There are some good reasons why every U.S. citizen should be thinking about reparations. Reparations to be paid to every victim of U.S. foreign and domestic policy would have a dramatic effect on the course of history; but also there are other, often overlooked, advantages that would come from just having a great national debate about reparations. The debate itself would have long lasting rewards. A national conversation about reparations would be the one thing that could awaken and inform the sleeping citizens. This is a nation in which factual information is difficult to come by. School textbooks rarely give an accurate view of history. The combination of a misguided government owned and operated educational system and an incompetent corporate owned mass media has resulted in a misinformed, sleeping populace.
Reparations could change everything. Many citizens think with their wallets. If every citizen had to think about having a huge increase in taxes to pay for past actions taken by the government, it could result in a demand for change in U.S. policies. A war tax would make war less likely. A reparations tax would make the exploitation of others around the globe less likely. Any debate about reparations would take the discussion back to the time of Columbus. Why should those living now feel a sense of responsibility for events that occurred at a time so far in the past? The answer is because those events from the distant past are having negative effects on the lives of so many Native Americans now. That same answer can be used to justify reparations to our black brothers and sisters. The destruction of the culture of the original inhabitants of the land which we now occupy has had a profound affect on Native Americans here today. The same can be said about the destruction of the family life and culture of those who were victimized by the slave trade.
Right now there are groups of victims who are seeking justice. The Vietnam victims of Agent Orange are seeking a legal remedy. On March 10, 2005, in District Court in Brooklyn, Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the case. Will the U.S. ever do the right thing and compensate the Vietnam victims? Certainly not, unless there is a debate that will awaken the sleeping American conscience. Today, high levels of dioxin are found in the soil, food, human blood, and breast milk of the Vietnam victims. The Vietnam victims should no longer be subjected to a torturous legal battle. The Congress should pass legislation that would compensate them. Reparations must be paid now.
Currently, in a British Court, other victims of U.S. policy are pleading their case. The Chagossians, who inhabited Diego Garcia until they were forcibly removed by the U.S., have been waging an ongoing legal battle. Currently that case is in adjournment until January 19, 2006. These inhabitants were forcibly loaded on boats and shipped off. They were removed from their peaceful island homeland after the U.S. incinerated their pets and animals. The displaced people have petitioned for the right to visit the graves of their ancestors on Diego Garcia. Their petition has been denied. The U.S. policy that led to this ethnic cleansing/genocide is still in place. The Pentagon wanted this island as a location for a military base which has been used as the launching pad for the bombing campaign against Iraq. The U.S. base should be decommissioned. The land should be decontaminated. The people should be allowed to return to their homeland. Reparations should be paid.
The list of countries that have a legitimate claim against the U.S. is staggering ... Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, just to name a few. Fair compensation would certainly deplete the national treasury for generations to come. That is the price that must be paid so that victimized nations all around the world might be a little safer from future invasions and occupations.
Reparations must be paid not only to compensate victims, but also to rehabilitate our fallen nation so that future generations can chart a new course. Restitution is a universally accepted legal and moral principle. Put simply, those who kill, should pay the bill.
No amount of money can compensate for even one lost life. That is precisely why this national conversation is necessary. News reports often mention the financial cost of military operations in Iraq to taxpayers, but there is rarely a mention of the cost in human lives to the victims in Iraq. Every citizen should see the photos of babies born to mothers who had been exposed to U.S. depleted uranium. The decontamination and rebuilding of Iraq should be managed by the Iraqi people and totally financed by U.S. taxpayers.
There is no better way to challenge U.S. foreign policies that have resulted in death and exploitation around the globe than to tell taxpayers that they will have to pay for it. A war tax is necessary because it would make wars much less likely. A reparations tax is necessary because it is the best way of informing everyone of past transgressions. Besides that, it is the only way to redemption for a country that is in need of an awakened conscience ... and yes, there is also a small matter of justice.
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. She is currently waiting for the State Supreme Court to render its decision on the Appeal of her conviction for having participated in a peaceful protest of the war. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
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