A Better World is Possible

I am not an expert on military issues or the consequences of war. I am an ordinary citizen concerned about the turn of events in Afghanistan, that are still costing lives unnecessarily. Mine is not an admonition, nor a directive; not even a suggestion. It is a plea for the leading powers –notably the United States—to strive for policies that can create a better world.

I arrived in the United States 50 years ago, first as a resident and later as a citizen. I came with the expectation that this nation would persevere in furthering the ideals of peace and justice that we all so badly wanted, and needed. Instead, what I saw was a country enmeshed in unnecessary wars that have weakened it considerably, both materially and in terms of international prestige. It saddens me, because no other country has given me, my wife and my daughter, so many wonderful professional opportunities.

Intervention in other countries has not led to better living conditions for the population in those countries. In most cases, it has had the opposite effect. And this is true not only in the case of Afghanistan. It is also true of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and all other countries where the so called “leading democracies” have intervened.

It is not cynical to replace the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” with “intervention in other countries breeds contempt.” We wanted to get rid of the Taliban, whose growth, ironically, we had fostered decades ago. However, the Taliban has come back in full force after 20 years of a draining war with the consequent loss of lives and billions of dollars spent. These funds have mainly served to increase corruption in that afflicted country.

In his poem “How to create an enemy” writer Sam Keen reminds us of the brutality of war,

“When your icon of the enemy is complete

you will be able to kill without guilt,

slaughter without shame.”

George Washington alerted us to the dangers of foreign entanglements. And President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about the threat to democracy of the “military-industrial complex.” This complex is made up of people. People who have children and grandchildren to whom they want to leave a better world. But a world where war shows its demonic face is not a better world.

In health-related missions that I have conducted in more than 50 developing countries I have seen the ugly face of widespread poverty and disease. And I have seen the terrible consequences of war and displacement in countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Angola.

Are these tragedies inevitable? Is it possible that instead of exporting war we export technology together with people such as teachers, artists, doctors, and researchers to help create a better world? I am convinced it is possible. Why not foster policies based on humane values? We need to replace the paradigm of confrontation for one of cooperation. As Pakistani physician and theater director Bina Shariff told me, “Colonizers don’t have a concern for other human beings, so they never think of improving people’s lives by a better health system, culture, education, and nation-building. Those thoughts are far removed from their minds. They want to keep imperialism going and war is the permanent feeding tube.”

Policies should be developed at improving people’s lives worldwide; one that could help combat poverty and disease in developing countries, providing them with low-priced agricultural machinery and fair-trade conditions. These policies could include an exchange of artists, sports figures, and physicians and researchers with other countries. We need to step up contact among people. We fear what we don’t know…

Savings from war could help a concerted effort to eliminate disease among the poorest of the poor…strengthen research projects leading to better health and quality of life for everyone…conquering dreadful diseases such as Alzheimer’s, lung and heart disease, and cancer, to name a few. Finding a cure for them sooner would have an enormous impact on people’s health and quality of life at equally enormous material savings.

We have the resources. What we need is a new look at life and its wondrous possibilities. I may be called naïve. But those who are not naïve are the ones that have led us into these wars. We can create a better world, if we truly want it.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”