What does this war or any war have to do with urban concerns?
The dollars being spent on this conflict affect the fate of cities in at least two very important ways.
First, a number of devastating cuts in much needed funds to support the progress, health and life of low-income, inner city residents is tied directly to every attempt to cover the costs of this conflict. The war debt will make cutting essential services and opportunity-creating initiatives designed to lift and stabilize "the urban poor" a real political temptation for years to come.
Second, what could we be "buying" with an equivalent outlay of resources, both human and material? I refer you to the real time, war cost calculator found at http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182.
Here's a sampling in answer to my question:
- Almost 29,000,000 children could attend Head Start for a full year
- We could have built almost 2,000,000 new housing units
- We could have hired almost 4,000,000 new public school teachers
- We could have provided health insurance for 130,000,000 children
- We could have provided 11,000,000 four-year scholarships to public universities
No matter what your opinion of the war, these are the facts we face today in the city.
The war in Iraq drives home the point that everything is connected these days. What happens in Baghdad affects life in inner city South Dallas.
This truth causes me to look at the war in a completely new way.
It forces on us new questions.
What is our return on investment in this conflict?
How does it relate to international terror?
To what sort of standard of performance should our leaders be held in this situation?
How much will this war cost before its done?
And then, what are the essentials for the creation and maintenance of peace anywhere in the world, including in our cities? Is pre-emptive engagement really the way to go if peace and the creation of new democracies is our goal?
I love what the Hebrew prophet Micah has to say on this. Hear his visionary words about peace and peacemaking:
"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken." (Micah 4:3b-4)
Even though Micah offers a utopian vision of what could be, no one really expects such an age of peace to break out given the way our world does its business.
But then, maybe that's a big part of the problem.
Even though few leaders pay attention, Micah's vision does contain important elements or prerequisites for establishing peace today.
His formula is fairly simple.
Every person, every family will have adequate provisions for a decent life--the vine and fig tree epitomize that for ancient Jewish folk. There is a kind of security in having control of the basic provisions for life.
Coupled with this security is a wonderful by-product. Fear will not be a factor for people any longer. A sense of safety leads on to shalom, the wholeness of a peaceful life.
War and poverty go hand-in-hand. Security and peace are vitally related. Actions that provide the basics for people and that take away fear should always be considered by leaders who hope to establish peace, whether in an urban American setting or half-way around the world.
War is not the only solution. Economic justice and steps to assure some measure of equity that minimizes bloodshed should be pursued whenever possible, for as long as possible.
Micah was on to something important.