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I could not have easily found Nicaragua on a map the first time my old friend, Keith Jaspers, asked me to go there with him. He had followed my work in poverty programs through the local media for years and when we had a chance meeting, he asked me to come and see what the charity he had founded was doing in Nicaragua.

His persuasiveness literally changed my life for the next several years. Keith was a self-made millionaire, who pulled himself up from poverty in agriculture to embrace the world of business, first buying a bowling alley and then a small hotel and finally several hotels. 

He had been recruited by Habitat for Humanity to serve on their international board and he saw from their work that simply giving someone a house didn’t always change the course of their lives and that sometimes it literally made things worse.

Keith used his own money and a lot of his own history to devise a model for working in third world poverty settings to combine education, medical care, housing, feeding programs, and micro business loans, to create an economy where one had never existed before.

He required the villages where he worked to invite them in, provide exhaustive volunteer efforts on their own, always with the goal of raising up leaders and a functioning economy so that his organization was no longer needed.

I worked with Keith’s organization, the Rainbow Network, for about 15 years, as a volunteer, a board member, and finally as the national director on an interim basis just before we started our church.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have been to Nicaragua but I can tell you that I visited the same villages over a period of many years and saw many of them literally graduate from the program, creating successful businesses, neighborhoods, schools, medical clinics, and ending the need for feeding centers.

Words that I had heard in the news during the 80’s, words like “the Contras” and “the Sandinistas” came to life for me. I knew that President Reagan had illegally sold arms to terrorists in Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, but I had no idea why the Contras and Sandinistas were fighting and why Republicans wanted to take sides.

Obviously, my education about the issues began with my first interest in the country but it got real when I walked along the market in Masaya and saw the bullet pocked walls, and the memorial mound in San Ramon where thousands of weapons were buried with the pledge that they would never take up arms again. 

Over the century before my first visit there, the USA had invaded Nicaragua four times. Initially to make it a de facto colony, literally coining the phrase “Banana Republic” because we put dictators in power to run the country like a slave colony producing coffee and bananas for American consumers and serving as the most efficient way to move goods between our east and west coasts before the Panama Canal was dug.

The Vanderbilt family built their fortune by operating the bi-costal railway across Nicaragua. They became so powerful that they were able to prevent building the canal in Nicaragua which would have been much easier and less expensive than building it in Panama, but their private railway was so lucrative, it was almost like they had a permit to print their own currency.

It was our colonial exploitation that made socialism look attractive to the poor in Central America and it was the fear of the spread of socialism that caused the USA to militarize most of Central America to make sure that Cuba was unsuccessful in spreading their anti-colonial revolution.

The free election of socialist leaning Sandinistas is why the US got involved in organizing the armies of the former dictator, Samosa, into the Contras, to unseat the Sandinista government through bloodshed. We had kept some member of the Samosa family in power for more than 40 years. Franklin Roosevelt is famously remembered to have remarked, “Samosa may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.” 

We have often been given the impression that the USA provides foreign aid throughout the world, solving humanitarian problems wherever we go. And some of that is true but it is also true that we have snuggled up to dictators and tyrants to keep our own supply lines of natural resources open and to contain our political enemies. 

I bring all of this up about Nicaragua only to say, that as I discovered what a horribly exploitative relationship we have had with them, I wondered why they were always so nice to me and my American traveling companions when we were there? We were basically equivalent to a Japanese tourist in Hawaii in 1950.

Somehow, they instinctively did not see Americans as a homogenous whole. They understood the difference between those who wanted to help and those who wanted to exploit them. I had only one uncomfortable evening, sitting in the hotel lounge in Matagalpa, on June 5, 2004. CNN international was on in the background and they announced the death of Ronald Reagan and went on to run historical roll, praising him as a great hero of American history. 

That was more than my Nicaraguan friends could stand. They had all lost family members and friends in the Contra wars and for them, there is no greater historical demon that Reagan. My server slammed my next beer down in front of me and announced, “Reagan no fue un héroe.” (Reagan was no hero) I replied, “No sacarás ningún argumento de mí.” (You will get no argument out of me). And it was never brought up again. 

It is an easy thing to say that we want world peace, we want an end to war, but how to get from the highly militarized globe we now inhabit to a generally peaceful world is not simple. But, it remains true that it is virtually impossible to work for peace while preparing for war.

The United States maintains between 700 and 800 military installations and bases around the world. That is a huge investment. The old proverb that says “If all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail,” becomes our de facto foreign policy. Other than the nuclear arms race, there has never been a historical example of a military build up in which the arms were not put to use on a battlefield almost immediately.

I believe that it was only the fortunate placement of some military resistance to Trump’s carelessness that prevented him from using a nuclear weapon. His recent changes in Pentagon staff should be of concern to the world because he has two months now in which he might try a military action that would allow him to hold onto power. It is a nightmare scenario but, would any of us really be surprised?

We want peace but we get it more often by a threat of overwhelming military force than by more civilized methods. We are all familiar with President Kennedy’s initiative in the “Peace Corps,” which is a great idea, right, send Americans as ambassadors to poor countries to teach and work along side the poor in agriculture and economic development but even the Peace Corps volunteers were often used as pawns to soften up public opinion in a country where we wanted to establish a military base. And even though the noble cause of the Peace Corps has been coopted for intelligence and military purposes, it has also been kept to such a small budget that it has never been more than symbolic.

