I’m told that Jim Wright, of Stonekettle Station, said something like, “If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, you can’t afford to go to war.” I had a friend send me an article in which she said that line appeared, but it wasn’t in that article. (It was a fantastic article filled with ideas for which I cheered, but it didn’t have the quotation I needed.) I searched for it, but he has hundreds of essays on his site, and I couldn’t find it to give you the link. I’m giving him credit, anyway, because I understand the idea came from him, even if I can’t prove it. If you have access to that essay, I would love for you to share it with me.
I’ll begin, then, with a statement of my own that I believe to be as obviously true as Mr. Wright’s statement: People matter more than money.
If what is standing between a human being’s survival and imminent death is cash, there is no amount of money that is too much to spend to save that human being. This applies to those I loathe as much as to those I love. There can easily be more money than I have standing between life and death. There may well be more money than you or your friends possess. What there isn’t, however, is more money than humanity has because humanity has all the money in the universe, since, to our knowledge, no one else has any but us.
And we have decided to go in the polar-opposite direction. We spend tens of billions of dollars every year on killing other people. We invent brilliant new ways to blow each other up. But we never have the money to help humans. The moment I suggest something that might make life easier for a person, you can be sure someone will demand to know, “Who’s going to pay for it???” It’s exceptionally rare to hear any politician ask that question when it’s time to spend money on killing people who don’t happen to live in America.
And while we spend all kinds of money killing others, we also spend enormous, irreplaceable human capital on that pursuit. When those human beings have done what they can for us, after putting their lives on the line all day, every day for us, they come home and we all but completely turn our backs on them. After they’ve done all they can, they return to America, and nearly 70,000 of them are homeless. Are you kidding me???
What more can we ask of each other than defending our freedom? We so often find ourselves asking who deserves what. I find the question offensive, but if we’re going to ask it, can we not at least agree that our veterans deserve homes, food, and whatever services are required to keep them safe and sane?
It takes no more imagination than God gave a turnip to recognize it’s likely many of our veterans have had experiences that have had a deeply damaging effect on them psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. The experiences that caused physical damage are even more obvious since they are visible. Knowing this, we’re not putting enormous resources into helping those who helped us? What does this say about us?
I prefer peace to war. Nothing good comes from war. It isn’t noble. It isn’t glorious. It’s institutionalized murder for profit on both sides. The point of war is to kill the enemy. Whether a war is just or not (and there’s more than a little reason to debate whether any war is just, but I’m not going into that now), its point is to end the lives of other human beings.
Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
— Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North in Patton, 1970
I know the answer to this, of course. “Your Pollyanna view of the world is ridiculous, misinformed, and dangerous. People want to kill us. We must kill them before they do so.”
And the military industrial complex has spent an enormous number of resources to convince us of this opinion. My counterargument is simply that I don’t want to kill anyone. You probably don’t either. Most of your neighbors are probably not interested in murdering anyone. Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I don’t believe that need for homicide is nearly as prevalent in human beings as they would like us to think. I suspect under the right circumstances, most of us would kill to defend our families, friends, or homes. But without extraordinary circumstances, the overwhelming majority of human beings are not looking for more people to kill.
Are there humans who wish us harm? Of course there are. As it turns out, I’m not actually Pollyanna. I know there are people who want to hurt each other because we hear about them doing so all the time. So, we need peace, but let’s check with President Kennedy on this issue.
“…What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles–which can only destroy and never create–is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.
I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war–and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament…
Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable–that mankind is doomed–that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade–therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable–and we believe they can do it again.
I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace– based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions–on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace–no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process–a way of solving problems.
With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor–it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors.
So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.
So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal…
In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock explains what has happened to the Klingons, whose empire is known for being made up of warriors.
Captain Spock : Two months ago, a Federation starship monitored an explosion on the Klingon moon Praxis. We believe it was caused by over-mining and insufficient safety precautions. The moon’s decimation means the deadly pollution of their ozone. They will have depleted their supply of oxygen in approximately fifty Earth years. Due to their enormous military budget, the Klingon economy does not have the resources with which to combat this catastrophe. Last month, at the behest of the Vulcan ambassador, I opened a dialogue with Gorkon, chancellor of the Klingon High Council. He proposes to commence negotiations at once.
Admiral Cartwright : Negotiations for what?
Captain Spock : The dismantling of our space stations and starbases along the Neutral Zone, an end to almost 70 years of unremitting hostility which the Klingons can no longer afford.
–Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991
We can no longer afford our hostilities either. If we can’t take care of the people who fight and sacrifice for us, we must stop asking them to do so.
When there are tens of thousands of homeless veterans, we are not doing our duty, though they did theirs.
When a 10-year veteran of the Coast Guard, who is fighting vascular dementia can’t get the help he needs from the Veteran’s Administration or Medicaid or Medicare, regardless of the number of phone calls made and letters written, we are shirking our duty. It should require no phone calls because too many of our veterans are incapable of making them at all, and many more are incapable of finding the patience and intellect to understand what to say during the phone calls and how to fill out the paperwork. The moment they come back to America, we should actively ensure that all of their needs are met.
If we can’t afford to do that, we can’t afford to fight any more wars. It’s time to find another way of existing without the crippling fear that someone might attack us. We already have enough military power to destroy the entire planet many times over. (How many times? Some estimates are as low as 1.5 times, others as high as 15 times.) Surely once is enough. Let’s stop putting our resources into killing and start putting them into help the living while there is still time.
…not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.