I've lived in the heartland for more than two decades. And I can tell you that there's nothing like a sultry July night at the local ballpark, rooting for the home team, eating hot dogs and quaffing beer, watching fireworks viewed from damp, warm infield grass.
This time of year, the Midwest is awash in flags and bumper stickers boasting one's support for the troops and the good ol' red, white and blue. But, lately we have seen more and more "Come home!" messages, and headlines such as, "Locals hope for an end to the war." Unemployment, which struck the heartland harder than most places, still affects many who are at the end of their unemployment checks or are underemployed. War costs in Afghanistan, nearing $2 billion a week, particularly stick in the craw of these suffering Americans.
My son will be a sophomore majoring in music education at Butler University this fall (You know, that small Midwest college with the basketball team that went to the Final Four - two years in a row), will graduate not knowing whether there will be music and band programs in public schools where he can work. Juxtapose that against the two decades of his life filled with costly wars. The first Iraq war started in 1991, when he was not yet born. That war, followed by bombing in the Balkans and elsewhere - Afghanistan, Iraq again and now Libya, with the hint of more to come ... means that my son and his generation have grown up in continuous war. They know nothing else.
My son's generation thinks gas prices are about war. He knows this father was drafted during the Vietnam War, and that he escaped that fate. He has older friends who returned from recent wars as lesser human beings.
His generation has grown up in a time of plenty, and also a time of economic insecurity. As someone who has worked for peace all her life, I love the Fourth of July. I honor freedom, justice and all that it envelops. Yet, I worry about the constant drain on our American collective dream of freedom, justice and economic security.
This Fourth will be observed with millions of Americans out of work, many whose homes have been foreclosed. State legislatures are cutting social services, and in Indiana, public education is being drained by a voucher system to private schools. We have returning soldiers with injuries so deep that they and their families will never recover. Our federal coffers so sapped by war spending that we may not have the money to pay for our endless war wounds. In fact, we plan for this Fourth knowing that our nation is deeply in debt. Climbing out of this hole will require deep cuts that will hurt.
Still, I am hopeful. I can't go to a picnic with deviled eggs and apple pie, ready for the barbecue, without optimism. America is the richest country in the history of the world.
But, surprise! We often spend our federal tax dollars foolishly. The recent focus on the debt and deficit, the president's commission on tax reform, and the congressional impasse on how to solve the problem place a magnifying glass to the federal budget.
Another surprise: Our investments in job training, education and health care - the things that make us secure and cause us to work for our collective futures - are on the chopping block. Medicare and Social Security, two of the government's most successful programs for keeping people out of poverty, also are on the chopping block. Yet, be cautious, my friends -- some excessive spending is wrapped in a patriotic flag.
Keep your ears open for anyone who says we have to "finish the job" in Afghanistan. What job? Osama bin Laden is gone. The $2 billion a week we spend on this war could go a long way toward job training to put America back to work, for example.
Enjoy this Fourth of July. We are free, and that is no small thing, as spreading revolutions in the Mideast attest. However, freedom cannot exist without justice. We will celebrate, and we will work until our mutual critical needs are met.
Jacob serves as president of WAND (Women's Action for New Directions) of Northern Indiana and is the national WAND board chair. WAND is a national activist organization working to redirect excessive military spending to unmet human and environmental needs. This article was distributed by the American Forum. Photo: Ed Seymour // CC 2.0