Several weeks ago an American general stated that the United States is in Afghanistan not to nation-build but to protect our national security.
The Taliban are a bunch of goofy guys who beat, bully and butcher anyone who disagrees with their idiosyncratic view of the almighty. The overwhelming majority of Muslims scorn them. But are the Taliban a threat to our national security?
I do not pretend to have any expertise in affairs of state, foreign or domestic. But I fear the real threat to our security lies not outside, but inside our borders. I am simply a judge hearing domestic violence and divorce cases in Chicago's southwest suburbs. Those who appear before me are working people — carpenters, electricians, pipe fitters, dockworkers, laborers and midlevel white-collar personnel.
I hear the same refrain on a daily basis: "I haven't had a job in a year, two years" or "Judge, I've only worked periodically." Sometimes it's the wife but usually it's the husband who's jobless. Sometimes neither one has a job.
These are hard-working men and women who labored long hours and sacrificed greatly to put together nickels and dimes and dollars to buy homes that are now frequently in foreclosure or worth less than the mortgage on them. And too often these men and women become depressed, question their commitments, their love for their partners, even their children. They sometimes turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling or seek solace in the arms of someone else. Arguments escalate, children cower in corners, husbands become estranged from wives, wives from husbands. Decent relationships, marriages, crumble.
An 11-year-old girl handed me a note. Her father, a college graduate, had lost his midlevel white-collar job a year ago. He tried to find work but after a while gave up. His daughter wrote:
"I am scared, worried and sad because when I come home from school dad is always sleeping and drinking beer. I am scared of dad because some days he's loud and obnoxious and other days he's quiet and out of the way. … He fell apart when he lost his job. … I freeze up and want to kill myself because sometimes I think it's just a dream and I'll wake up soon. … I usually cry myself to sleep at night because we don't have money to pay for all the food we need and clothes and so on. … I hate my life, I can't even have birthday treats at school or a birthday party. I'm scared, that's why I get bad grades. I just freeze in the middle and just lose all my thoughts. … so yeah my life sucks. (Sorry about the language)."
We have poured hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the financiers who got us into our current financial mess by creating pretend wealth. Now, according to news accounts, they are again making gobs of money while the men and women I see who created real wealth — albeit usually for others — are left twisting in the wind.
I recently reread the 11-year-old's note, shortly after reading about several of our fine young men and women being killed in Afghanistan, which led me to think of the hundreds of billions of dollars we are spending "for our security." I cannot help but wonder what would happen if these billions of dollars were redirected into rebuilding our disastrous economy and infrastructure.
Putting men and women to work to build better highways, better railroads, a better urban transportation system would do a great deal for our national security — like reducing the misery I see in my courtroom on a daily basis and ensuring that children are raised in a contented, familial atmosphere.
Patrick Murphy is a Cook County Circuit Court judge.