Commentary: We could have used that money in WV

THE late President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower knew something of the cost of war.

According to Eisenhower, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

The current administration has ignored this truth.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the three-year-old war in Iraq has cost America $251 billion. That $251 billion is better understood by bringing it closer to home.

Kanawha County’s share of $251 billion is $89.3 million — nearly $30 million for each of the past three years. That represents approximately 15 percent of the Kanawha County schools’ annual budget.

Construction of an elementary school costs approximately $10 million; a new middle school, $15 million.

For what has been spent in Iraq, Kanawha County could pay for the new Sissonville Middle, two West Side elementary schools, moving Bonham Elementary from the floodplain, and for many badly needed repairs.

If the $89.3 million weren’t used for buildings, it could have covered the entire $26 million non-discretionary, transportation, textbook and supplies budget for the past three years.

That $30 million a year could pay premiums to bring qualified teachers here to teach high-demand subjects such as math and science. And the Riverside, Herbert Hoover, Sissonville, St. Albans, and Nitro attendance areas could have fully-staffed string music programs like the George Washington, Capital and South Charleston areas.

In my own community of South Charleston, council recently increased sewer rates by 30 percent to bring the city system up to federal standards. That might not have been necessary if South Charleston had its $6.7 million share of the Iraq War cost.

The story around the Kanawha Valley is much the same. Communities are putting off needed projects or raising fees to cover dollars lost to the Iraq war. Charleston’s share is $24 million; Dunbar’s, $3.8 million; Nitro’s, $2.9 million; and St. Albans, $5.7 million.

West Virginia’s share of the Iraq War cost is $710.1 million. What could that buy? Health-care for 139,476 adults or 402,145 children. Or 83 elementary schools, 14,727 elementary teachers, or 15,462 music and art teachers.

For those worried about terrorism, consider that $710.1 million could cover the cost of 20,971 first responders or 15,582 port container inspectors.

One final example: According to a Jan. 24 New York Times article about the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said, “over the last 10 years the safety agency’s budget had been cut by $2.8 million, which led to the loss of the 183 staff members.”

West Virginia’s share of those 183 people, considering the mining done here, would be sizable. One must wonder if the 16 West Virginia miners killed this year would be alive if there were more MSHA inspectors.

We will never know, because the money is gone — gone to fight a war begun under false pretenses by people who have no idea what it is like to worry about money, a war with no end in sight.

Who will pay? You and I and our children and their children and grandchildren, for many years to come.

Regardless of whether you agree with invading Iraq or not, you deserve to know the cost — to know the extent of the theft from those “who are hungry and not fed, those who are cold and not clothed,” especially in West Virginia.

Swing, of South Charleston, is a freelance musician and private music instructor. She is also president of the West Virginia Patriots for Peace. Numbers for this article come from the National Priorities Project