In this year, in this season of transition as we are thinking about how the world might evolve, how we might turn away from our militaristic and economically abusive past, towards a better and more peaceful world, I would like to offer two observations:

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The first is that most of the world is prepared to welcome and forgive a better America. It would be a rare American these days who would immediately think of Pearl Harbor when Japan is mentioned, or who would assume that every German was secretively a Nazi. And, good news, people in our economic colonies, and yes, we still have them, would be elated if began to treat them with greater consideration.

I’m telling you the truth. I have friends that I correspond with every week who were, themselves, or their family members, were forced to fight in the Contra War, and everyone has lost someone in that conflict, but they do not blame America generally. If we want friendships, and why wouldn’t we? Friendships are there to be had.

From Global War to Global Peace

Old resentments can fester, see Israel and Palestine for more on this point. And some can disappear for generations and resurface in civil war. We saw that in the 1990’s when Yugoslavia fell apart and neighbor turned on neighbor with shockingly lethal ancient rivalries between Serbs and Croats.

But the good news is: for the most part, a sincere effort is met with sincere acceptance, forgiveness, and friendship. Global peace is possible through friendship that has never been realized militarily. 

I will quote my favorite Sting song here, “I’ve never seen a military solution.” It is hard for Americans to let the fact into their skulls, but we removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq because he killed and imprisoned his own people and oppressed many others.

We cruised into town, killed a half a million people and in following years under our management, we have ended up killing more, imprisoning more, oppressing more, and now the electricity, hospital, and school systems don’t work.

This is not a military solution. I don’t personally know much about how to fix an ailing computer, but I am pretty sure that using a hammer has very little to do with it… America has to be willing to put our hammers away.

For three quarters of a century, we have depended upon a world war deterrent that is called “MAD” – mutually assured destruction. We assume that our nuclear arsenal is so daunting that no one would attack us because we could totally wipe them out in response…. Which assumes that rulers like North Korea’s Kim Jong Il will always make a rational decision. But the more amazing thing to me is that it has sort of worked.

Late in the 19th century, Alfred Nobel, set up the foundation from his estate to award the annual Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel had become wealthy by inventing dynamite and he ironically believed that the explosive had such an overwhelming threat on the battlefield. Seriously, he thought that bombs and missiles would make people unwilling to fight any wars in the 20th century because these weapons were just too lethal. 

Thirty years earlier, during the American Civil War, Jordan Gatling unveiled his invention, the Gatling Gun, which allowed a single soldier to hand crank out a burst of bullet fire that he believed would immediately end the Civil War because it was so deadly; it was unthinkable to use it.

Truman’s fateful decision to use atomic bombs in Japan at the end of World War II may have precipitated the end of that war, historians do not agree and at least Howard Zinn felt that we Truman really did it to show Russia that we had this weapon.

I’m not qualified to enter that fray but whether it ended World War II or not, it did not make modern war unthinkable because the Soviet Union saw it and said, “I want that,” and so did China, and France, and the United Kingdom, along with some very unstable states that tend to sponsor terrorism. 

I think that it is important to say that our use of Atomic weapons in the 1940’s did not make war unthinkable, it just made it more likely and more deadly. As Albert Einstein famously said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." Believe me, we do not want to have a world war III. 

I was traveling all day on Wednesday but if you tried to go to the bank or the post office, you were reminded that it was Veterans Day. There is, however, a movement afoot to reclaim Veterans Day for its original name and purpose . . . Armistice Day. A day set aside after World War I to declare that WWI was the war to end all wars. Obviously, it wasn’t, but there was a moment of idealism, a season of hope, that the modern world might finally be woke enough to stop having wars.

But there are two problems: the first and most obvious is that we have never tried very hard. If we took one fifth of the military budget and provided clean drinking water for the world, basic literacy education, and mosquito eradication, we could very probably avoid almost all major conflicts.

I will be happy to argue that proposition anywhere and anytime. But what if we went further? What if we turned 2/3rds of our military bases and installations into universities? Or more specifically, trade schools. What Nicaragua really needs is more carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, and not more soldiers. What if America saved the world, making wars obsolete?

But the second thing that I want to mention very gently is that people tend to glorify war and many of those who participated in it believe that it has not been glorified enough. Armistice Day, a day designed to advocate for never going to war again, became a day to honor veterans for going to war.

I don’t want to be dismissive or disrespectful of anyone’s military service. I understand better than most what sacrifices veterans have made and the degree to which invisible wounds continue to drive veterans of war to suicide years after the shooting has ended.

I grew up with a father having night terrors from World War II and I can tell you, he never got over his PTSD, even when he died in his 90’s…. that war was never over for him. Veterans deserve our respect. War deserves our ardent condemnation.

An organization called “Veterans for Peace” has been celebrating Armistice Day as Armistice Day since their inception and for the past decade they have been working to change the name back, to get the focus off of them, and onto the cause of peace.

Creating global peace will not cost as much as global war but it won’t come cheap. It won’t be done by donations and the efforts of good men like Keith Jaspers who started the relief agency, the Rainbow Network. It won’t be because we field a few hundred Peace Corps workers. Even such noble efforts as Bill Gates’ and others who have spent billions fighting malaria and AIDS, won’t get the job done. 

America is the only nation in the world that could actually do it and because we are the only ones who can, I believe that we should.

Dr. Roger Ray

I realize that is just my opinion but, you know what we say around here, I just happen to also be right.

Dr. Roger Ray

The Emerging Church

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