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An Alternative U.S. Foreign Policy

Noting that the Hebrew words for war, milchama, and bread, lechem, are derived from the word locham, which means both "to wage war" as well as "to feed," Jewish sages reasoned that when there is a shortage of grain and other resources, people are more likely to have disputes and wage war. Connections between shortages and violence have been observed from battles over wells in the days of the Hebrew patriarchs to modern disputes over oil in the Middle East. These connections are especially serious now, when the availability of abundant, affordable oil is nearing an end. Other vital resources are also becoming scarce. It is projected that at least half of the world’s people will live in areas chronically short of fresh water in 30 years, and the combination of shrinking aquifers and global warming is decreasing the ability to produce enough food for the world’s increasing population.

Former Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon stated: “Hunger and famine will do more to destabilize this world; [they are] more explosive than all atomic weaponry possessed by the big powers. Desperate people do desperate things.” Richard J. Barnet, author of many books on international conflicts , believes that the anger and despair of hungry people sometimes lead to acts of terrorism and economic wars.

What are the implications for U.S. foreign policy? Military strength, while important, is not sufficient, as we learned in Vietnam and are relearning in Iraq. It is essential that the US lead a multilateral effort to move toward world sufficiency of energy, food, and water, through conservation efforts and improved production approaches. A major part of this effort is a switch toward veganism, since the production of animal-based foods uses far more resources than the production of plant foods. For example, almost 40 percent of the world’s grain is used to fatten the 50 billion animals raised for slaughter annually, and it takes 14 times as much water for a typical American diet than it does for a vegan diet.

To reduce other potential sources of desperation and violence, the U.S. should join other nations in an ongoing campaign to reverse global warming and to reduce hunger, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Such efforts would also improve America’s humanitarian image, which, in turn, would lower the chances that terrorists would find support in their evil plans.

It is also essential that the world reduce its huge military expenditures, since they are often the source of oppression, authoritarianism, death, and destruction, and they waste trillions of dollars that could be spent on health, education, environmental protection, housing, poverty reduction, jobs, mass transportation, etc., thereby leading to some of the problems that make violence and war more likely.

The suggested changes to reduce terrorism and wars may seem utopian, but as author Buckminster Fuller pointed out, we have a choice today, in effect, between “Utopia and Oblivion.”

The following Jewish teachings may be helpful in carrying out the above proposals: (1) Judaism teaches that the greatest hero is the person who converts an enemy into a friend; (2) Judaism teaches that violence and war result directly from injustice: “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed, because of justice perverted, and because of those who render wrong decisions;” (3) Judaism emphasizes the pursuit of justice and harmonious relations between nations to reduce violence and the prospects for war. The prophet Isaiah declared: “And the work of righteousness shall be peace.” (Isaiah 32:17) Applying these teachings can help in the improved production and distribution of lechem and other resources that can lead to the fulfillment of the prophets’ dream of an end to milchamah.