“A precious baby in Yemen has exactly the same value as a baby in New Haven.”
Shivers cascaded down my spine as I heard this. I had the privilege of sitting near Dr. Cornel West, one of America’s great teachers, as he spoke about imperialism and the suffering in Yemen from Battell Chapel’s lectern in March. Why did such a fundamentally basic statement seem so revolutionary?
It’s revolutionary because there’s a lack of action on global humanitarian crises on campus. Perhaps it’s due to unawareness or compassion fatigue or genuine apathy, but things must change. When our country is complicit in so many avoidable conflicts and atrocities, we have no excuse to neglect these injustices perpetrated against our precious sisters and brothers around the world, regardless of where they live.
Last Thursday was the first meeting of the Dwight Hall Peace Initiative, a new program that promotes and supports anti-war and humanitarian advocacy. Our group of 16 brainstormed causes to advocate and fundraise for. The list was by no means exhaustive, but it was spiritually exhausting as we realized the volume and scale of humanitarian tragedies.
Military interventions and disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Unchecked aid and arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Devastating sanctions on Venezuela. Abuses of Central American refugees at and within our borders. Provocation of Iran. Low admissions of refugees from countries destabilized by our intelligence and defense agencies. A lack of support for protestors shot in Sudan and Gaza. Insufficient pressure on China to end cultural genocide against Uyghurs and Tibetans, and on India to respect Kashmiri self-determination.
And what about calling out immoral supply chains? The device you may be reading this on probably contains minerals mined by Congolese children. The cotton in our t-shirts may be sourced from forced labor in Uzbekistan or spun in Indonesian sweatshops. How many Rohingya and other ethno-religious minorities are displaced, trafficked and raped as our news cycles forget about their plight? How about ending anti-Semitism and other prejudices? Or respecting indigenous land rights? What are we doing to stop nuclear proliferation? The list goes on.
All this in mind, I wonder why there’s so little, if any, campus mobilization around these huge issues. We all should be doing more to address them: by educating ourselves, raising awareness, fundraising for relief, discussing thoughtful solutions, calling our representatives and protesting institutions that prolong and profit from humanitarian crimes.
Tupac once rapped, “They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.” “They” refers to the people in power — those like Henry Kissinger, who was commemorated by the Jackson Institute and George W. Bush, who was recently recognized as a distinguished alum by the Yale College Council — who commanded the killing of hundreds of thousands in pursuit of geopolitical hegemony. How many innocent foreigners and American soldiers must die in unjustified and unpopular wars that achieve nothing but stuff the wallets of vested interests?
Most people don’t know how much our government spends on the military-industrial complex. For every $1 in 2018 taxes, 12 cents went directly to military contractors — some $1,734.54 for the average taxpayer, as reported by National Priorities Project. Juxtapose their lavish executive salaries with photos of babies bloodied by their products. President Trump’s 2020 discretionary budget request included $718 billion for the military — 57% of the total, compared with 5% for education.
Given the billions of dollars spent on wars annually, the lack of critical mainstream coverage is shocking. Citizens of weapons-exporting countries need to understand that their governments choose to arm the world instead of promoting peace. In 2018, American corporations sold $55.6 billion of weapons to foreign countries, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that U.S. exports accounted for 36% of the global arms volume from 2014 to 2018, with more than half of them reaching the Middle East.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. military is “the largest single consumer of fuel in the world” for its environment-harming vehicles and machines, according to a 2017 Washington Post investigation. Imagine all the money spent on war invested instead in renewable energy and welfare, or if used abroad, spent on girls’ education and clean water infrastructure.
At Yale, we must stand together for peace at home and beyond so that apathy cannot fester. We must amplify the voices of those harmed by our government’s actions and hold our officials accountable. We must organize to sustain peace activism and oppose tyranny in all its forms. Every member of our community can speak up and use their knowledge, skills and networks to bring about positive change. I realize that I’m advocating for no small task. But we need large movements for large problems. And we cannot rest until we care for every precious baby in Yemen as we would each one in New Haven.
Daud Shad is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org