Of all the lies the Bush administration has propagated, perhaps the most dangerous is the falsehood that we have no choice in Iraq right now; we simply have to stay the course. Our national honor, our security, our historic mission—they all demand it of us.
Dubya is not, unfortunately, the first of our national leaders to patiently explain to his people that there is no alternative to war; they all spin that same sad lie. As do the leaders of most other nations in the world.
Of course, most of them don't simultaneously wrap themselves in the cloak of Christianity. They at least have the good grace to acknowledge that waging war and the New Testament are incompatible. Not Bush, of course, and apparently not Pat Robertson the televangelist with a hit list for God's assassins. (It sure gets weird when God and State get all mixed together, in both the Moslem and Christian worlds.)
Robertson's excuse is that he is not a national leader, though he plays one on television. Bush's excuse is that we have no choice. Our hands are tied. The troops must stay put. Waging war is the only safe course of action.
That's what we said about World War I (the war to end all wars, remember?) and that's what we've said every time we send the troops to Vietnam, Grenada, Bosnia, Somalia, Lebanon, wherever. This isn't a Republican disease; it afflicts Democrats just as enthusiastically. It isn't a uniquely American form of delusion; it is the justification used by crusaders everywhere whenever they feel impelled to unleash the dogs.
The problem is it never ends. We can't pull our troops back home from Iraq, it is claimed, because we are convinced that when we leave a devastating civil war will result. So we stay and engage in that devastation ourselves. The logic is circular and it always ends in killing: You are a threat to me and my way of life, so adios, baby. Nothing personal, but you've got to go.
The search for an alternative to war necessarily involves finding peaceful solutions to the most intractable of the world's social problems, since social unrest inevitably becomes the breeding ground for the next cycle of warfare. If there is ever to be peace—in Iraq, in the Sudan, anywhere in the world—it will only result from solving those three other Apocalyptic horsemen: hunger, poverty and disease.
Now there's a challenge for the developed world. But it is more than just a puzzle to be solved. Our survival on this globe depends on our finding some way to bring justice to the poorest of all, because until that happens, we will never be able to truly rest secure. Their plight is the real threat to our national, and our global, security.
Luckily, even if George W. Bush doesn't seem overly concerned with tackling poverty, hunger and disease, there is a growing force that is. Many, though certainly not all, of the most active of those groups are rooted in the faith communities, the churches, synagogues and religious congregations of the world. United under the banner of the ONE campaign, they are prodding the United Nations—and all the nations individually—to work toward an end to global hunger and misery, particularly the scourge of AIDS.
The ONE campaign's most visible spokesman is U2 lead singer Bono. But as it grows in support, dozens of other groups, nongovernmental and governmental alike, and even many enlightened for-profit corporations, are joining the effort, realizing that our only real hope for breaking the cycle of warfare is to work cooperatively for social justice everywhere.
The campaign is focused on a set of international development goals that together have been called "The Millennium Development Goals." In Albuquerque, the City Council adopted a resolution on Aug. 15, which endorsed those goals, joining with dozens of other local governments and thousands of private organizations across the country to commit to the task of ending extreme poverty around the world.
The United Nations will convene a summit in New York City from Sept. 14-16 to assess what progress has been made toward achieving the Millennium Goals, what work remains and how that gap will be bridged.
Locally, groups like Bread for the World, Results, Data, the Campus Ministries at UNM and a great many congregations, have formed a coalition to focus attention on the ONE campaign effort. They will hold a press conference and rally in support of the worldwide effort on Sept. 10 in Nob Hill. That day was proclaimed, in the City Council's resolution, as "White Band Day," a simple rubber band that will be passed out and worn on the wrist as a reminder of the campaign.
Ultimately, ending hunger, coping with the effects of the AIDS epidemic worldwide and easing the misery of poverty will not be accomplished by press conferences, resolutions or rubber wristbands. It will take a shift in our financial priorities and those of every nation in the world.
But such a shift away from warfare and toward justice has to start somewhere. The Millennium Development Goals are a good start. Until someone is willing to lay down their gun and dig a garden, we can't take a single step toward peace. It has to start somewhere ... and that is always in our own hearts and minds.