Sticks and stones, bullets and bombs

Though I knew a curfew was in effect I decided to step outside the downtown hotel that I was staying at in Guatemala City for a breath of fresh air back in 197.1 The dark, empty street didn't particularly disturb me.

Though I knew a curfew was in effect I decided to step outside the downtown hotel that I was staying at in Guatemala City for a breath of fresh air back in 1971. The dark, empty street didn’t particularly disturb me. A burst of not too distant automatic weapon fire, though, sped me back into the relative security of my hotel.

Over the years I have had to travel through conflict areas in other countries. At times this has meant travelling with a safe conduct pass, having an underaged soldier point his weapon at me, being photographed by an officer from his machine-gun-festooned armoured personnel carrier or watching tanks clang their way through city streets. Spared the personal experience of war, I have seen its reality in the faces of refugees I have assisted coming from conflicts as far flung as Kosovar and El Salvador. None of us, though, escapes the images of war brought home to us daily via our globe-girdling media.

The conflict of the moment for us here in Canada is clearly Afghanistan but our focus on it should not hide the wider reality of armed conflict on our planet today. What have we heard recently of Darfur or Somalia? Iraq has all but faded from our media. Colombia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Congo, and a host of other regional conflicts rarely register. What about the drug war in Mexico that has in part triggered the refugee flow from that country to ours?

Global military expenditure in 2008 was estimated to have reached $1,464 trillion. “This represents an increase of four per cent in real terms compared to 2007, and of 45 per cent since 1999” according to the authors of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2009 Year Book. Military expenditures reached approximately 2.4 per cent of global gross domestic product in 2008.

Annual military expenditures now translate into a cost of $217 dollars for every person on the planet. In comparison “the United Nations and all its agencies and funds spend about $27 billion each year, or about four dollars for each of the world’s inhabitants” notes an online article of the Global Policy Forum. SIPRI authors stated the obvious in a similar report in 2004 that “There is a large gap between what countries are prepared to allocate for military means to provide security and maintain their global and regional power status, on one hand, and to alleviate poverty and promote economic development, on the other.”

The SIPRI states that the “USA with its massive spending budget, is the principal determinant of the current world trend, and its military expenditure now accounts for just under half of the world total, at 41.5 per cent.” This sum far exceeds the next nearest country China whose has a 5.8 per cent share of the world’s military expenditures. France and Britain with 4.5 per cent each are followed closely by Russia at four per cent. Has massive military expenditures bought the USA a sense of security and well-being? Has it meant that significant percentages of the citizenry there are deprived of adequate health care, housing or schooling?

Choices have to be made. These expenditures represent a massive theft from poorest during this time of severe economic downturn. Similarly at this critical time in human history how much healing of our wounded environment could we accomplish with a trillion dollars a year? Should we be escalating military expenditures or using our available sticks and stones to build a just, sustainable world?

I hear that the Whitehorse Food Not Bombs group may be planning an activity for the International Day of Peace on Monday, September 21. While we may or may not be able to join them, we can at least think peace that day and act accordingly.

Namaste notes

Saturday, September 19 – Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, celebrates the beginning of 5770 in their calendar. The shofar, the ceremonial ram’s horn, is sounded and special foods are prepared and shared.

Saturday, September 19 – Navaratri Dusserha is the Hindu Festival honoring Durga, the divine mother and wife of Shiva.

Sunday, September 20 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark 9: 30-37.

Sunday, September 20 – Eid al Fitr signals the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. This Muslim festival of thanksgiving to Allah includes gift giving and festive meals.

Monday, September 21 – The International Day of Peace is a United Nation’s holiday calling on all peoples “to highlight efforts to end conflict and promote peace.”