“Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle … to a positive contest to harness man’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964
In the aftershock of 9-11 and as the country ramped toward the “War on Terror,” I penned an angst-filled letter to a dear New York City friend — also named Martin. We had just attended Marty’s Chabad wedding, stood with him and his new spouse at a chuppah under a clear, star-filled sky and danced joyously to the klezmerim.
Then the towers fell.
I recently found my letter and post it here, in honor of Dr. King and his pleas for world peace. [For sake of clarity, I have added some words in brackets.]
September 14, 2011
The plea for the U.S. to exercise restraint against Afghanistan causes me to wonder if this attack [on the World Trade Center buildings] (albeit described as an act of war against the U.S.) was really an attack against the whole of the developed world, of which the U.S. is just the most visible emblem and the most tantalizing target.
With time spent lately in developing countries (particularly in S.E. Asia and S. America), I have seen, heard and smelled the stink of the predominant presence [in those places] of destitution. I have worked “cheek to jowl” with members of the miniscule “upper” class in the Philippines and in Brazil and seen the measures they must take to protect themselves from “crimes” committed by the underclasses.
In sum, those economies (even ones that are described as “democratic”) are “owned” by a handful of people who are perceived by the masses (or at least the intelligent portion of the masses) as exploiters. Isn’t this same division going on in the world at large?
Of course, we may not have come to this position in quite the same way (unless you count imperialism) but, in the Arab world, it is obvious that the perception of exploitation by the Western economies is more significant than whether the perception bears any connection to reality. (Of course, this perception has been further exploited and manipulated by the dictators and oligarchs of the Middle East.)
Our newly inspired nationalism makes us feel better, the promise of retaliation gives us purpose, but, I fear, these emotions may miss the larger, more complicated point: We may be wasting our time and money in tracking down “the enemy.”
Indeed, we may be disappointed in the results. As I was thinking this morning about the impossibility of tracking down Bin Laden (who with his followers will disappear in to the masses like the Viet Cong disappeared in to the countryside), I wondered if instead of flowing precious resources toward a “war” effort, it would be better to spend those same resources on the victims (college funds, etc.) and then use them to show resolve toward peace by reaching out to the impoverished third world in more than a token, or symbolic way (e.g., relief and development efforts, rather than war)?
What are we going to gain by more violence? What would enhance our image more in the developing world? The point is, regardless of whether or how we pursue the perpetrators, I am fearful that unless we start doing more (even at the expense of our own affluence) to reach out to the un-developed and under-developed countries, the chasm of misunderstanding and hatred will continue to grow and the terrorism will be unstoppable.
Like my rich friends in the Philippines, we as a country will be forced to close ourselves off from threats of the impoverished majority — metaphorically speaking, forced to live behind guarded walls, to eat from our own food supply and to drink from our self-contained water purification systems.
Now, fast forward to today . . . .
The Costs of War
From Business Insider
America’s ‘war on terror’ has cost the US nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there’s no end in sight
- The US will have spent nearly $6 trillion on the war on terror by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to a startling new report.
- “If the US continues on its current path, war spending will continue to grow,” the Costs of War report states.
- Between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – including nearly 7,000 US troops – according to the Costs of War project.
- America is conducting counterterror operations in 76 countries and US troops are fighting and dying everywhere from Afghanistan to Niger.