Monday, March 30, 2009

Putting our resources to better use. "Better use" being YOUR definition, of course.

I read a lot of blogs everyday. I don't always comment, of course. Mostly, when I don't comment it is because I don't know that much about the subject of the post, or the post really doesn't invite comments because it is complete within itself, or targeted to a particular audience of which I am not a part.

There is one blog that I go to just about every day because the lady always has something I find interesting. I seldom comment, because this is one of the blogs that is usually way over my head. (And I'm not just saying that.) But I read, and I try to understand. I am talking about Stephanie and her Rocketscientist blog. What an interesting blogger she is. I know many of you are faithful followers as well.

Anyway, yesterday morning she had some pithy quotes from various famous people. She often does that and I always enjoy it. A post consisting of famous quotes is not that hard to comment on, so I did. There were several I liked, but the one that caught my attention the most was one by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I want to reproduce it here - I hope Stephanie doesn't mind - because it made me think of something else, which I now want to blog about.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." -Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953, a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Now, Eisenhower was a great delegator and PR man, and he certainly knew how to kiss the proper ass at the proper time. This skill at diplomacy and finding ways to make many prima donnas work together stood him in good stead throughout his entire life. Make friends, use friends. At any rate, he was hardly deep enough to formulate the words in the attributed quote, and in 1953 would not have been writing his own speeches anyway, if he ever did. But the quote is still valid, and one assumes he wouldn't speak the words in a speech if he didn't agree with the words at least in part - and it is important that a general would be the one to speak the antiwar words.

There are two ways to take this quote, of course. First that war is bad and wasteful, and second that war money would have been better spent on society's pressing problems (or not taken from the workers in the first place.)

I personally believe the hungry should be fed. I believe the destitute should be clothed and housed. I have compassion for these people, even if it is their lifestyle of choice, even if they are out of work by choice, even if they made the choice not to educate themselves in a land of plenty.

I have a blog dedicated to the plight of the world's poor, and the injustices visited on them. I support Water Day, and Women's Day, and Earth Day, and Gay Rights Day and all the rest. I do. I care. I contribute to charities and I try to volunteer whenever I can. I am involved with my community. While I am not a person who is totally convinced there is such a thing as global warming created by mankind, I certainly believe climate change seems to be a cyclic part of Earth's history through the ages. I am not convinced puny man can change this. I AM convinced that if a man CAN change it, that man is not Al Gore. But that's a different subject.

My point is I still support the efforts of the people who DO believe in this phenomenon and who seek to remedy it. I don't have to personally believe in everything in order to believe my friends are good people and could use my support.

But... I also don't believe that we need to devote every possible spare penny we can dig up to the cause of helping the poor. There, I've said it.

It is true, as the quote attributed to Eisenhower says, that if we didn't buy war materiel we could give more money to the poor and hungry of the world, and we could invest in a lot of more worthwhile things than war. Underneath that quote is also the larger assumption that there are a lot of other things, besides war, that are wasteful in many people's eyes, and the money would be better spent on feeding the poor or paving roads, or fostering higher education. Or building more bowling alleys, I suppose: it depends on whose vision you are working on or whose ox you are goring.

It all depends on one's own value system as to what is wasteful and what is needful in this world, and what priority should be assigned to those things. And the more sure you are that your list of values is "obviously correct" and that others who disagree with you "just don't get it", the more it is likely you are probably wrong. That last is from another of Stephanie's posts. Have a good day.


  1. I'll try to be brief...
    It's a tangled web, this debate about war and poverty, I've puzzled over it many a time... How, for instance, governments who claim not to have enough money for, say, healthcare, or education, suddenly seem to be able to pluck mind-boggling billions out of thin air in order to invade a country that few of their electors could point to on a map.
    We can't afford a new hospital, but we can order a series of trident missile submarines...
    Then again, there's the undeniable fact that nothing, just nothing, pushes technology as well as war, and medical and surgical advances too.
    Penicillin as an example. No funding was available to develop on Florey and Fleming's curiously antibacterial mould, until it was demonstrated that it could save soldiers lives and limbs...

    But what the quote really reminded me of is one I read ages ago, Art Buchwald? Washington post? "With the amount of money expended to kill each Viet-Cong, you could fly him first class to America, buy him a Cadillac, a house, a membership of the most exclusive country-club in Connecticut, you could turn him into a bona fide capitalist, and still make money on the deal"

  2. Without entering into any war, a huge amount of money will be spent on defence, and justifiably, in my mind. We need to be able to react in our own defence at a moment's notice. But where exactly does the defence of the realm end? So many shades between defending against an outright attack, and attacking as the best means of defence. Each situation is different. The great thing, surely, is that people think about and discuss such things. That has to be more healthy than accepting everything we are told by politicians at face value, something that used to happen in the not so distant past.

