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Much has happened since the series of deadly events on September 11, 2001 that terrified Americans and kept us all glued to our television sets for days on end when 2,977 people were killed and more than 6,000 others were injured.

But more terrifying for some Americans and millions of people across the globe, have been the actions our political leaders in Congress and four administrations have carried out in response to the carnage on that day in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They have funded and orchestrated a Global War on Terror (GWOT) for the past 21 years to root out terrorism in the Middle East and beyond — across 85 countries no less. An ongoing full-spectrum program ranging from the overt violence delivered by the American military machine to the devastating effects of intimidation through political, media, economic and financial manipulations.

At what cost? According to a team of scholars and researchers at The Costs of War project at Brown University: $8 trillion and counting, and 929,000 deaths as a direct result of the fighting — armed combatants on all sides, civilians, journalists, and aid workers.

But this human toll does not include indirect deaths caused by disease, lack of access to clean drinking water, food and shelter.

We must also recognize the ongoing trauma and suffering 38 million people are experiencing because they’ve been displaced either within their own country or seeking safety in another country as refugees. If you’ve encountered refugees from any of the dozens of war-torn countries, most recently our newly arrived Afghan refugees relocating in Brattleboro, you might have a sense of what displaced survivors have endured.

So what did we Vermonters, as taxpayers, receive in return for our financial contribution towards the $8 trillion cost of the GWOT? What if that dollar amount had been invested in things we and our neighbors need?

• A health care system funded to support good health starting with access to affordable housing, water, food, child care and medical services? Resources to respond to the current drug addiction epidemic. Upgrades for better care for veterans.

• Well paying jobs with benefits starting with a $15 minimum wage with emphasis on rebuilding the state’s physical infrastructure — bridges, roads, (flood-control), municipal water and waste systems, “healthy” school buildings, environmental projects (eg: Lake Champlain clean-up), public parks and recreational facilities.

• Incentives to recruit and retain nurses, teachers, especially in child care and early child education, law enforcement personnel and firefighters.

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• Affordable college education, starting with two-year technical programs and apprenticeships in tradition and emerging trades (think solar and clean energy). We witnessed four colleges closing in our state in the past decade when everyone is crying for an “educated” workforce.

• Incentives for home-owners and businesses to invest in solar electricity systems, especially those tied to micro-grids and the GMP grid.

• Transition to an electric transportation system: incentives for hybrid and all-electric private, commercial and state/municipal vehicles; expansion of rail services across the state.

• Support for organic farming and dairy operations and the processing and distribution of its products to counter the export of our food dollars.

Instead, we find ourselves paying for the GWOT and its staggering legacy and unabated propagation of untold human suffering, environment destruction and generations of loss opportunities across the globe. And in this country.

What can we do about all this? We can continue to work for “The Good” here in our community. Personally I am in awe of the level of giving-back, be it through for municipal governance and services, churches, dozens upon dozens of non-profit groups, local-minded businesses and the whole spectrum of activist, art and cultural activities.

But if we believe in the shared values of truth, social justice and sustainability, I would suggest that we try to understand how this GWOT originated. No better time than now — the 21st anniversary of the events of 9/11 is upon us. We need to take responsibility for allowing our country’s political leadership to respond to those events with unbridled vengeance.

After all, making war is arguably the single most unsustainable of all human activities. And an unjust war is morally reprehensible, weighing on our hearts, whether we realize that or not.

Richard Foley is a professor emeritus at Keene State College in Keene, N.H. He writes from Brattleboro. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.