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Can you imagine what we could spend on peace?

~As delivered by Pete Perry at the William Penn House, Washington, D.C.
August 16, 2007

Good evening, my friends. My brothers and sisters in the peace and justice movement. I wanted to talk to you this evening about something that is often glossed over in the current American peace movement, something that I believe has kept us from gaining more strength and broadening our movement, and in fact diversifying it. And that is the connection of the peace movement to the social justice movement. They are in some ways one movement, but commonly they are viewed separately.

I pose this question to you – how can we possibly have justice here at home – in Washington, DC – when our government is spending more than $600 Billion on total military expenditures in 2006 alone? Peace is great – it is what we all want, but if we truly did have peace – if our government did turn away from invading and occupying other nations -- which never posed a serious threat to our shores – would we make sure our government spend those hundreds of billions of dollars on what is most greatly needed in our country? Would we purchase more and improved school facilities, university educations for everyone who wanted one, and build universal healthcare (which every other developed nation seems to have)? Or would this money simply go into new baseball and football stadiums, or largely devoured through additional tax cuts for the wealthy few?

You see, I truly believe there is one significant progressive social movement in America, and although it may seem divided most of the time – it is indeed one – and it is the peace AND justice movement. If we have peace in the world we can have justice here. Tanks, missiles, assault riffles don’t feed that child going to bed hungry tonight. In fact President Eisenhower, a general himself, said that each new weapon system deprives families of food. And if we have more justice in our nation, all of our communities will be more peaceful. If more young people had opportunities to attend a university, enrich their minds, learn needed skills – there would be less desperation on our city streets.

If there were more schools, teachers, libraries and public spaces for children – there would be greater hope, a greater sense of community and a true sense of direction in many young people’s lives. Our city would be more peaceful. All of America’s cities would be.

For what our Federal government spends on just one day in Iraq, we could instead offer 34,904 Four Year College Scholarships. So last March was four years of this Iraq War. Instead of pursuing this illegal and immoral war, our government could have offered more than 50.9 million Four Year College scholarships. Can you imagine?

For those 4 and a half years of war in Iraq, which we have had now – here in D.C. – we could have had 17,488 additional low-income housing units built. Here in D.C. we could have hired 33,660 additional teachers. And here in D.C. we could have given comprehensive health care insurance for one year to more than 1,160,000 children. Can you imagine?

Now if you could take a minute with me and consider simply the cost in human lives – the vast majority of which were snuffed out after our president declared, “mission accomplished.” Reports are now saying that anywhere between 70,000 to nearly 1 million Iraqis have been killed during our nation’s aggressive war against their country. Can you imagine?

Today we past the 3,700 dead U.S. people in Iraq. There are no real accurate numbers on Iraqis killed, but studies are estimating up to nearly 1 million. Would you say this is money well spent?

So what has the war in Iraq cost us up to this day, according to the Congressional Budget Office – over $452 Billion. With Afghanistan thrown in – we can basically double this amount. Would you say this is money is well spent?

Today we see plenty of tribal violence and the re-emergence of the Taliban in several parts of Afghanistan – and clearly chaos and severe sectarian violence rules the day in Iraq.

The peace and justice movement can no longer afford to be divided. It must be united for not just economical reasons – but for moral reasons. I joyously stand before you in one of the great peace churches of the world. The Quakers have a great history of resisting war and injustice. Let us find ways to make them the role models for our youth – not a spoiled and failed oilman from Texas. It is my hope that spiritual leaders – particular those of the traditional peace churches such as the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers will take on a more prominent role in the peace and justice movement.

I urge you to sign the petition to defund this illegal and immoral war which is now on the AFSC Website.

In directly linking peace and social justice, let us remember what our great American leader Dr. King said during his famous 1967 Riverside speech: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

And Mohandas Gandhi spoke words more than 60 years ago that still ring true today, whether in Baghdad or in our backyard: “The choice is clear – it’s either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Thank you. I hope to see you with us on the streets on Sept. 15th, and on Sept. 20th there will be a nonviolent direct action demanding an end to the war. Regarding the second one, you can see me for further details.


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