Memorial Day: Education is the Greatest Weapon, Not Our Lives

Today is Memorial Day. If you visited a family member or friend who served and is in the hospital after being disabled or visited their grave, you are very familiar with this particular holiday. The human cost, you are certainly familiar with.

Aren’t non-violent technologies and the National Guard, be enough? When did the United States become the world police? How has it defended freedom? Why not give peace a chance?

None of those questions will be answered here. For that, there may be another post in the future, or until then, you can search for answers on YouTube. This post is to look at the costs and ask the question: Does higher education provide a better protection of freedom?

The Human Costs of War

According to reports cited in 2011 by the Quaker organization, Friends Committee on National Legislation, over 6,200 US soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan alone, since 2001, and another 50,000 have been wounded. These are the American statistics however, and may not even be the worst among them.

Less than one percent of the US population serves, and across the nation there are very different enlistment rates. Yet 1 in 4 of our active duty members and veterans show signs of PTSD or some other mental health issue. One vet told me about his issue health issues after Agent Orange effected his body in Vietnam and how poorly the VA was treating him, which is unfortunately common.

Conversely, in 2015 and ’16, Brown University’s Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs took a look at the human costs of war. The paper noted that there were over 31,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence documented and over 29,900 wounded. But that’s the civilian cost for Afghanistan alone.

Returning home, about nine percent of all homeless adults in the U.S. are homeless veterans, 40,056 homeless veterans, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is terrible, and an alarmingly high number. Perhaps a better use of one’s life would not to be to go to war for something you’re told, and better used to help others and advocate for the betterment of the lives of those scarred by war, and are visibly suffering.

A note here: organizations such as the UN already defend people with “Peacekeepers,” and organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are pointing out human rights abuses. Why not support them? Why accept only wars called for by self-interest?

Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

Malala Yousafzai on what she’d say to a Taliban gunman

Compared to People in Higher Education

Since 1982, states have been required by law to provide all students with K-12 public education, regardless of students’ immigration status as they become citizens. This is important because as people come to the United States in droves for the opportunities to learn and support their families, as well as compete in the world, their children may come from places with far different standards. Expats also enjoy this freedom.

“[P]ublic education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage; the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well-being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement.””

Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court decision, 1982.

Arguably, a good place for our young people would be in education rather than the military, and after some data, I’ll elaborate why. In fall 2016, over 10.8 million students (roughly 30% of the US population) were enrolled in a four-year university, yet the Census Bureau put out that only 33.4 percent of Americans had even a bachelor’s degree. Here’s why:

In 2016, similar to authoritarian countries around the world, the United States elected its own “strongman,” endangering democracy and freedom in the process. Coinciding with this election, misinformation took a major upward turn. Ultimately, this has shown all individuals in every part of the political spectrum just how ignorant their neighbors are.

Monetary Costs Compared

In a single year, the US could afford Sen. Bernie Sanders’ free public college plan easily if it chose to. Since 2001, according to CNBC, the US has spent $5.9 trillion in its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan. Nearly $2 trillion dollars was spent in the fiscal year 2017-18, and that alone would cover several years of the “College For All” plan put forth by the Senator which calls for only $70 billion.

From Phil Klay’s essay The Warrior at the Mall

“We risk our country slipping further into the practice of a fraudulent form of American patriotism, where ‘soldiers are sacred,’ the work of actual soldiering is ignored and the pageantry of military worship sucks energy away from the obligations of citizenship.”

“Support for our military remains high at a time when respect for almost every other institution is perilously low, so pushing a military angle as a wedge makes a certain kind of sense.  But … our military is justified only by the civic life and values it exists to defend.”

Phil Klay, The Warrior at the Mall. The New York Times. 4/14/18

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