Read It and Weep

Art Buchwald

It’s one thing to burn school library books; it’s another not to have any books to burn.

I visited a public school in Northwest Washington, DC. Some friends were holding a benefit to raise money for a library that had no books, desks, chairs or computers. The District of Columbia is a victim of tax cuts, and libraries are being closed or short-changed. It turns out the Bush administration and Congress are not as interested in libraries as one might think.

Johnny sure has heard of Osama bin Laden, but will he ever learn to read?

Johnny sure has heard of Osama bin Laden, but will he ever learn to read?

The question is, “Do we need books in America to educate our children?” It’s the old guns vs. butter story - or butter vs. guns.

The military-industrial complex (aka the Pentagon) says it needs many more billions of dollars than it thought, not only to fight a war but also to keep the peace. It argues that the money could better be used not just for today’s weapons but also for ones that have not yet been developed.

The choices for the military are easy: an aircraft carrier or Mark Twain, a Black Hawk helicopter or Shakespeare. The military-industrial complex has its priorities, and the public believes everything the MIC tells them. You may wonder who makes these decisions. They are men and women who look just like you and me. They must choose wisely and economically, and if they make a several-billion-dollar mistake, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld says, “nobody’s perfect.”

The MIC has thousands of lobbyists in Washington to make sure America has all the guns it needs. This is not to say those in the Defence Department are against education - it’s just not something they do. A library doesn’t kill anybody. School officials are not against producing cruise missiles - it’s just not something they do.

The educators say: “The reason Johnny can’t read is that he has no books. It is not only education that is getting short-changed. So are health, Social Security and the environment - and anything else that has to do with butter.”

Of course, no one is to blame. That, lobbyists tell you, is the way the cookie crumbles. President Bush is not against butter, but with his tax cut he claims that whatever butter he gives us is enough. He hopes his tax cut will jump-start the economy. He says the only way to do it is to short-change the states and cities that are now even running out of margarine.

With the tax cut, he maintains he can provide guns and butter and rebuild Iraq at the same time. And so the controversy continues unabated.

How many guns for Iraq and how much butter for our schoolchildren? I left the school wondering why Johnny can’t read. Was it the fault of government? I couldn’t answer the question, but I discovered that maybe the administration and Congress can’t read, either. And that scares the hell out me.


Published Friday, November 7th, 2003 - 10:16am GMT

Article courtesy of The Washington Post

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Art Buchwald



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