Other Views: The road not taken beckons us

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a walking contradiction. He was greatness wrapped in brown paper. He was ordinary in manner and speech, extraordinary in perception and vision. He was both warrior and peace-monger.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a walking contradiction. He was greatness wrapped in brown paper. He was ordinary in manner and speech, extraordinary in perception and vision. He was both warrior and peace-monger.

Eisenhower's experiences as wartime general, then president, helped him see a relationship between war and humanity. He expressed the relationship this way:

"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 are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labors, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

In a backward-looking way, Eisenhower's in-your-face observation is historical truism. In a forward-looking way, it is prophecy. As a present tense matter, it describes us.

A recent AP story, shared by The Forum on its inside pages as low-priority news, told of a bill President Bush recently vetoed: "The bill, containing $152 billion for social programs including special education, community health centers, Head Start and health research, easily passed the a 276-140 vote." The bill's priorities, however, were not our president's.


In stark contrast, since 2003, the United States has spent more than $450 billion on the war in Iraq. By some estimates, our operation there costs us $300 million each day or $2 billion each week.

And those estimates are incomplete: They do not include the economic loss of healthy soldiers killed or unable to return to productive lives due to physical or emotional injuries; they do not include the cost of decades of medical care and counseling returning soldiers will need; they do not include the cost of re-tooling a depleted military.

And what might those dollars have accomplished in our states, our communities, in individual lives, had they been used differently? In the swirl of attention after the 35W catastrophe, it is easy to wonder how many bridges $450 billion dollars might have repaired or replaced.

But there were other missed opportunities, too. By all estimates, those dollars would have provided free pre-school, immunizations, and medical care for every child in America. College costs could have been rolled back. Medical cures could have been brought closer. Social Security and Medicare benefits could have been made secure. Medical care for seniors could have been made more affordable.

But, worse, as Eisenhower observed, the cost of war can not be assessed by dollars alone. There is the incalculable cost of misdirected human creativity, lost lives, abandoned hopes. Policy choices have butterfly effects on the game of life as sure and certain as the multiplier effect works on dollar bills.

Because one choice was made, more than 3,600 of our brave soldiers lost their lives to a cause. Injury estimates range from 23,000 to 100,000 since 2003. Lives that could have been spent in happy pursuits and productive endeavors have been re-directed, if not lost. With them, the lives of innumerable children and families have forever changed.

Had different choices been made, hardships and roadblocks might have been removed. Burdens might have been lightened or lifted. Avenues of opportunity might have been opened. And, again, the lives of innumerable children and families might have been quickly, directly, and forever changed.

The dialogue about the crisis in Iraq has centered on a few important questions. Were we coerced into Iraq on false premises? Can we, or anyone else, put that Humpty-Dumpty place back together again? Are we making enough progress there to justify our continued efforts? Good questions all.


However, unfortunately missing from the dialogue is any reference to Ike's simple, elegant observation. A government's choice to devote its resources to one priority is, at the same time, a choice to not devote them to another.

What might America look like if it fought its own social issues with as much ferocity and zeal as it has devoted to Iraq? What have we stolen from ourselves these past five years? What future awaited us down that road not taken?

Gjesdahl is a Fargo lawyer and occasional contributor to The Forum's commentary pages.

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