What has the Iraq War cost Pittsburghers? According to speakers at a May 30 town hall meeting held by the American Friends Service Committee, the numbers are sobering -- even when you just consider the dollars and cents.
A total of $1.7 billion is Allegheny County's share of the war costs. It's enough to feed all the kids enrolled in the school lunch programs for 68,000 years.
"These numbers boggle the mind," says Malik Bankston, executive director of the Kingsley Center, a social-service agency in East Liberty. Bankston did the calculations based on the latest Iraq war spending estimate by the National Priorities Project, a non-profit research outfit that analyzes federal spending. According to projections, the war's cost will top $456 billion -- including the $100 billion emergency budget Congress passed May 24.
Anti-war activists hope the accounting exercise will hammer home the need to stop the war. But for the nearly 300 participants who packed the parish hall of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, it was never a question of why to end the war, but of how. And even Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) admitted that Congress' May 24 vote was a retreat from that goal.
"We took a step backward; there is no doubt in my mind," says Doyle, who cast a "No" vote. "Some day Congress will catch up with you, but you need to keep the pressure on."
With that the subdued audience members -- most of whom appeared old enough to remember the Vietnam War -- broke into impassioned outbursts. "Impeach Bush," one yelled. Others challenged representatives of U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, and U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) to rethink their stance on the war.
Jonathan Clendaniel, 24, minced no words. Having voted for the invasion and more money to fund the military operations, "the Democrats have blood on their hands," he said. The information technology worker from Squirrel Hill has a cousin serving in Iraq, and is volunteering with Iraq Veterans Against the War.
But for the war to end, another participant Paul LeBlanc of Friendship said, "It'll take ongoing pressure from more and more people. That was how we brought the Vietnam War to an end." LeBlanc, who teaches history at La Roche College in McCandless, remembers protesting that war as early as in 1965, when he was 18. Yet he is optimistic that ending the current war won't take as long.
"Now we have an anti-war majority," says LeBlanc. "We are not divided in a way that we were before."