While listening to National Public Radio the other day, I was stunned to hear a former State Department official say that the United States is spending more than $2 billion a month on the war in Ukraine and that it is anticipated that a certain amount of those funds will be lost to waste, fraud and abuse.
Hearing this figure, I became curious about how much the U.S. government spent on the war in Afghanistan – a war whose outcome Graeme Herd, writing for The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, stated: “constitute[s] a clear-cut strategic failure for the U.S. and NATO, when calculated in terms of ‘blood and treasure’ costs as set against benefits and potential future threats.”
A quick internet search revealed that our country spent $2.3 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, $19 billion of which was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.
Besides having difficulty wrapping my head around how much money was spent – and how much was lost – in a cause many reputable political scientists have characterized as “American Adventurism in Afghanistan,” I became angry at the members of Congress who refuse to spend any tax dollars at all to help African Americans in our own country recover from the damage caused by centuries of slavery, racial abuse and intentional neglect.
The refusal to repair the damage caused by past and present racial animus and racism is a crime against humanity, just as much as the racial animus and racism itself.
It is an incontrovertible fact that politicians put our money where their interests lie. As a child growing up in the segregated South, I witnessed my parents’ tax dollars being used to build “community” swimming pools that Black children like me were forbidden by law to use. On hot summer days, as I walked past these civic amenities built in part by Black tax dollars, I was made acutely aware of how self-interest drives public spending. This reality was made even more painful by the fact that my state, Virginia, proudly, but falsely, proclaimed itself to be a “Commonwealth” where all the blessings of freedom and prosperity were shared fairly.
So now, I weigh the reality of politicians in my country frantically throwing money at what they perceive to
be a problem abroad while withholding funds that could help to eliminate problems crushing Black communities here at home.
It cannot be the case that these politicians don’t know that funding can be used to solve problems in the poorer Black communities of our nation. Multiple studies after multiple studies throughout the decades have provided evidence that many of the problems plaguing Black people in America can be alleviated with the proper application of funding. But the politics of self-interest stand in the way.
The politics of self-interest can most clearly be illustrated by England’s “Slave Compensation Act” of 1837, where the British government agreed to a generous compensation package – not to the formerly enslaved whose labor had been stolen, but to the slave owners for “the loss of their property.”
Reparations to people of color need not necessarily be cash giveaways to individuals. They can be in the form of meaningful community investments. Improving and supporting community infrastructure, including schools, transportation systems, social service programs and financial institutions, would go a long way toward improving lives damaged by past and present racial hostility.
While the problems afflicting communities of color can be alleviated with appropriate funding, politicians with the power to provide that funding either don’t care to alleviate those problems, or
they have an interest in continuing our suffering by withholding funding.
I am not saying that the people of Ukraine should not receive our help. But I am saying that Black people here in the United States deserve as much consideration and help as the people of Ukraine. Our determination to aid Ukraine today is reminiscent of this country’s World War II effort. Black men and women were sent overseas to help people abroad when lynchings still were rampant in our own Southland.
In 1942, The Pittsburgh Courier launched the “Double V” campaign to bring attention to the hypocrisy of America sending Black men and women overseas to fight for freedom while they were still being lynched at home. The Double V stood for “Victory at Home” as well as “Victory Abroad.” But even then, racism dictated that Black folks had to take a back seat. So, the slogan had to be phrased as “Victory Abroad and Victory at Home.” Worse still, Victory at Home became a hollow slogan as many Black World War II veterans who wore their uniforms home at the end of the war were met with violent hostility from Southern whites who were offended by such a sight.
America’s treatment of people of color has been so egregious that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently investigated the racial disparities and abuses occurring in the United States. The committee’s report, issued in August 2022, documents many troubling patterns and practices that continue to be carried out by officials of the United States and many of its states to this day.
It is not news that some people in power work continually to stack the deck against people of color in this country. But because of this, we need to focus more keenly on how the resources available to our local, state and federal governments should be used to address and eliminate chronic and solvable problems plaguing the most vulnerable members of our society.
It staggers the mind to think about how many problems faced by people of color could have been addressed with the $19 billion lost to waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan. Perhaps it’s time for another Double V campaign. America needs to know that it cannot go forward while leaving people of color behind, and it never truly will be a world leader until it treats all people with dignity and respect and shares equally the blessings of freedom and prosperity.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia. His earlier commentaries may be found at https://oblayton1.medium.com/