News & Politics

Peace March Saturday: Good News, Bad News


It turns out there is good news from Iraq: According to a government report released this week, “Over the past year, the number of security forces that the coalition has trained and equipped has increased from about 142,000 to about 242,000.” The bad news is that the swelling security units haven’t delivered much security. “From 2004 to 2005, attacks against the coalition, Iraqis, and infrastructure increased 23 percent,” the same report found.

That persistent violence is the background for Saturday’s anti-war march, due to kick off at noon from 22nd Street and Broadway and wind its way downtown with Jesse Jackson at its head. Groups like Veterans for Peace, a contingent from Paul Robeson High School, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Jersey Shore will assemble near the starting point beginning at 10:30 a.m. There’ll be no rally, but there will be a “grassroots action festival” where the march terminates, at Foley Square.

Foley Square is named after Tom Foley—or to be precise, it’s named after a Tom Foley, because Tom Foley is a rather common name. One Tom Foley was a Lower East Side Democratic district leader in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was from Tammany Hall, so he probably fought dirty now and then, but he also sponsored Al Smith’s political career, and thus installed in office a great urban progressive who battled bigotry when he ran for president and paved the way for FDR. Another Tom Foley was the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives. A third Tom Foley is the Greenwich businessman who’s donated thousands to Republican causes and was a Coalition Provisional Authority official overseeing investment in Iraq. And then there’s Specialist Thomas Arthur Foley III, an Army Reserve member from Dresden, Tennessee, who died in Iraq in an apparent accident involving a grenade on April 14, 2003, at the age of 23.

Foley Square is actually named after the Tammany man, and it’s fitting that the march ends there because “Big Tom” would have been a worthy ally in the fight that looms for the antiwar movement: Using the midterm elections to pressure Congress to cut off the funding for the war. In that effort, the other Tom Foleys also have symbolic relevance. Speaker Tom in 1994 became the first sitting speaker in 134 years to be voted out by his district—the kind of stinging defeat with which the movement would love to threaten war-supporting politicians. Investor Tom calls up the financial interests tied up in the war; and lo and behold, there’s buzz about a push to have city and state pension funds divest from companies like Halliburton. And, of course, Specialist Tom is a reminder of the war’s true cost. The price in lives if the war continues another year (and the past 12 months are any guide) could be another 700 men and women.

But even those who survive their wounds pay a price—literally. According to another GAO report released this week, payroll tracking problems in the military have caused “nearly 1,300 separated Army soldiers who were injured or killed during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan (to incur) over $1.5 million in military debt.” The military doesn’t collect debts from the dead, but it does go after the wounded. “GAO’s case studies of 19 battle-injured soldiers showed that collection action on military debts resulted in significant hardships to these soldiers and their families,” the report continued. “For example, 16 of the 19 soldiers were unable to pay their basic household expenses; 4 soldiers were unable to obtain loans to purchase a car or house or meet other needs; and 8 soldiers’ debts were offset against their income tax refunds.”

One National Guard staff sergeant with brain damage and post-traumatic stress owed $12,662. “Failure to record this soldier’s separation in the pay system resulted in forfeiture of 3-month’s pay while the Army attempted to recover his debt,” the report read. “As a result, the soldier’s utilities were turned off and his family was separated.”

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