Originally issued January 2000.
“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9)
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized the parental care of God by comparing it to the care we give our own children. “Is there anyone among you, who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Mt. 7:9) Jesus makes the point that, even we who are sinful, would never give our children a stone if they asked for bread. And yet, in many ways, our national budget priorities do exactly that.
In a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and budget surpluses, our political leaders cannot find the resources to provide a good education and reliable health care for tens of millions of our nation’s children and we are told that we cannot afford targeted tax relief for millions of struggling families. In our country alone, 35 million people live in poverty, and 31 million people report not having enough to eat, including 12 million children. Despite these frightening statistics and the lack of a rival superpower, the U.S. spends nearly seventeen times as much on defense as the combined total spent by the six countries most often identified by the Pentagon as our potential adversaries. We seem intent on waging an arms race against ourselves-spending more than 50% of our federal discretionary budget on the military and tens of billions of dollars on nuclear and conventional weapon systems that have no plausible military purpose. Our government spends more in annual foreign military aid than it does in funding sustainable development efforts for nations experiencing widespread poverty. The social needs of our nation and world are held hostage to military spending, making our world increasingly insecure. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes pointed out years ago, “the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one that ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.” This point was made even stronger in the Vatican’s 1976 United Nations Statement on Disarmament :
“The armament race … is to be condemned unreservedly. Even when motivated by a concern for legitimate defense, it is in fact … an injustice. … [It] is in itself an act of aggression which amounts to a crime, for even when they are not used, by their cost alone armaments kill the poor…”
The United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world and one of the lowest adult literacy rates. Many of our working poor are struggling in low paying jobs with no family healthcare benefits and inadequate childcare for their little ones. This is a tragic consequence of a nation which chooses to spend only 6 cents on education and 4 cents on healthcare for every 50 cents which it spends on the military. We live in the wealthiest nation on earth, and yet, it is still possible for a family with a fulltime worker to live in poverty. Demand at soup kitchens and food pantries is on the rise, with people being turned away at some facilities because there is not enough. Indeed, those who are poor cry out for life-sustaining bread, but we offer them the stones of war.
Moving people toward economic and social stability is a goal that can be easily achieved if there were the public will to do so. But we cannot accomplish this goal and feed our insatiable appetite for more and better weapons. As the U.S. Catholic bishops pointed out in our pastoral letter, The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace,
“Neither jobs nor profits justify military spending beyond the minimum necessary for legitimate national security and international peacekeeping obligations. The end of the Cold War still provides an opportunity to reduce substantially military spending. … Diverting scarce resources from military to human development is not only a just and compassionate policy, but it is also a wise long-term investment in global peace and security.”
True peace and security does not lie in superior firepower but in a world where every person is enabled to develop their full human potential. The well-being of our nation’s people holds the key to our future peace and security. We could offer all who hunger the bread they need if we were willing to drop our stones. If we eliminated even one of the F-22 fighter planes planned for production this year, we could build 31 new elementary schools. If we chose to eliminate just three new attack submarines, we could build 90,000 affordable apartment units. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion per year, about 5% of this year’s U.S. military budget. Turning away from our addiction to costly and strategically questionable conventional and nuclear weapon systems could free up tens of billions of dollars a year to meet the needs of people living in poverty. Indeed, as we stated in Economic Justice for All:
“Defense policies must be evaluated and assessed in light of their real contribution to freedom, justice and peace for the citizens of our own and other nations… When weapons or strategies make questionable contributions to security, peace and justice and will also be very expensive, spending priorities should be redirected to more pressing social needs.”
We view the federal budget as a moral document that must reflect our degree of compassion for those who are poor and suffering in our own society. We therefore call for a national Catholic campaign of prayer, study and action to end exorbitant military spending in order to provide for the needs of all our people. We call for a campaign in our parishes, schools and Catholic organizations which will take up the plea of Pope John Paul II for “a moral about-face” regarding our appetite for weapons of war. During this budget and election cycle we must marshal our resources and summon our moral courage to say “no” to a bloated military budget which robs those who are poor and vulnerable and “yes” to a budget which helps lift people out of poverty. We must say “no” to the insatiable appetite for more and better weapons which destabilize relationships between nations and “yes” to the development of new diplomatic strategies which promote lasting peace. If we can do this, then we can transform the stones of war into the bread of life for those in need both at home and throughout our world.