A thousand points of light

“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 not clothed.”

These words spoken by the late, great Dwight Eisenhower are eerily prophetic. He gave this speech on the last day he served as our president, in 1961. On that day he warned us of the dangers of the government being in bed with the defense industry. On that day he also coined the now popular phrase: the industrial-military complex.

Our rich Uncle Sam delivered $42 billion in aid to foreign countries for the 2012 fiscal year. This figure represents about 1 percent of the United States budget. While it does feel good to know that our country is being mindful of those who are needy in the world, it does not feel good to know that our country is also delivering aid in the form of weapons to parties whose interests apparently align with our own.

Let us use our aid to Egypt as an example. The United States has given ten Apache helicopters to a regime that has taken power via a military coup—a coup which is suppose to preclude them from receiving aid. The fact that we have sold military technology to a corrupt regime, even when our own laws do not allow for us to render traditional aid, harks back to the immortal words of Dwight Eisenhower. It has been over fifty years since Eisenhower’s speech, and it could not be more relevant today.

There are people in the world, and indeed here at home in Oregon, who go to bed hungry every night. According to the Oregon Food Bank, a whopping 270,000 people in Oregon eat meals that were provided by the food bank’s supply.

Do we also not see commercials everyday on our television screen telling us that for pennies a day we can make a difference in the life of a child in a country on the other side of the world?

When I catch the TriMet bus over the Burnside Bridge today to work, I will look to the regionally famous “Portland, Oregon” sign that rests on the Chinatown side of Burnside. As the bus glides past, my eyes will follow the sign to its base. In my field of vision I will see a gaggle of people waiting for a bed at the Portland Rescue Mission. These poor indigent souls have been left behind by America. They are not alone, as a report by the Portland Mercury points out, there are roughly 4,441 homeless across the entire city of Portland.

I see homeless people who are waiting in line, likely as cold and hungry as Eisenhower predicted, who have been unknowingly cheated. These poor downtrodden souls have been cheated by the United States government from aid that should rightfully be theirs: aid that would put food in their aching stomachs; aid that would give fresh clothes to replace the rags that they wear; aid that will give them hope for a better life.

Detractors will cry that we have food stamps. George H.W. Bush would respond that we have got “a thousand points of light.” Canadian music legend Neil Young punctuates this sentiment with the addition “for the homeless man!” in his classic tongue-in-cheek anthem “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

George Bush was partly right though, as homeless missions and the Oregon Food Bank do count as the points of light that Bush spoke of. Essentially, Bush was saying that it is not the job of the government to care for the downtrodden, and that it is a role best served by charitable organizations.

When this is coupled with the Michael Moore flick Fahrenheit 9/11 and its expose on the Bush family connections to the defense industry, one can begin to think very poorly of our elected officials. Especially when you consider that all of the money involved could be flowing to the truly needy.

It makes me sick to my stomach that instead of doing the right thing and funneling this foreign aid to those who are starving and cold, we funnel it to the defense industry. Why are we not thinking about the estimated 16 out of 80 million Egyptians who live in slums around the country? Cairo, Egypt’s capital city, has one of the largest slums in the world. With a population estimated at over one million, that is a lot of mouths that need to be fed and clothed.

Why, then, are we sending attack helicopters to Egypt? Is it the threat of terrorism? If it is, then what are ten helicopters going to do against a group of people who would gladly blow themselves up to spite us? I’ll leave you to ponder the question, “Why are we doing this?” However, I think you already know.