The Cost of War

AFSC national staff Peter Lems speaks at Guilford College on the war in Afghanistan and non-violent movements working for peace

By AFSC intern Rebecca Muller

It is often hard to fathom that the war in Afghanistan has been going on for almost a decade.    The United States has increased military spending 81 percent since 2001 and by May 20, 2010 the combined cost passed 1 trillion dollars. Since Hamid Karzai was elected in 2005 the level of deaths in Afghanistan has only increased.

In the midst of this war, the plight of the Afghan people is sometimes forgotten.  This violence deeply affects Afghans, no matter who instigates it.    

Peter Lems, the National Program Director for Education and Advocacy on Iraq and Afghanistan for the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, PA, addressed some of these issues in his presentation on April 15 at the Guilford College library on the Economic Cost of War.  The presentation was intentionally held on Tax Day, to emphasize the use of national resources on war spending, rather than on domestic needs.

Lems emphasized the fact that there are many Afghans who have chosen to respond to the war in a non-violent way. “We often … don’t hear about Afghans and their work that we need to support”, Lems said.  

One of these non-violent movements, called “Our Journey to Smile”, was the idea of young people from Afghanistan. These Afghans seek to increase dialogue globally while working towards peace and reconciliation; they are committed to non-violence and the well-being of all people. Lems showed a video created by these young people about their work. To watch videos from these inspiring young Afghans http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/

Afghan New Year Day, March 21, 2011 was celebrated in Kabul with a “Day of Peace”. Lems highlighted and told the stories of two political figures that are important to the peace movement, Ramazan Bashardost and Malalai Joya.

Bashardost ran as an independent candidate in the 2009 presidential election. He challenged the status quo by traveling with no armed guards; many refer to him as the “Afghan Gandhi”.

Malalai Joya was a female Parliamentarian in the National Assembly of Afghanistan from 2005 until early 2007. She was dismissed for publicly denouncing the presence of warlords in the Afghan parliament.  She has since been named by many as the “bravest woman in Afghanistan.”

In addition to emphasizing the growing non-violent movement for peace in Afghanistan, Lems featured actions taken by young people in the US around the Cost of War. He shared short videos from the AFSC and National Priorities Project video contest If I had a trillion dollars. This project asked young people across the US to create a video capturing how they would use the trillion dollars that has been spent on war in Iraq and Afghanistan. To watch these videos http://www.youtube.com/user/IHTDVideos.

Afghanistan is thousands of miles away. Thus, it becomes both easy and tempting to forget that there is a war being fought there. Peter Lems reminds us to continue keeping the people of Afghanistan, who suffer from the violence of war daily, in the forefronts of our minds and society.  At what cost, be it human, economic or otherwise, is this war being fought at and who are the ones paying?

This program was held in conjunction with the national, traveling mural exhibition Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan, currently on display in Guilford College’s Library Atrium through May 7 1pm.