A Decade of War (and Football)

By James Colten 10-05-2011


Not to date myself, but I was in middle school when we invaded Afghanistan.

I didn't understand politics when I was 12 years old. I honestly thought the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans was the animal they used for a mascot. As a child, politics seemed like a football rivalry -- people simply picked whatever team they liked best.

Jack Kemp scrambles to the 20… the 10… stopped short by Al Gore at the 6! First and Goal for the Elephants!

When I was in middle school, I thought that America was the coolest country in the world. I wore red, white and blue even on days that weren’t national holidays. Growing up in Chicago, I fearlessly wore my Green Bay Packers sweatshirt to school and I thought Brett Favre was going to be their Quarterback forever. I was disappointed when Favre and the Packers eventually parted ways, but I trusted that team management knew what it was doing. Everyone had the same goal in mind: Winning a Super Bowl (and as you saw last year, the strategy paid off).

A lot has changed for me since middle school. (Most notably, I have a beard, a girlfriend, and a driver’s license.) I still cheer for the Packers, but I have a radically different understanding of politics. Unbelievably, the United States is still at war (and trillions of dollars in debt), and I’ve lost much of my youthful idealism, at least when it comes to politics. And I certainly no longer believe our legislators are looking out for my generation’s interests.

Let’s face it — while lawmakers are picking their own battles in Washington, they aren’t fighting on the ground in Afghanistan. Winning elections has become more important than implementing winning foreign policy strategies that would end the war and bring our service men and women safely home.

And it’s my generation that’s being sacrificed. More than 1,700 U.S. troops have died in the 10 year war, a troubling figure that still is only a fraction the tens of thousands of Afghan casualties lost in a decade of war.

Casualties aside, my generation is going to be paying for the war for years to come. The price tag for war in Afghanistan is now more than $100 billion per year, and the cost of caring for veterans is steadily rising.

From 2001 to the present, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost in the neighborhood of $1.3 trillion (with a ‘t’.)

Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate that the total cost could rise as high as $4 trillion to $6 trillion, including continuing care for veterans and the opportunity cost of inadequate funding for domestic investments.

As a Christian, I believe that there are more practical ways of pursuing peace than shooting guns and dropping bombs. Imagine if the money we spent on weapons was instead used to pave roads, build schools, train teachers, and create safe places for kids to play football (well, soccer, but still.)

We need to come up with a more holistic and sustainable solution — perhaps something along the lines of investing in both Afghan and American youth. Our lawmakers could learn something from the Packers, currently 4-0, the second youngest team in the National Football League: Investing in fostering young leadership is a winning strategy.

There’s profound truth to the saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

We missed many chances to get out of Afghanistan. But the good news is, we still have a chance right now.

Click HERE to tell our lawmakers to end the war.

James Colten is the Campaigns Assistant at Sojourners.

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