“Can you imagine a world in which the hungry are fed, the cold are clothed, the homeless are housed? Can you imagine a world that is peaceful, a world in which war is only a memory?”
“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.”—President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
Try to imagine such a world! What would it look like? What would it feel like? How would a peaceful world differ from our present world? How would your own life be different than it is now? How would the resources be used that were once devoted to ever more deadly armaments?
These are important but rarely asked questions that call upon us to use our imaginations. They call upon us to examine the priorities of our own societies, and to think seriously and creatively about our own commitment to ending war and building peace.
I imagine that peace would be built on justice. People would be treated fairly. The hungry would be fed, the cold would be clothed, the homeless housed. There would be no children dying of preventable diseases, and no illiteracy, because societies would prevent these conditions from arising.
If everyone had adequate food, shelter, health care, and education, there would not be so many angry and alienated people. Parents would not despair for the lives and futures of their children. Peace would brighten the future.
What if societies allocated adequate funds to protect the environment and develop environmentally friendly technologies to replace dangerous and damaging ones? What if there were a societal ethic that the environment is a common heritage that we humans must steward for all forms of life and for future generations?
There are reliable estimates that everything I have envisioned above could actually be accomplished for only a small percentage of current world military expenditures. It has been suggested that for approximately $40 billion annually, some 5 precent of current world military expenditures, poverty in the world could be ended.
In a peaceful world, people would treat each other with respect. Diversity would be appreciated. People would be entitled to their own beliefs. They would find ways to cooperate. Borders would be far less important than they are now. There would be a general recognition that we all share one Earth and the responsibility to preserve its abundance and beauty for future generations.
Even in a peaceful world, there would still be conflicts. People and nations would disagree, but there would be conditions assuring that differences would be settled without resort to violence. If this commitment could be trusted—and over time we would come to trust it—there would be no need to expend outrageous amounts on military forces and weapons systems.
In a peaceful world, some nations might still maintain military forces, but they would be for defensive purposes only. It would be a very different orientation. Weapons and delivery systems would be designed for defense, and thus would not be threatening to neighboring countries.
In a peaceful world, the purpose of governments would be to serve all of the people, not to favor the powerful at the expense of the disempowered. Governments would protect the Earth and the heritage of those yet unborn, and find ways to settle differences without resort to violence.
If we cannot imagine such a future, we certainly cannot begin to believe in its possibility. I believe in the power of imagination. If we can imagine a future, it is possible to create it. We may not know today how to get from here to there, and it may seem a very long way away. But we can begin the journey.
Knowing that something is possible is a long step forward on the journey toward achieving it. There may be failures and backtracking along the way, but a peaceful world is a powerful vision, one that ultimately will not be denied.
The Spring 1999 issue of Waging Peace Worldwide focuses on “Building a Culture of Peace.” The authors are all pioneers in this effort, an effort that takes not only imagination, but compassion, courage and commitment. As you read the articles, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, “What role will I play in bringing such a world into being?”