    I can't let the remark about whether "puny man" can change the climate go past without comment either. He may not be able to change the climate, but that is no reason to continue to pollute this world, nor to use up its resources. If it doesn't change the climate, it does at least leave the world in a better state. There is every good reason to clear up the messes we are currently making. We need to be able to leave a decent world for our grandchildren.

  3. Very thoughtful post, Max.

    The Mountain Man could be making a lot of money in a for-profit construction company, or using his master's in Theology as a professor or something. Instead he chooses to run a non-profit company that builds houses for low-income folks. We recycle, we conserve water and electricity. I think you're probably right - nature's climate changes will march on regardless of our activities, but there's no reason to make a bigger mess than necessary. And I do think we should try to help those less fortunate, regardless of how they became that way.

  4. @Soubriquet - I miss Art Buchwald. Sounds like something he would say (even if he made it up), and of course you are right about wars driving technology from time to time. My previous post is probably an example of that. War seems to be here to stay, though, if history is any indicator, and if you think I had intentions to solve THIS problem from the back porch, you have another think coming!

    @A. - No, we should not live like pigs and pollute our planet. You are absolutely right that, even if we cannot change our weather, we should still try to clean up our mess. It's a bit late for me to leave the place clean for my grandchildren - maybe not too late for yours - but it is cleaner now than my own grandparents left it to me - at least the rivers and factories in the U.S. Can't speak for China and India.

    @Janet - Of course we should do what we can to help those in need. And, frankly, I would like to see a lot of those needed resources come from an absence of wars. Its just that I am starting to question how much of a guilt trip we ought to be laying on ourselves in the process. Should we do without the finer things in life we have worked hard for, in order to give something more to those who maybe didn't work as hard? Of course we should - to a certain extent. However, the world's need is so overwhelming, it can drive you insane if you try to take all that onto your shoulders. I think we need to do what we can reasonably do and leave the rest in the hands of Providence.

    I am reminded of a story I read in a book when I was a child, about a man who lived long ago, who devoted much of his life to helping the poor and doing without the material things of this world. I remember reading where one day one of his friends tried to cool the fire in his head and feet with an expensive ointment, and his other friends condemned her for doing it because of the expense, and lamented that that money might have been better used to help the poor. And even this man, who had devoted so much of himself to the cause of the poor, reminded his friends that all you can do is all you can do:

    "The poor will be with you always," he said simply.

  5. You already know that if I could I would try to save everyone. I wish my money could be spent on a few well aimed bullets for starters. I realize I cannot save everyone, nor can I expect people to be as giving as you and I have been out of guilt. I have an aquaintance who says he feels nothing for the people in third worlds because they do not rise up against their oppressers. Bullets find their way quicker than a stick. War? I would rather pay a covert team instead of a full out war.

  6. I thought of that man while I was reading the post. I think if more people thought of him, and what he actually said and did, rather than what modern religion tries to sell us on, we'd all be much better off. But that's another post.

  7. It is a good post and thought provoking. Even though you and I don't always agree, I respect the fact that your opinions are not regurgitated nonsense but developed with real thinking.

    I don't disagree that defense is necessary or even that war, much as I hate it, has been necessary. I'm not convinced it's necessary any more (and I have other quotes from other generals that agreed, but that's another blog post - maybe Friday, ooh, or Thieving Thursday!).

    The question is, how much? We spend more than the rest of the world combined on defense (not counting what we spend on our actual wars) - just to be ready. Next down on the list spends less than 1/10 we do. I would really like to have us prepare for defense smarter rather than harder - to me, the current process benefits contractors only.

    Add in the wars of the past eight years, and the tally makes the bailout look like chump change.

    War, in my opinion, should be an absolute last resort. It is heinous, even when necessary, and unconscionable when unnecessary. If we go to war unnecessarily, we betray not only our populace, but those people who trust us to send them into battle only when no other choice exists.

    Our government does not spend what most of the industrialized world does on social services (percentage-wise) but our citizens generally pay considerably more than their governments (per capita) for things like health care and childcare. So, their taxpayers come out ahead. Again, my opinion (though there are stats that agree with me, stats can be manipulated. I do NOT confuse my opinions with fact).

    Thanks for the reference. I appreciate you as a reader and treasure your comments.

    I must must bloglist this blog. I thought I had but I apparently missed it, which is unfortunate. I will correct that this evening.

  8. That MAN definetly knew that "the poor will be with you always" and it just confirms what you are saying Relax Max, a balance needs to be maintained in all walks of life. There will always be wars, poor people, rich people, blessed and cursed etc. ....but life goes on!



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