Peacemakers buck wars strong headwinds
By TOM ROBERTS
We wish it to each other. We pray for it. It lies at the core of our deepest human and religious yearnings.
But how do we make it happen?
No easy programs or magic answers exist. Thats clear at the outset. It also is clear, however, that a lot of people are devoting a great deal of time, energy and creativity to creating paths of peace in a world where the first instincts of leaders is to fashion ever more sophisticated and deadly wars.
Peacemakers are bucking strong headwinds.
We have just come through a century that has compiled a historical record for the organized killing called war, said Donald W. Shriver Jr., president emeritus of Union Theological Seminary in New York, in a lecture given Sept. 14, 2001. The total number of human beings killed in war between year 1900 and year 2000 comes to some 175 million. The average number of deaths by war during every hour of those hundred years is 200.
That is a lot of humans given to state-sanctioned and state-sponsored killing. In the modern era, large and aggressive industries have developed around the making of war. In the United States, a huge allotment of the national treasury each year is turned over to military pursuits.
If the United States were the average consumer subjected to one of those profiles that generates junk mail, the mailbox would daily be stuffed with fliers from the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Litton, General Electric, United Technologies, TRW and Textron -- the top 10 U.S. military contractors, according to the World Policy Institute.
Uncle Sams deep pockets
They know Uncle Sam is an easy touch with deep pockets. And they know that with their armies of salespeople in the form of lobbyists in Washington, they can easily divert Uncle Sams attention -- and his money -- from whatever else might show up in the mailbox.
Those pleas for more education money or more dollars for infrastructure, health care, employment training, environmental concerns and on and on, dont stand much of a chance against a pitch that calls on the need for more national security.
It is difficult to grasp the dimensions of the current defense budget and President Bushs proposal of a $45 billion increase for fiscal year 2003. That would bring the military budget to $396.1 billion, well over a billion dollars a day, and that amount includes a proposed $16 billion for Department of Energy work on nuclear weapons and other defense-related programs outside the Pentagon, according to the Council for a Livable World.
In terms of the wider world, the United States has lapped everyone else many times over in the post-Cold War arms race. No one can touch us. If Bushs defense proposals are approved, just the increase would amount to more than three times the defense budgets of all the states of concern -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria combined ($12.8 billion), according to the Council for a Livable World. The increase alone would be greater than the defense budget of any other nation in the world except Japan, where defense expenditures total $45 billion.
The total proposed U.S. budget for 2003 is slightly more than $2 trillion. Of that, Congress has control -- or discretionary budget authority -- over $759 billion. Thats the part about which Congress can make decisions. The rest comes under the heading of mandatory spending and includes such categories as Social Security and such programs as food stamps and grants to states for Medicaid.
The proposed defense budget would jump from 49.2 percent to 53 percent of all the money that Congress has the power to appropriate.
According to the National Priorities Project, as the defense budget jumps by more than it has in two decades, money for job training and employment would be cut by $700 million or 11 percent; 28 percent would be cut from community development funds, including a 7 percent cut in community development block grants. Other areas of the budget would remain level, meaning they actually would be cut, taking inflation into account.
How the budget shakes out for next year is an unknown, but broad directions are clear. Even without the increase, we are willing to spend enormous amounts on military pursuits. Our consumer profile would say we are eager warriors.
The numbers, however, are just part of the story. Attitudes -- about American superiority, about our place and role in the world, about the resort to force in solving conflicts, about what is valued in a culture -- underpin the cultural willingness to spend the money.
What do the young see as valued in the culture? Take in the seductive Army ads, and go to the Armys Web site. Warm depictions of camaraderie and teamwork accompany talk of individual achievement, of the chance to learn skills valuable in a future career or to stash away money for college, one of the few remaining opportunities to receive government money for higher education. Its a rather attractive package for someone uncertain about the future and looking for direction. The Army Web site, by the way, contains a long list of variations on the theme of saving money for college.
TV ads for the Marines picture a kind of video game hero slaying a horrible and threatening beast before mutating into a handsome young man in a dress uniform.
The lure reaches down into high schools, where ROTC programs provide uniformed students marching with mock weapons to add a little military flair to school events.
No government funds exist for similar training in peacemaking. So it is left to others to point to alternatives. To that end, we hope this supplement is of some use.
Beginning a conversation
Our intent from the beginning of our work on this several months ago was to produce a supplement that would accomplish two goals: to excite readers to the need and possibilities of peacemaking and to provide as many resources as possible to help inform themselves and others. We envisioned this both as a teaching tool and the beginning of a conversation that will continue in our pages, depending on reader response, in the coming months.
Sincere thanks must go to Claire Schaeffer-Duffy of Worcester, Mass., and Colman McCarthy of Washington. Schaeffer-Duffy is a freelance writer whose work regularly appears in our pages. She did a tremendous amount of work in assigning and doing the initial editing of the pieces in the supplement. McCarthy, who has spent many years developing a peace-teaching curriculum, was invaluable in helping us develop lists of resources for the various segments of the package. Teresa Malcolm, production coordinator here in Kansas City, brought order to the pile of stories and graphics that came pouring in, and Toni-Ann Ortiz, layout editor, made final sense of all the information on the pages.
While we think we have assembled a fairly representative sampling of thought and personal stories on the subject of peacemaking and nonviolence, we also know that this is just a start. The topic has a rich history, and the literature on peacemaking and nonviolent action is extensive. We know there are many more stories that deserve to be told, many more groups gathered around the taxing issues of the day, puzzling out how to respond with nonviolent force. Let us know whats going on in your corner of the world, and well continue to broaden the story in our pages.
No easy answers exist to the increasingly complex issues of the day. Shriver gave his lecture just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. It did not take long for the new century to pick up where the old left off. Without arguing here the merits of any particular military action, it is clear that war making is meeting little resistance.
This supplement is our small contribution to exploring alternatives to another century of endless war and bloodshed. It is, admittedly, a tiny step along a difficult journey.
We hope youll join us.
Tom Roberts is NCR editor. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002