September 9, 2011

Are We Any Safer? (Day 49 - September 9, 2011)

Today's blog is dedicated to remembering the events of 9/11 . . . and to all of those who lost their life or loved ones.  May our world never see anything like it again.

Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001 . . . just like it was yesterday.  I was at home watching the news before heading into the office when the "broadcast was interrupted for a special live news bulletin".  And, like hundreds of millions of us in North America and around the world, I stared at the screen dumbstruck by the horrific scenes taking place in New York, Washington DC, and in the air.  Horrified.  Speechless.  Heartbreaking.  The world changed in a few tragic moments.

In the past 10 years, the War on Terrorism has been waged and continues to be fought.  There is tighter security at our borders and in our airports.  Some regimes have fallen, some battles won, and some peoples freed from tyranny.  However, there have also been some costs . . . to freedom and personal rights, loss of life of military personnel and civilians, and the transition in the affected areas have been anything but smooth and welcome by all.  At least the sacrifices were made in order to bring about a safer world.  Or did they?  Are we really safer?

"Wait a minute Poverty Guy," you say.  "Why the reflection on 9/11?  What does that have to do with poverty?"  Good question.  In my mind . . . everything.  The catastrophic events of 10 years ago this Sunday did not happen in a vacuum.  The people who viciously took the lives of thousands of innocent people, and affected millions of others, did not simply appear out of thin air.  Yes, these terrorists did so in the name of religion . . . but it is not the first time that someone has encouraged people to kill by hijacking an extremist position.  Christianity, Islam, Judaism . . . none have been spared by those who wish to misuse, and thereby demean, their good and shared values.  But we must look beyond the surface reasons and see the underlying causes that provided fertile ground for these inexcusable attrocities.  For me, we need look no further than the growing global divide between rich and poor combined with the oppression that flourishes in such an environment.  We need to look only to poor living conditions, low standard of living, and the ensuing hopelessness in order to understand the desperation that can express itself in extremism.

While it is necessary to bring those responsible for attrocities to justice, a largely military response seems to me like trying to cure a disease by only treating the symptoms.  Unless you target the root cause, more symptoms will spring up.  With respect to terrorism, it may take the form of the next suicide bombing or London riots or another dictator.  Recognizing that military intervention is sometimes necessary in order to stop violence and protect people, it isn't the be all and end all.  In fact, increased militarism only delays the inevitable resurgence of violence and, possibly, exacerbates the problem unless the root cause is also addressed.  And, as mentioned, a big portion of the root cause has to do with poverty and the disparity between the richest and poorest in the world.  So, in answer to the question above, I think in some ways we feel safer in that we have bigger and better systems in place to respond to terrorists, but since the root causes still exist we are not truly any safer and may in fact be in greater need of those response systems.

Back in 1998 it was estimated that it would cost an additional $40 Billion to provide basic education for everyone, clean water and sanitation for everyone, reproductive health for all women, and basic health and nutrition for everyone.  In other words, $40 Billion to satisfy some of the most basic needs of those in poverty.  In that same year, the amount spent on military worldwide was $780 Billion.  In other words, 20 times as much as was needed to address a huge chunk of poverty was spent on military.  It is that sort of prioritization of resources that facilitates a fertile ground for the subsequent events of 9/11 and for continuing troubles today.  (The 1998 statistics come from The State of Human Development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37 via

I believe the actual cost of providing the poverty reduction elements stated above is actually higher than $40 Billion, especially when you add in logistical expenses plus costs associated with losses arising from wherever the money is sourced.  However, military spending since that time has also increased dramatically, and so the amount of money needed to address the root elements of poverty is still only a small fraction of the overall sum spent on military.  Which begs the question . . . would the world be safer by reprioritizing even 10% of military spending towards humanitarian needs?  I happen to believe that when people have their basic needs met and have something to lose, they are less motivated to support destructive ideologies and less likely to participate in something that jeopardizes what they have. 

Bottom-line:     Dealing with poverty is a matter of global peace and security.

Hey!! I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

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