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Waging Peace

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The war in Iraq has to this point cost over $450 billion. By some estimates, it will cost over a trillion dollars by the time it ends. Huge numbers like these can become almost meaningless in their lack of relativity. With this in mind, the National Priorities Project created a web site, www.costofwar.com, to break down the massive expenditure into equivalencies.

One way of comprehending this large expenditure is to determine the local contribution. Using federal taxes as a guideline, the five-town Tantasqua region where I live in central Massachusetts can be understood to have contributed nearly $39 million toward the war so far. Consider what it would have meant if that amount had been invested in education; every single student who has graduated from Tantasqua Regional High School during this time could have had four free years of education at a public university and there would have been money left over to hire a couple dozen new teachers in the school district. If the money had been spent just on hiring teachers there could be well over 100 new teachers locally.

Or consider if social services had been provided. Over 4500 children could have been given free health insurance. A year of Head Start could have been provided for over 5000 children, or there could be 348 new public housing units in our region. All of these amounts are surely much more than our region needs. 

In this ever-shrinking world it is unethical to think only of ourselves. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are a plan to reduce extreme poverty by half by 2015 as well as address other dire situations such as reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. This is a battle worth waging with an estimated cost of only $40 to $60 million a year. By using the biblical principle of tithing, America could fund this effort alone with just 10% of the Pentagon budget. If outspending the “Axis of Evil” 40 to 1 militarily is not making the world safer, perhaps it is time to take seriously the religious demand of charity and use our greatest resources, our wealth and generosity, to make a real difference in the world. If in place of waging war on terror we had decided to wage peace, America might now be engendering respect around the world instead of the fear and loathing that militarism brings. Terrorists rely on the cover provided by fearful or sympathetic populations and governments. Waging peace removes that cover by addressing the fear of want and changes sympathies by generosity instead of at the end of the barrel of a gun. Waging war creates martyrs for terrorist causes and reinforces the image of America as a dominant aggressor. Compared to the high cost of war, peace is a bargain. Isn't it about time we start at least shifting some of our vast resources and give peace a chance?

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Rev. Ian Lynch is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. He is pastor of First Congregational Church, UCC in Brimfield, MA He blogs at Culture Dove
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