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A Step Backward Is Forward Progress17 Oct

Father John Rausch

Father John Rausch

By Fr. John S. Rausch

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, creatively uses Oreo cookies to explain the federal budget. By making one Oreo equal $10 billion, he can stack 70 Oreos to graphically illustrate the $700 billion budget of the Pentagon. In contrast, he shows that the federal government spends only four-and-a-half Oreos on education, only one-half an Oreo on alternative energy and a fraction of an Oreo on Head Start.

“If you take just seven Oreos off the Pentagon budget, you could provide health care for all the kids who currently don’t have it,” he claims.

The bloated security complex brings to mind the 1961 Farewell Address of President Dwight Eisenhower to the American people: “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.”

While the Pentagon’s budget heaps up lots of Oreos according to Cohen’s scheme, it represents only about half of what the U.S. spends on its total military related activities. Not included, for example, are budgets for the Veterans Administration, military retirement programs, and most notably, the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs.

Last year to encourage the ratification of the New Start treaty that reduced deployed nuclear warheads in Russia and the U.S. from 2,200 to 1,550, President Obama pledged to spend $80 billion over ten years to modernize the nuclear arsenal. People of faith applauded the reduction in deployed warheads, but they lamented the misguided efforts to make our nuclear arsenal “certified reliable” for the next 100 years.

“We’re building bombs for the next century and do we understand what that means?” asks Presentation Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, recently released from jail for her civil disobedience at the Y-12 National Security complex near Oak Ridge. She knows that besides the immediate destruction of human life, a nuclear explosion would produce radioactive fallout contaminating the ground and water supply causing the collapse of food production that would result in rampant disease and widespread starvation.

“My years of nonviolent resistance and acts of conscience have their roots in my Christian baptismal promise to renounce and resist evil,” she said. “And, nuclear weapons are evil.”

Today throughout the world there remain approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons located at 111 sites in 14 countries. More than half the world’s population lives in a nuclear-armed country, and nations spend $100 billion each year on maintaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenals. At a time of budget cuts and debt reduction, modernizing nuclear weapons offers a line item that should be reconsidered.

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations, recognizes that nuclear weapons once acted as a deterrent during the Cold War, but today the moral imperative propels all nations to contemplate a world without them. “The church’s condemnation of any use of nuclear weapons has always been grounded in the church’s respect for life and the dignity of the human person,” Chullikatt said. “The church’s moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence was always conditioned on progress toward their elimination.”

A nuke-free world seems impossible, almost ludicrous. Yet, Chullikatt reminds us even slavery that once held whole races and classes of people in bondage denying them their God-given right to live in freedom and dignity was ultimately ended. To the incredulous, perhaps Ben Cohen’s Oreos will make a point. To faith believers, maybe prayerful acts of nonviolence will speak. To Archbishop Chullikatt, “A world without nuclear weapons is not only possible, it has now become urgent.”

Reverend John S. Rausch is a priest in the Glenmary order who lives, writes, and organizes in Appalachia. His syndicated columns are published in diocesan newspapers throughout the United States.

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