Costs of war versus costs of peace – a reflection for Rosh Hashana, courtesy of Nicholas Kristof

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    whose column today, The Healers of 9/11, focuses on the work of two widows from the event we remember tomorrow.  Their organization, Beyond 9/11, focuses on helping widows in Afghanistan.   Read the column, featured in the Pundit Roundup.  

    One brief, one-sentence paragraph near the end caught my attention:  

    All the work that Beyond the 11th has done in Afghanistan over nine years has cost less than keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months.

    This lead me to reflect upon comparative costs, and more.  As one of the widows, Susan Retik, is Jewish, and I am of Jewish background, I also felt this an appropriate subject for a reflection on this the first of the Ten Days of Awe when Jews are called to reflect upon their lives and rededicate themselves to the right way of living.

    Of living.  Not of killing.

    Let me offer the final three paragraphs of Kristof, of which what I have quoted is the first:  

    All the work that Beyond the 11th has done in Afghanistan over nine years has cost less than keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months.

    I admire Ms. Retik’s work partly because she offers an antidote to the pusillanimous anti-Islamic hysteria that clouds this anniversary of 9/11. Ms. Retik offers an alternative vision by reaching out to a mosque and working with Muslims so that in the future there will be fewer widows either here or there.

    Her work is an invigorating struggle to unite all faiths against those common enemies of humanity, ignorance and poverty – reflecting the moral and mental toughness that truly can chip away at terrorism.

    so that in the future there will be fewer widows either here or there – widows, and fatherless children, an inevitable byproduct of war and warlike violence.

    Additional costs of war and warlike actions, along with hatred, shattered bones and shattered lives and shattered communities, and loss of respect for those that perpetuate the violence.

    We can read in the English Bill of Rights the following:  

    That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of parliament, is against law.

    If we turn to our own nation, we find those words reflected in the writing of George Mason, in the Virginia Declaration of Rights:  

    that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power

     and of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration:  

    He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

    In the modern world, it is true, it is necessary for us to maintain standing military forces.  And yet, and yet . . .

    I am a Friend, a Quaker.  Many of us have bumper stickers or lawn signs with words I first encountered in a song by Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” –  War Is Not The Answer

    Too often war, or the actions of war even without formal declaration, seem to be our first or at least our strongest intent of how we respond to situations.  After all, we have a large, well-trained, well-equipped military accompanied by para-military organizations such as the CIA and many contracting organizations.  These represent a very large hammer.  As as result I wonder, does this distort our vision so that we see so many situations as nails to which that hammer should be applied?

    The costs of war –  these include the opportunity costs of unmet needs at home, be they schools, medical care, nutrition, or economic stability for those who not being part of the very rich have not benefited from either the previous economic development nor from the tax cuts and other policies of the last administration (for if not in the super rich, whatever you may have gained in a refund or lower taxes you have lost in increased debt passed on to your progeny, lost value of your home, lost services from state, local and even national governments).  

    The second of three paragraphs from Kristof that I quote are worth repeating:  

    I admire Ms. Retik’s work partly because she offers an antidote to the pusillanimous anti-Islamic hysteria that clouds this anniversary of 9/11. Ms. Retik offers an alternative vision by reaching out to a mosque and working with Muslims so that in the future there will be fewer widows either here or there.

    an antidote to the pusillanimous anti-Islamic hysteria

    so that in the future there will be fewer widows either here or there

    Widows, fatherless children, broken communities –  are these to be the legacy of this nation as we respond to the vile attacks against us?  How many widoes, how many fatherless children, how many broken communities?  Against this I must ask, at the max, how many were in Al Qaeda, how many in the Taliban, and what then is for us an acceptable ration of collateral damage in lives and property for each one of those “enemy” we kill?  And when we calculate that ratio, do we consider the hydra-like nature of the response to our violence, that among those widows and fatherless children and broken communities and those shocked by them how many more are drawn to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and parallel organizations?  Are we creating more “terrorists” as we are wont to call them than we are killing?   What is that cost?

    And what is the cost to our national soul when we justify increasing militarization, when a supposedly progressive administration argues (unfortunately successfully) that a state secrets doctrine allows it to prevent legal cases that will expose the moral corruptness of our programs of extraordinary rendition and torture, violations of principles of war established by George Washington in our Revolution, and supposedly included in our constitutional framework by ratification of international agreements?

    I look at what we have done, and must ask, what responsibility to we as a nation bear for the ongoing threat we label as terrorism?  How much of the violence we rain from the sky or apply by other means will be perceived as terrorism by those on the receiving end, many of whom could not be classified as our enemies except by those whose distorted vision considers anyone Muslim either our enemy or worse –  worse, because not worthy of being viewed as fully human by virtue of their religion?

    Consider the final words Kristof offers about MS Retik:  Her work is an invigorating struggle to unite all faiths against those common enemies of humanity, ignorance and poverty – reflecting the moral and mental toughness that truly can chip away at terrorism.

    It takes far greater moral and mental toughness to meet the potential of violence with an offer of peace, of friendship.   Gandhi warned us that an insistence upon an eye for an eye would leave the whole world blind.  Those of us who understand Jewish law know that that doctrine of an eye for an eye was never intended literally.  It had two key components.  First, if I take your eye you are not entitled to take my life.  No “Chicago Way” out of the Untouchables, rather, you are only entitled to just compensation.  Further, that compensation was the monetary value of the loss of the eye, and did not entitle you to partially blind me.  Somehow because of the size and power of our military we seem to have gone beyond an eye for an eye to a village for an eye –  massive retaliation, shock and awe . . .  

    As a student of history I recoil at that.  I think of the assassination of Heydrich and the Nazi response – they destroyed an entire village, Lidice.  Is that moral?  Is that the parallel we wish others to make about our actions?

    War Is Not The Answer . . .

    All the work that Beyond the 11th has done in Afghanistan over nine years has cost less than keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months.

    MS Retik is Jewish.  Her co-worker is not.  It should not matter.

    The wisdom of peace should be universal.  It is part of all the great traditions.  

    Peace is less expensive than war –  in actual dollars, in moral costs.

    I can think of no better way to end this than with a prayer from more than 700 years ago, by a man greatly admired outside his own religious tradition, Francis of Assisi:  

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

    where there is injury,pardon;

    where there is doubt, faith;

    where there is despair, hope;

    where there is darkness, light;

    and where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

    to be consoled as to console;

    to be understood as to understand;

    to be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;

    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

    Peace

    • teacherken

      where I suspect it will draw little traffic, for a variety of reasons.

    • teacherken

      I would hope that if there are any comments appended to this that we keep our discussion civil, even when we disagree passionately.

      Otherwise we are on the first step of a treacherous path that inevitably leads to violence, to death, to more widows and fatherless children and destroyed villages.

      Surely we can hope for something better.  Surely we must commit ourselves to a better way, starting with the words and actions over which we personally have control.

      Peace.

    • fuzed

      Something to remember on 9/11 and any other day.