"People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
- President Obama
A longstanding theological debate has finally made it to the halls of power on Capitol Hill-how do we go about the business of beating our "swords into ploughshares?" The current economic maelstrom has spurred renewed focus on national spending priorities. The verdict? A bloated Pentagon budget starves our nation of essential investments in health care, education, and energy independence. Last month, the president prefaced the release of his budget with a commitment to reform, "so that we are not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use."
He could have been talking about the F-22 fighter jet. Designed for air-to-air combat with a Soviet interceptor that was never built, military experts agree the F-22 is unnecessary, expensive, and ill-adapted to the types of wars in which we are currently engaged. Original estimates priced the jet at $35 million. Cost-overruns, research, and development, however, have ramped up the price tag to $355 million per plane. Dubbed "the fighter jet without a fight," not a single F-22 mission has been flown in Iraq or Afghanistan since the start of the wars.
The U.S. already possesses 135 of these jets, with an additional 52 on the way. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wisely believes that's more than enough, but congressional pork-lovers disagree. Employing a tactic called political engineering, the arms industry maximizes congressional influence by spreading jobs throughout a surprising number of districts. In a tempestuous economy, these bedfellows have conspired to frame weapons manufacturing as a jobs program. With production of the jet scheduled to halt in 2011, Lockheed Martin launched a PR battle claiming 95,000 jobs will be lost when the jet is discontinued. CNN reports that many of these jobs would actually be moved to other projects. And economists widely agree that weapons manufacturing is one of the least efficient ways to create jobs. Re-investment in education and mass transit, for example, creates twice as many jobs as investing in the military sector.
So, what will it be, swords or ploughshares? In a season of both hope and despair, perhaps the most important question we face as a nation is whether we want to invest in weapons designed to destroy or the rebuilding of America for our children. Where do our priorities lie? God said to the Hebrew people: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." As we weather an unrelenting economic storm, our essential choices remain the same. Set before us are life and death. Remembering the prophet Micah's words, let's favor national spending priorities that cut costly weapons so that we can invest in a better, more peaceful world for our children.
Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss is the Faith Communities Educator at Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) and the author of WAND's Faith Seeking Peace curriculum which can be downloaded at www.faithwand.org.