Beware, beyond here there be rants-
I wonder what a $400 billion ($400,000,000,000) peace deal would look like. What would be in that package?
President Trump is currently on his first foreign trip, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, and Belgium. One feature has been signing a $110 billion deal for the Saudis to buy U.S. weapons systems. Additionally, the Saudis will be committing $320 billion in additional sales over the next 10 years. The Saudis are excited for the new toys. Trump is thrilled because it will put Americans to work. Governors, I’m guessing, are excited for the same reason, since almost every state in the country will clean up. What a great deal- everyone makes a little money. Lots of people get to be employed.
A great deal with the Saudis. Cool. Of course, I’m going to skip right past that whole ‘the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens’ thing. And this is probably not the time to bring up Saudi human rights abuses through the years. And the treatment of women. And LGBTQs. And dissent against the country. Because we’re all going to be rich. (sorry, rich!- yeah, everything is better with an exclamation point.)
This past Sunday, as with most Sundays in many churches across our nation (and, I am guessing, on days of gathering, in synagogues, mosques, and other prayer sites), we have prayed for peace. We have petitioned God. We ask him to spread the gift of peace throughout the world. We pray for an end to the Middle East crisis, in whatever form it takes that month. And then we make a $400 billion deal to sell weapons. It’s sort of like asking for help for those with gambling addictions by holding a raffle and bingo night. Nice sentiment, but it tends to muddy the water to our real intentions.
So we go out to seek peace by selling weapons. We set out to make the world a little safer by producing more guns, more bombs, more planes, more ships, more missiles, and more and more and more. We do it with pride. We do it knowing that if we didn’t do it, someone we don’t like, say Russia (though I’m not clear if we are pro or anti Russia these days), or China, or some other country will sell those weapons. And we can’t be secure if other countries are selling weapons and we aren’t.
Yes, yes. I know that we need to have weapons. We need an armed military, ready to step into the line of fire. It’s a cruel world out there. There are ‘bad hombres’ ready to take us down. We have to be protected. I don’t contest any of that. But, at what point does our protection really become a barrier, a wall, if you will, that, with each added brick, with each new bomb or gun, sets up the conditions that makes it more difficult find peace with those who oppose us?
The cruel catch to all of this is that for us to be weapons safe, we need to sell to others. You know that cheap bed spread that you picked up at Walmart? Well, it’s not cheap because it’s exclusive to your hometown store. It’s cheap because the product is built in massive bulk, then sold to a lot of different stores. It’s the same with weapons. If (insert the name of your favorite weapons manufacturer here) is only building, say a great new fighter jet for the United States, well, the price is going to go way up, because by the time they have worked out the bugs, and set up an efficient assembly line, the order is done. To make a profit a company needs enough sales to make the manufacturing process efficient for each dollar earned. So, you build a bigger sales base. And, since a jet fighter isn’t something that the average person uses, it begins restricting the market to countries with enough money to buy those planes. Add to that the need of all competitors to introduce new, unique, features to differentiate their product from all the others out there. It’s all a business.
It’s also a not so subtle message to others. This is a reminder to our friends that we can be a source of awesome power, and a reminder to our enemies that we can be a terrible force to be reckoned with.
All of this brings me back to my original question- what would a $400 billion ($400,000,000,000) peace deal would look like. What would be in that package? What is the price point that would be worth spending on peace? What incentive do we have to build peace? Don’t bother to answer, because the more that I think about it, the more I realize that this is simply a sad, rhetorical, question, at least in our current world. Because Peace doesn’t have a value. I can tell you that an aircraft carrier costs around $10 billion. I can tell you that a 2015 United Nations report estimates that $150 billion would create sustainable programs to feed the poor and hungry of the world. Sustainable programs that would include “irrigation, infrastructure and credit facilities on top of cash transfers” ( https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/how-much-would-it-cost-to-end-hunger/ ).
But that is one little link in a much bigger worldwide chain. There’s the need for better education. There’s the need for adequate healthcare. There is the need to protect the poor and the at risk, from those who would take advantage of dollars poured in and food sent to help. And, there’s that nagging little fact that Peace doesn’t pay. To build the F35 fighter plane, nearly every state in our Union had a part in its manufacturing. How many states, how many citizens can be put to work for Peace?
“Now, there is even more blessed news I am pleased to share with you. My meetings with King Salman, the Crown Prince, and the Deputy Crown Prince, have been filled with great warmth, good will, and tremendous cooperation. Yesterday, we signed historic agreements with the Kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia.”
President Donald Trump from a speech delivered in Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017
“Now, there is even more blessed news”. These are the words chosen for a paragraph of a speech that talks about a $400 billion sale of weapons.
“Now there is even more blessed news”.
At Mass, during the Offertory Prayers, I don’t remember ever reading “Thank you for the blessing of more weapons in a weapons-rich world”. “Thanks be to God.”
I don’t remember ever thinking, “I certainly hope that those starving in the world are grateful for the blessed news of more landmines and machine guns”.
I don’t remember ever seeing “blessed are the weapons manufacturers, for they shall blow open the gates of Heaven”.
But, then, there used to be a time that “Now there is even more blessed news” meant something totally different than what our 21st century sensibilities hold as important.
There is a war on religion. It has nothing to do with wedding cakes, or photographers. It has nothing to do with healthcare that includes contraceptives. It has everything to do with war machinery and normalization of killing and conquest. It has everything to do with what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in 1953 and in 1961. It has everything to do with the traps and the trappings of safety and security and isolation and fear of those not of my color or my faith or my voice. It has everything to do with blessed weapons deals.
“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.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Now, that is blessed.
Thus endeth the rant.