I have been producing this radio program for a year and I have learned a lot. One of the things I have learned about “change” is that some things have to be modeled before they gain enough credibility to get wide acceptance. Many people need to “see” something before they “get it”. In other words, a good idea is just an idea until someone invests in it and proves that it will work. For the innovator, pioneer or forerunner, this is their greatest frustration.
During the past 5 months, my wife and I have been working in Costa Rica. It is a country which has become one of the top vacation locations because of its lush beauty and amazing beaches. It has also been selected as AARP’s top locations to retire, with Atenas (the location we were near) considered by National Geographic as having the ‘best climate in the world’. Canadians have been flocking here to spend either part or all of their retirement days in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I could fill a book with descriptions about the beautiful flowers and the unusual and abundant wildlife that are just outside our door. The culture is as rich and diverse as the land and the people have been rated by a recent study by Jeffrey David Sachs as having the highest “Average Life Satisfaction”. In short, they are a very happy people, and with only a few exceptions in my experience, they live up to their reputation.
Costa Rica has so many outstanding aspects that make it attractive that most people overlook one of its most important qualities. In 1948, Costa Rica disbanded its army, choosing instead to spend its limited resources on providing universal education and health care to its citizens. This did not happen without a great deal of debate and struggle – but it happened. At the time, disarming was unthinkable! Other nations of Central America were arming and in El Salvador, civil war was already smoldering. Visionary leader, José Figueres Ferrer, decided to choose a more difficult road because he believed it was best for his country. It proved to be a turning point for his nation and the world.
60 years later, Costa Rica is the richest and most progressive country in Central America. It is also recognized as one of the earlier democracies in the world. In 1941, they started what would become universal healthcare, a system which has been rated for quality by the UN as superior to the US. Costa Rica is also rated by the UN as the leading Latin American country in their Human Development Index, and in a nation of 4 million people and with a very small GNP, they have been able to achieve many positive goals, much of which have been possible because they haven’t wasted money on arms and armies. They have modeled what can be achieved through disarming. They are a forerunner nation to all the nations of the earth.
The benefits of peace and no military spending have over the years proven to be of enormous advantage to Costa Ricans. Therein lies the dilemma. Military spending doesn’t benefit people. Not one country in the world can demonstrate in its history an example where military spending has produced benefits for its citizens. Yet, Costa Rica’s stellar performance as an unarmed nation is quietly ignored.
Buying arms leads to war and/or enormous unproductive costs that never benefit anyone but the arms’ manufacturers. These manufacturers believe it is their job to promote the sale of weapons through fear. It is fear which prevents the world from taking the most obvious step toward total disarmament. The military budget of the US alone, if used for humanitarian purposes would end hunger, poverty, most illnesses, and change the economic base of the whole world. If we could end fear, wars and armies, the world would have the resources to fight its real enemies. Furthermore, “War doesn’t determine who’s right – only who is left.” (Bertrand Russell)
Disarming is the right idea, it is worth fighting for and there IS a way to accomplish it! Using Costa Rica as a model for change, we, the people, need a visionary leader to champion the wisdom and efficiency of a world without armies. They need to “sell it” to others less willing to try something new, with irrefutable arguments. We need more nations to opt out of the power struggle-arms race and set even more examples of what can be achieved through disarmament.
In a time of economic world crisis, complete disarmament would change every nation’s financial future and will benefit every person on the earth. It costs 1.5 Trillion dollars annually just to support the 80 million people who are in armies world-wide and that doesn’t include the purchase of arms. Miliart spending in the US is at the highest since World War II
Who has the courage to fight for this kind of change? Could Canada, UK, Germany, France become a forerunner nation like Costa Rica and do the unthinkable and disarm? Can we, the people of the World, challenge our leaders to a higher level of leadership? We are the peacekeepers. Who else should lead and do what must be done? Who has the courage and tenacity to make world history?