- April 17, 2015 in Columnists
An insidious enemy worse than ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram
Like millions of Americans, I just paid my taxes. Some of those dollars will be combined with others’ payments and sent to Lockheed Martin, which will use that money to manufacture an AGM-114N Hellfire missile. That missile will be shipped to a secret U.S. base in Saudi Arabia and loaded onto an MQ-9 Reaper drone, the most lethal drone in America’s drone arsenal.
From there, the unmanned aerial vehicle, controlled via joystick in a darkened room thousands of miles away in Syracuse, New York, will climb above the clouds headed towards Yemen where the United States has been waging a drone war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for years. The target, a senior terrorist in a house below, may hear nothing as the drone keeps watch over everything that moves in a three mile radius.
Without warning, the Hellfire missile streaks from the heavens and pulverizes the building in a hellacious orange and black fireball while the shockwaves flatten homes surrounding the target. In all, fifty people are killed to kill one terrorist, a ratio investigative reporter, Jeremy Scahill, says is acceptable to the Obama Administration.
While America’s power used to be projected through our monstrous aircraft carrier battle groups, now the public face of America’s might is our unmanned flying killing machines. Drones fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somali and Libya that we know of. In fact, 40% of the Department of Defense aircraft are drones.
Defense and our various wars come with a hefty price tag. Reaper drones cost $14 million apiece, while the Hellfire comes in at $100,000 each. Each Reaper can hold four, along with two 500 lb. laser-guided bombs. Drone strikes and other military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq costs $10 million a day.
Congress makes sure there’s always money for war. The defense budget for 2015 is $585 billion. The air force wanted to scrap the aging A-10 Warthog but Congress funded it anyway. The navy wanted to decommission one of our 11 aircraft carriers and again, Congress funded it. The U.S. spends roughly as much as the next eight countries combined on defense.
Congress recently passed a $40 billion bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. And a report from the Harvard University’s Kennedy School says the Iraq and Afghanistan war will end up costing America between 4 and 6 trillion dollars.
Remember that this beefed up military action largely began after 9/11 when 19 terrorists killed 2,977 people.
Do you feel safer?
Think about something else. Somewhere right now, someone is receiving the most difficult news of their life — they have stage 4 cancer. Families from coast to coast are trying to cope and buck up the spirits of a loved one battling a malignant form of cancer. Inside their bodies, rogue cells are rapidly dividing, spreading into neighboring tissue, creating tumors. Breast, stomach, esophageal, cervical, testicular, skin and other cancers are ravaging bodies from sea to shining sea.
Variations of this dreaded disease has taken such notable people as Farrah Fawcett, Gilda Radner, Babe Ruth, James Baldwin, Sally Ride, Carl Sagan, Andy Kaufman, Donna Summer, Golda Meir, Patrick Swayze, Paul Newman, Peter Jennings, Ted Kennedy, Tony Snow, Eartha Kitt, Michael Crichton, Sydney Pollack, Steve Jobs, Michael Landon, Dennis Hopper, Roger Ebert, Christopher Hitchens, George Harrison and Bob Marley, among many others. How many more scientific discoveries, music, movies, books, laws and electronic innovations might this group have produced if not taken by cancer?
But this disease is no respecter of titles, ethnicity, politics or socio-economic status. I am sure that most people can name someone they know who was lost to cancer, others who are currently battling the disease and still others whose cancer is in remission.
So what does this have to do with Reaper drones, 9/11 and the war on terror? In comparison to the trillions the United States government spends on security, war and death, we spend $4.8 billion a year on cancer research mostly through the National Cancer Institute. And that’s been pretty much unchanged for years. Sometimes it’s $4.9 billion.
It must be noted that pharmaceutical companies spend ten times that amount on research. But since drug companies are driven by the profit motive, it’s in their interest to come up with cancer treatments, not a cure. It’s much more profitable to treat a disease than to cure it.
Cancer is a bigger threat than terrorism. Since 9/11, jihadists in America have killed a little over two dozen people. In the same amount of time, cancer has killed nearly 8 million. You’re 9 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. You have a 1 in 3 risk of getting cancer in your lifetime.
Does this mean if we boost cancer spending to how much we spend on the war of terror, that we’re guaranteed to cure it? First, that’s never going to happen. But I’m not just talking about funding. It’s about priorities. Despite the usual tired talking point of the government being good for nothing, our government, together with the private sector, has accomplished stunning things. We laid the first trans-oceanic cable communication in 1858, partnered with corporations to build the railroad system, conquered flight, built the interstate highway system, successfully connected the Atlantic and Pacific via the Panama Canal in 1914, turned back fascism, split the atom and ushered in the nuclear age as well as conquered lunar space travel 46 years ago and designed a smart watch much more powerful than the Apollo Command Module computers.
Imagine a public and private Manhattan Project on cancer research started by the U.S. but bringing in experts from around the globe. Of course, cancers vary and mutate, but eradicating one form would be huge. Every nation would have a stake in the outcome against this common enemy.
I don’t worry about ISIS, Boko Haram or Al Qaeda killing anyone I love. I don’t fear Iran’s Mullahs will ever be suicidal enough to attack the U.S. and kill my friends. But I know that cancer is in a lot of my friends and loved ones’ futures. Maybe mine.
I’m not saying we abandon the fight against extremism and those who would do us harm. But the fight should be proportional to the threat.
How can I say this, you might be thinking. Don’t I remember those planes slamming into the twin towers? You bet. It was ungodly. It’s seared into the memory of all who lived through that horrible day. But while nearly 3,000 were killed on 9/11, cancer kills that many Americans in two days.
A crazed terrorist group may be successful attacking our homeland in a 9/11-style attack that retraumatizes and terrorizes the masses. Perhaps that will happen. But what I know for sure is that 565,000 Americans are going to die of cancer this year and a similar number will die next year.
If our response to 9/11 is enormous defense expenditures and drone wars in half a dozen countries, what should our national response to cancer be? How are we responding to that threat?
- April 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm
- April 18, 2015 at 8:22 pm