At the start of our local Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza the National Anthem was played. As the final bars of the song belted out, "... and the home of the brave," several F-16 fighter jets rocketed past just overhead, kicking in their after burners in a display of Air Force might. The crowd roared in exultation. At that moment, I was overcome with a sadness which was hard to shake all through the evening. While I am sure the crowd was not celebrating the weaponry of the aircraft, it was strange to me that the sight of war planes which have been responsible for so many military and civilian deaths would elicit cheering.
Poverty and war co-exist in an unholy alliance. War excites poverty and poverty excites war. The impoverishment of the Rhineland in Germany because of World War I contributed to the rise of Hitler and the launch of World War II. The war in Bosnia created immense poverty and the crisis faced by military action against Palestinians is generating unbelievable desperation. Civil war is the worst. The Liberian civil war created such desperate hunger that the residents of Monrovia consumed all the animals in the city zoo. This kind of poverty, in turn, becomes the combustible mixture which can be leveraged by the right charismatic leader to foment war.
In the current global recession, poverty and war are among the few growth industries. Arms manufacturers and those who make war planes are doing booming business these days. The colossal US military spending over the past eight years was at its highest level in real terms since World War II, most of it done through borrowing. The documentary, Darwin's Nightmare, mentioned in a previous blog, illustrates how the booming arms business is destroying parts of Africa. Poverty and war are symbiotic partners, and the two of them are growing tremendously at the moment.
I'm not one who puts much stock in comparisons which suggest that the amount we have spent on war in the past few years could feed the world six times over, as if we could simply shift money spent on weapons (or fireworks for that matter) to poverty alleviation. While it would be beautiful, realistically money just doesn't move from one place to another like that. Our military expenditures are motivated by fear - sometimes real, sometimes imagined - and you don't free up that kind of money by calculating how much bread you can buy with the cost of an F-16 (though buying bread for the poor might eliminate the need for the F-16 in cases where poverty is fueling hatred). Money simply doesn't shift like that.
I suppose the thing that saddened me was not so much the cost of the F-16s flying overhead as it was the fact that these elaborate and destructive weapons that have played a part in spawning such desperate poverty all over the world would be used as symbols in celebration. The necessity of a military, if such thing is necessary at all, is a necessary evil and should be mourned not celebrated. The sight of such things ought to bring on full-scale grief because they indicate to us that all is not right in this world.
P.S. I eventually shut the comment feature off because I feel as though the dialogue was heading in a direction not intended by the blog post. Comments need to stay on topic and contributed in the spirit of humility and desire to learn together.