Thursday, March 10, 2016

Beating swords into plowshares

"The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore." Isaiah 2:4 (NLV)
War should not be necessary! War involves death, destruction, rape, conquest, and other atrocities War is wasteful not only of lives but also of financial resources. Why do we still have war in 2016? Surely we should be able to outgrow it by now. But, no! The war machine continues its deadly business unabated. It doesn't want to slow down at all.

The eight-century Hebrew prophet Isaiah, and his contemporary Micah who delivered a similar prophecy foresaw a day why there would be no more war. Clearly, that day has not yet arrived. Just look at how much the world spends on war.

The Costs of War Project attempted to tally the cost of the war that the US began in Afghanistan in 2001, soon expanded into Pakistan, and then the invasion of Iraq in 2003, These wars are stark examples of wars where an official accounting has never yet been made.

According to the report of this project, those costs can be counted in people killed, injured, and sickened as a result of these wars, and the people dislocated from their homes. The costs of the wars are also financial. Some of the project’s main findings include the following:
  • Over 370,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and many more indirectly
  • 210,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict
  • 7.6 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
  • The US federal price tag for the Iraq war is 4.4 trillion dollars and counting
  • The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad
  • The wars did not result in inclusive, transparent, and democratic governments in Iraq or Afghanistan
This is a summary only of the costs of these wars, largely to the US; it does not cover the costs of all recent wars to all the nations of the world. The latter is difficult to measure. The following chart does illustrate the military spending of the US as compared to the largest spenders in the rest of the world (all these charts are maintained by the National Priorities Project). As you can see, that of the US is almost the same as all these nations put together.

The 4,4 trillion dollars and counting that the US federal government has already spent or is obligated to spend on the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq since 2001 includes not only direct war appropriations but also war-related increases to the military base budget; veterans care and disability costs, increases in the homeland security budget, interest payments on direct war borrowing, foreign assistance spending, and estimated future obligations for veterans’ care. But it does not include other costs to the economy which are more difficult to quantify.

The current wars have been paid for almost entirely by borrowing. This borrowing has raised the US budget deficit, increased the national debt, and had other effects, such as raising consumer interest rates. Unless the US immediately repays the money borrowed for war, these future interest payments are estimated to total over $7 trillion by 2053, according to the Cost of War Project.

These charts give a breakdown of the discretionary spending of the US government alone for 2015:

In 2014, more than 14 trillion dollars was spent on international conflicts in the past year, according to a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which found that Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were responsible for a surge in war deaths. This spending represents 13% of global GDP and is roughly the combined value of the economies of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Spain and Brazil.

The IEP insists that reducing conflict would be one way to help the world's economic recovery: "If global violence were to decrease by 10% uniformly, an additional $1.43 trillion would effectively be added to the world economy."
Per capita spending for 2015 by the 15 biggest spenders. The biggest spender by far is Saudi Arabia. Canadians please note that Canada is not listed among these 15. 
Amount in USD$
1 Saudi Arabia6,909
2 Singapore2,385
3 Israel1,882
4 United States1,859
5 Kuwait1,289
6 Norway1,245
7 Greece1,230
8 United Kingdom1,066
9 France977
10 Bahrain912
11 Australia893
12 Brunei866
13 Luxembourg809
14 Denmark804
15 Netherlands759
Some of the same countries are also among the biggest arms suppliers. Again, the US supplies almost as much as the other countries on the list combined. When I was a student in the sixties, everyone talked about the military-industrial complex. The phrase had been immortalized by President Dwight Eisenhower. He warned that the US must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

This complex is still relevant today as the next chart shows. The relationship between government and the defense industry can include political contracts placed for weapons, general bureaucratic oversight and organized lobbying on the part of the defense companies for the maintenance of their interests. The cohabitation of the government and the defense industry must stop if these humungous expenditures on war are to cease. This must end!
2014 rankSupplierArms exports
1 United States10194
2 Russia5971
3 China1978
4 France1200
5 Germany1110
6 United Kingdom1083
7 Israel1074
8 Spain824
9 Italy786
10 Ukraine664
11 Netherlands561
12 Sweden394
13  Switzerland350
14 Turkey274
15 Canada234
This does not mean that the US and the other countries that spend so much money on war have to become pacifists. We must make distinguish between pacifism and antimilitarism. Although I, personally, espouse pacifism, I realize that antimilitarism is a more immediate and realistic goal. Yet they are not mutually exclusive.

Pacifism is the belief that disputes between nations can and should be settled peacefully. It is the opposition to war and the use of violence as a means of settling disputes. It can include the refusal to participate in military action. 

In contrast, antimilitarism does not reject war in all circumstances but rejects the belief or desire to maintain a large a strong military organization in aggressive preparedness for war.

Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream. My dream is of a world where nations no longer resort to warfare to settle disputes but can find peaceful means instead. Antimilitarism is a crucial step in a long, tedious process. Antimilitarism will never achieve universal endorsement but is necessary if the world is ever to achieve a world that enjoys peace.

I reject the violence that is associated with the parts of the Plowshare Movement that encourage the destruction of government property as a way to protest nuclear arms. Such violence is ethically questionable.

Rightwing antimilitarism is equally questionable because of rejection of the role of government, and the tendency to individualize the regulation of weapons. The Militia movement is the product of an ideology that urges the use of violence in order to prevent the supposed rise of a tyrannical government.

Any use of violence even for peaceful ends is intolerable for those who espouse pacifism. I too find it unacceptable. Ways need to found to achieve peace using peaceful means. Thus, the proposals of some Republican candidates to bomb ISIS out of existence leads me to question whether these men are ethically challenged and qualified to become president. Please keep them far away from the nuclear button!

Imagine a world where the money saved from fighting wars would be used for other purposes such as eradicating poverty . . .

Or providing an education for the children of the world . . .

Or many other appropriate and much-needed causes.

Let's get our priorities straight! People are more important than guns! Is our need for security more important than the necessity of eradicating poverty or the many other needs there are in the world? Security does not lie in how many weapons a nation has or how many soldiers it can raise. If we could eradicate poverty and eliminate these other needs, then war may no longer be necessary.

We must head the biblical injunction to beat our swords into plowshares by stopping the funding of war. The musical Les Misérables closes with these memorable words that echo the prophets Isaiah and Micah:
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.
Peace will be the reward of the entire world when we finally put away the sword!

If you want to know what to put in the place of war, the answer lies in peaceful negotiations between nations. As Isaiah and Micah remind us, these negotiations will be mediated by God. Faith requires me to add that his involvement is necessary to make worldwide peace a reality.

Then, finally, one day war will be no more. I am under no illusion that this will happen anytime soon. But it will happen. Let's begin the process by stopping the funding of war.


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