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Ecumenical Advocacy Days panel mulls the impact militarization is having on food security

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program coordinator the Rev. Carl Horton moderates an international discussion

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Tetiana Shyshkina via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — A trio of panelists moderated by the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, took to the airwaves Wednesday morning during Ecumenical Advocacy Days to discuss “Pursuing Peace: The Impact of Militarization on Global Food Security.”

The panel was comprised of Dr. Aisha Jumaan, president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation; the Most Rev. John C. Wester, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Dr. Kangho Song, a South Korean peace activist at The Frontiers.

Just 100 steps from Wester’s home church is the historic gateway to the Los Alamos Laboratory, where U.S. scientists developed the nuclear bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 Japanese people, most of them civilians. More recently, according to Wester, the U.S. government plans to spend up to $2 trillion to rebuild its nuclear arsenal and develop new submarines, missiles and aircraft to deliver them. “We are in a new nuclear arms race far more dangerous than the first,” Wester said. “There’s probably more money spent in my diocese on nuclear weapons than in any other Catholic diocese in the country.”

The Most Rev. John C. Wester

Los Alamos County is the 11th richest county in the nation, Wester noted, and the U.S. Department of Defense plans to spend $9 billion there this year, a figure that matches this year’s New Mexico state budget. Imagine, Wester told online viewers, if that money were instead spent on creating jobs, providing protection against wildfire and for water resources, “and making our public schools something to be proud of,” Wester said. “It is the poor who suffer the most because of all the money we spend on nuclear armaments.”

Wester pointed out that here’s how the celebrated World War II General Omar N. Bradley put it: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, mor about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

Song, author of “Peace, Journeying Into that Distant Hope,” was imprisoned for about six months for his advocacy work. For the past 23 years, he’s been working with The Frontiers “to help war victims and prevent war.”

Dr. Kangho Song

“On the Korean peninsula, especially in North Korea, the issue of food security is an important topic,” Song said. “North Korea has experienced food shortages many times, because of famine and because of the amount of money it spends on weapons production.”

During a famine from 1994-2000, it’s estimated that as many as 1.1 million North Koreans starved to death, Song said.

The work to ensure the demilitarization in potential hotspots including the East China Sea continues, Song said. “We hope you will pray for us as we cooperate for demilitarization and the peace operation,” Song asked those in attendance.

Jumaan, who’s now an independent consultant in Yemen after working 13 years at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, discussed her native country, which remains mired in civil war and “is considered the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” Jumaan said.

In a nation of nearly 33 million people, nearly two-thirds are in need of humanitarian assistance, about 13 million of them in immediate need. Half of those people are children, Jumaan said, adding that “every part of Yemen is experiencing food security issues.”

At this point in the discussion, one participant wrote in the chat room: “Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed by this global picture of suffering?” Several agreed with that comment.

For nearly seven years, according to the Center for Preventative Action and other sources, Saudi Arabia has imposed an air and sea blockade on Yemen that has restricted the flow of vital commercial and humanitarian goods into the country. Nations including the United States and the United Kingdom support the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen primarily through arms sales and technical assistance.

Dr. Aisha Jumaan

“Stopping U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia is something peace activists have been working on for years,” Jumaan said.

“It’s clear human beings come in last in this military-industrial complex,” Wester said. “The motivation of our leaders seems to be part of this machinery.”

“We vote for our representatives and our senators. It’s important for them to hear from us,” Jumaan said, adding she is “delighted” that Saudi Arabia and Iran “are starting to speak again. It will be excellent for the region, a glimpse of hope the Yemen war will end. Do please pray for peace in Yemen.”

Horton asked panelists how people including average churchgoers and members of Congress “understand the connection between the military and global food security?”

“It’s something that we as people of faith have an obligation to raise up,” Wester said. “Part of it has to do with better communication with our people, and the U.S. media doesn’t point to this very much. The West is not in charge. We have to listen and work with leaders. You don’t hear presentations like [Jumaan’s] in the U.S. media. We have a duty to bring up the plight of suffering people in Yemen.”

“I have faith in the new generation, in young people,” Jumaan said. “They are a lot more interested in seeing a just world for everyone. It’s their future we’re talking about.”

“When we’re talking to political leaders, one thing that’s clear is that they want to see where the votes are,” Wester said. “When we talk about immigration, they say, ‘You’d better get your people on board. You may be pro-immigration, but a majority of people are not.’ Logic doesn’t do it,” Wester said. “We have to change hearts.”

The Rev. Carl Horton

Asked by Horton to close the 75-minute discussion with any final thoughts, Wester said he hopes EAD participants “won’t underestimate the importance of listening and conversing. If we can listen to learn in churches, homes and schools, it can make a big difference. People like Brother Song have put their own freedom on the line to make a point.”

“I have a specific ask,” Jumaan said. She and others are asking administration and congressional leaders “to be peacemakers in Yemen” after “hearing reports the U.S. is trying to derail the peace process.” She asked EAD participants to also make their voices be heard.

Song offered those in attendance two challenges. First, “visit someplace where people are suffering because of war or because of the soldiers in your own country.” Song called that “an important experience to change ourselves and change society.”

Second, the U.S. has asked North Korea to become a denuclearized nation while the U.S. remains the country with the most nuclear weapons. “We have to ask our own country to be involved with other counties. Otherwise,” Song said, “how can we solve this unbalanced situation?”

“This is a good place to end, with a hope, an ask and a challenge,” Horton said, thanking the panelists.

“You have left my spirit filled,” Susan Gunn, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, told the panel. “I leave feeling deeply connected with your communities across the world because we share so much in common.”

Ecumenical Advocacy Days continues Wednesday and wraps up Thursday. Learn more or register here.

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