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Martinsburg sign displays war's cost in dollars and lives

March 22, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Wondering exactly how many U.S. troops have died in Iraq? What the war is costing the United States or West Virginia? How many Iraqis have died since the war began two years ago?

Answers to those questions can be found on an electronic sign posted in a window of the former YMCA building at 224 W. King St. in Martinsburg.

Installed during an event Saturday that drew a crowd of more than 150 people, the sign will remain in place indefinitely, said Hilary Lo, a member of a group of local residents who decided to erect the sign.

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"We want to raise awareness among our neighbors; awareness of what the war is really costing in human terms and in monetary terms," Lo, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., wrote in an e-mail. "We believe Americans are intelligent and deeply compassionate. All of us must know the truth about war so that we can decide for ourselves if the cause is worth the costs. If the United States is to be an example of true democracy, then an informed electorate is essential."

The sign, which has 4-inch red letters, is erected in the upper portion of a first-floor window. By late Monday afternoon, the sign indicated that the war has cost the United States more than $157 billion, and has cost West Virginia more than $456 million.

The number of U.S troops killed is 1,519, while more than 100,000 Iraqis have died. Most of the Iraqis killed were women and children, Lo said.

The sign is connected to a pager, allowing figures to be continuously updated by the National Priorities Project, which receives its information from congressional budget allocations, Lo said.

Volunteers of the local nonpartisan group paid for the sign. No money was collected from any businesses or political groups, Lo said.

News coverage that some perceive to be biased or unbalanced, given that many reporters are imbedded with troop units, prompted the group to take action, Lo said.

"I don't think people know what the war is costing their town, state or country. We provide those numbers," Lo said. "Most people don't realize what that sum of money could have meant for their state, town or nation. The National Priorities Project shows what these numbers could have meant if used to fund the AIDS epidemic, world hunger, children's health, public housing, world immunization, etc.," she said in her e-mail.

"We do not advocate how the money should be spent, but it is useful to see the comparisons because that is pure information and, as they say, 'Information is power,'" she said.

According to the Cost of War web site - www.costofwar.com - the amount of money the United States has spent on the war in Iraq would:

· Allow every child in the world to receive basic immunizations for the next 52 years.

· Fully fund worldwide AIDS programs for 15 years.

· Fully fund global anti-hunger efforts for the next six years.

The amount spent by West Virginia would:

· Build 4,106 public housing units.

· Provide 22,107 students with four-year scholarships at public universities.

· Hire 7,903 teachers for one year.

· Allow 60,401 children in the state to attend a year of Head Start.

Lo said her group has six or seven core members from Jefferson and Berkeley counties. The group has no name and Lo said she has never asked any of the others their political party affiliations.

"We feel our mission is patriotic in that we know Americans have a long history of examining the costs of war," she said. "When our young men and women put their lives on the line, it is our duty to let our leaders know we are out here watching and listening."

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