The Baha’i teachings ask humanity’s leaders to disarm—to lay down their huge stores of weapons in mutual recognition that the era of war has come to a close:
By a general agreement all the governments of the world must disarm simultaneously and at the same time. It will not do if one lays down the arms and the other refuses to do so. The nations of the world must concur with each other concerning this supremely important subject, thus they may abandon together the deadly weapons of human slaughter. As long as one nation increases her military and naval budget, another nation will be forced into this crazed competition through her natural and supposed interests. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 116.
We should agree to unify and end warfare, the Baha’i teachings say, not only because of its carnage, death and destruction, but also because of its hidden costs to societies that wage war. The world’s seemingly never-ending wars—the ones we’re fighting now, and the ones we constantly plan and prepare to fight in the future—cost us all enormous sums of life and treasure. For example: government expenditures for war in my country, the United States, exceed every other area of spending.
Here’s the breakdown: The U.S. spends 6% of its annual budget to educate its children; 6% on the government itself; 5.5% on housing and community expenses; 5% on health and health care; 4% on international affairs, including all foreign aid; 3% on energy and the environment; 2.5% on science and medical research; 2.5% on labor; 2% on transportation; 1% on food and agriculture—and 62.5% on the Department of Defense, war, various weapons programs and veteran’s benefits.
In other words, the United States government spends more than three-fifths of our money on the military.
Can you imagine what could be done with that money if we reduced our military spending to a more reasonable level?
The sheer volume of military spending in weaponized cultures probably shocks most of us, because unless you’re in the military or actively involved somehow in the military-industrial complex, you may have little understanding of the enormous cost of such an ongoing enterprise.
The United States Army gave me a firsthand education in military spending. Just a few days as a young draftee in boot camp on a city-sized Army base made me begin thinking about how much it costs to maintain a large, standing fighting force. As I looked at the thousands of soldiers I trained with; as I ate in the huge mess halls; as I realized what tanks and helicopters and fighter jets actually cost to build, equip and maintain, I started to understand the enormous magnitude of our military spending. I realized, after a while, what that money could possibly do if we found a way toward a peaceful future rather than a warlike one.
If you’d like to get a sense of the magnitude of military spending, imagine feeding and housing and providing clothing and transportation and health care for 1.3 million men and women, just to start. Then imagine the cost of constantly paying and training and re-training those men and women. Then, on top of that, try to consider the tremendous costs of weapons systems, especially the advanced, high-tech, so-called “smart” weapons used in war today. One computer-guided missile costs a million dollars. One B-2 bomber costs $2 billion.
Also, military spending doesn’t follow the standard laws of economics. The rapid pace of technological and scientific change means that so-called “defense” costs typically rise much faster and farther than comparable civilian costs. The global arms race to build bigger, deadlier and more fearful weapons systems continually drives higher and higher military budgets. Then, in the end, those weapons systems become obsolete when new and more expensive technologies inevitably emerge.
This never-ending armaments competition between nations, and the constant readiness for all-out war those nations feel they must maintain, has become one of the greatest failures of our modern civilization, an ongoing, self-fulfilling cycle that constitutes a heinous collective crime against humanity. It robs us of prosperity, steals food from the mouths of children and expends enormous sums of money on death rather than life.
Weapons produce nothing. When a factory makes a truck, for example, that truck goes on to do actual work, and continues throughout its useful lifespan to produce that work, contributing to the economy and the people who benefit from it. But when a factory makes a weapon, it gives us no lasting contribution at all. That weapon sits idle, a missile in a silo doing no useful work at all, giving nothing back to the society that made it, until it produces death. The last U.S. president who was once a military general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said:
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. This 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. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live? – “The Chance for Peace,” from a speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953.
The Baha’i teachings concur, saying that each one of these weapons and weapons systems represents a spiritual failure of epic proportions, calling them “the malignant fruits of material civilization:”
… among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with Divine civilization, the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombers—all these weapons of war are the malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with Divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather, human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and would have been concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 303.
So what will it take to transform our heavily-militarized and weaponized material civilization into the peaceful, productive and unified divine civilization the Baha’i teachings envision and prescribe? In the next essay in this series, we’ll look at the root causes of war to begin answering that crucial question.