In preparation for the distribution of winter coats
by a local foundation to schools in inner city Pontiac, an
elementary teacher asked her students to make sure they had
their old coats with them for the intended exchange. When
one little girl showed up on that very cold day without any
winter coat, the teacher inquired what had happened. The
child matter-of-factly replied: "It's not my day to wear the
This painful story of an impoverished child was told
to me by my oldest daughter, the director of the local
foundation sponsoring the winter coat program. When I
relayed the incident to my wife, she burst into tears and
bitterly questioned how such a wealthy country could allow
children to be without needed garments.
While tears and volunteers may express compassion for
the poor, our attention must also be directed to the way in
which our distorted national priorities exacerbate such
distress. Years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted: "True
compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is
not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an
edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
In that same powerful address, delivered at Riverside
Church one year before his assassination, Dr. King took that
nation to task for its squandering of lives and resources in
the Vietnam War. In a sentence that retains its ethically- indicting resonance, Dr. King opined: "A nation that
continues year after year to spend more money on military
defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching
One only has to consider the budgetary priorities of
the last several years to recognize the continuing tragedy of
a nation committed to insatiable military spending. With the
Bush Administration and Congress allocating close to half a
trillion dollars to the Pentagon, domestic spending suffers.
In particular, child care assistance has been slashed while
the percentage of federal tax monies devoted to the military
increases. In Michigan alone, nearly 1/3 of the average
household federal tax dollars goes to feed corrupt military
contractors such as Halliburton and the bloated military- industrial complex.
Because of the misplaced priorities of the Bush
Administration, the number and percentage of those living
below the poverty line has increased. There are now more
that 13 million poor children, one in every three of those
suffering in poverty. Lacking winter coats and without
health insurance, poor children face the blasts of winter
with a cold-hearted federal government. Although non- governmental and non-profit agencies try to minister to the
poor, they cannot keep up with the growing numbers seeking
shelter and food.
Added to this miserly attitude toward the poor is the
wasteful spending flowing to the ill-conceived, illegal, and
immoral war in Iraq. Already somewhere between 150 and 200
billion has been spent to prosecute the war. As a
consequence, over 100,000 Iraqis, mostly women and children,
have died with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children
wasting away from malnutrition. The shrouds that have
encased the bodies of innocent Iraqis have, for the most
part, been hidden from the eyes of America.
The Pentagon has also tried to prevent any pictures
of the nearly 1300 US soldiers who have come home in flag- covered caskets. Thousands and thousands of wounded and
maimed American soldiers are also being shunted aside, in
some cases into under-funded Veterans facilities. Just as
the poor are expected to be satisfied with occasional
handouts, so those young men and women suffering from the
arrogant and errant policies of the likes of Donald Rumsfeld
are insensitively told that they just have to make do with
what they have, however inadequate it may be.
Of course, nothing is spared in securing Iraq as a
resource for the oil lobby friends of George W. Bush and for
the permanent establishment of Pentagon bases. So, we, the
ever gullible American tax-payers, will soon be confronted
with another request from the Administration for anywhere
between 70 and 100 billion dollars to prosecute the war in
Iraq. How many million winter coats could be purchased for
even a one-hundredth of that amount? How much of that money
could be used to insure health care coverage for 82 million
American children? How much alleviation of poverty and
suffering here and abroad could be undertaken if only the
American people would say "Enough! Not a penny more for the
war in Iraq!"
If there is to be "peace on earth, goodwill to all,"
let it begin in earnest now and through the coming year in
our commitment to stopping any more funding for the war in
Iraq. Let this be a time when our compassion challenges a
runaway war-machine that blindly and cavalierly exchanges
winter coats for death shrouds. And in the process, in the
spirit of Dr. King, may we begin to repair the tattered
garment of peace.
Fran Shor (email@example.com) teaches at Wayne State University. He is a member
of numerous peace and justice organizations.