Forge peace not by force, but by understanding

We Americans like to think of ourselves as decent, law-abiding people, living in a democracy with good intentions toward others within and outside our borders. We expect to be treated fairly and to treat others likewise.

At the individual level, most of us are living out these principles as best as we understand them. However, at the national level, we fall woefully short of living these ideals, and, without taking a good look at our policies and changing our actions, we will continue to harm others and ourselves.

It's not as if we haven't been warned. Two former U.S. presidents told us that our nation could become a nation dominated, by and large, by the military. President George Washington, in his farewell address on Sept. 17, 1796, said, "Overgrown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican liberty."

One hundred sixty-five years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961, warned:

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. ... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted."

However, our government has come to rely on war and preparation for war as a major response to foreign relations. According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation Washington newsletter, we have budgeted $650 billion for the Pentagon, not counting the supplemental $141.7 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, while $50 billion is budgeted for the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and support for international organizations. That is, we're willing to spend 87 percent of our foreign aid for war while using only 13 percent for peace building.

Another way to look at our national spending is outlined by Sonoma County Taxes for Peace (http://sctp.sonic.net): Out of each dollar of the fiscal 2008 budget, 52 cents is allocated for military and defense. Only 6.3 cents is spent for education, 5.6 cents for health, 3.5 cents for housing, 3 cents for environment, 2.5 cents for transportation, 1.8 cents for job training and 1/25 of a cent for energy. The overwhelming amount is spent for military pursuits.

Why must we keep these numbers in front of us? We must hear over and over how our government's actions undermine the notion of being a good neighbor, a peace-loving country, and to remember that as citizens, we need to participate in reversing that trend.

Here are some of the ways that we have acted that have led us to being an empire:

Who benefits? Companies producing the weapons and all the adjunct materials that the armed forces need are the beneficiaries.

Another indicator of our excessive military might is the number of military bases we have in other countries. According to the 2008 Base Structure Report produced by the Department of Defense, we have 104 bases or installations in territories, and 761 overseas. Add those to the bases at home and the total is 5,429. Would we allow other countries to have bases on our homeland?

Our government is willing to disregard international laws such as the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention and the U.N. Human Rights Council. We continue to use torture, to use illegal weapons (such as cluster bombs) and to hold people without legal counsel. We use all these tactics as if they were lawful actions.

While we see ourselves as leaders of the free world, we must recognize that this position has come at great cost. It has cost many lives of civilians and soldiers in other countries, lives of our own soldiers, trampled truth, and money stolen from civilian life to pour into unlawful military invasions.

To continue in this manner is to make a mockery of our principles, at least, and to eventually bring decline to our country of unimaginable depths.

We should listen to the words of Albert Einstein: "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding."

-- Marylee Eusebio is a Davis resident. This column appears monthly.