from Iraq and other war theatres. Imagine the cumulative effect of 50,000 or 100,000 police officers protecting children 24 x 7 over the course of five or ten years. For the first time, children in these communities will grow up with hope, opportunities for education, and constructive self-expression. Most importantly, we can break the cycle in which youngsters facing no alternatives are inevitably swept into the gang and criminal violence swirling around them. Our (ex-soldiers') success will deny criminal footholds within the human capital of disadvantaged communities, allowing them tangible opportunities for renewal.
We have a war at home, which we're losing, and we have a decommissioning army, ripe for its most patriotic mission. Let's take our troops and put them where they will have the greatest impact on our security and prosperity. What will our country look like in five years if we allowed children to worry about homework instead of death by stray gang bullets or a knife wielded by a drug dealer inside their school? Let's employ our troops in protecting the soft underbelly of our nation-the underprivileged who cannot break out of a cycle of deprivation and violence.