Editor’s Note

: Jason Kaye is one of five finalists in The Nation‘s 2007 Student Writing Contest. Read more about the competition on StudentNation.com.

On March 20, 2003, despite the protests of the world, the United States invaded Iraq as part of the “war on terror.” The US government declared that it was necessary to start a pre-emptive war because Saddam Hussein was hoarding weapons of mass destruction, which could eventually be used against our country. So, four years later, what have we accomplished?

No weapons of mass destruction have been found. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and more than 3,000 American soldiers have died. There has been a dramatic increase in anti-American sentiment throughout the world. Our goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East has faded as Iraq has erupted into civil war. Thus far, the war has cost us more than $400 billion. Though we have removed Saddam from power and ended his tyrannical reign, this has come at an enormous cost.

I present you with a hypothetical alternative. What if we fought a different sort of war on terror, one without guns or bombs and without bloodshed? What if we could go back in time, and instead of spending $400 billion on war, we spent it on peace? Imagine if we used $400 billion to fight global poverty and hunger, research cures for diseases like HIV/AIDS and provide vaccinations for people in need. What if we spent money for prosthetic devices for children in war-ravaged countries who would otherwise be unable to work? If we increased the amount of foreign aid we gave to the world by fivefold, how would we be viewed? Would a Muslim fanatic rise up against the United States if our money was helping to feed his family? Would anti-American sentiment be so strong if we were the protectors of the world?

I believe that if we fought a different sort of war on terror, we would come far closer to winning that war than we will on the path we are following today. Currently, the United States gives the second-lowest percent of our Gross National Income (GNI) to foreign aid. What if the United States was the world leader in giving to foreign aid? How would we be viewed?

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 800 million people in the world are “hungry and undernourished.” If there was an annual increase of $24 billion in aid per year, this figure would be cut in half by 2015. Furthermore, if we invested this money to fight world hunger, it would significantly boost the world economy, since millions of additional people would be able to work and produce for the world. Imagine if the United States led the fight against world hunger.

About 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. In order to effectively fight the spread of this devastating disease, it is estimated that $10 billion per year is needed. What if the United States provided the majority or even all of that $10 billion per year? What would the world think of us?

Out of the 130 million children born each year, 30 million do not receive vaccines for preventable diseases. Every year, 3 million children die from preventable diseases because they are not vaccinated. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that approximately $2.8 billion is needed to provide vaccinations for every child in developing countries. So, what if the United States contributed this money to save millions of children worldwide? Would the “terrorists” find this unacceptable?

It is time for us to realize that the powerful governments of the world possess the resources to make great strides for the causes of humanity. We must continue to question why our government and the governments of other wealthy nations continually fail to meet the goals of foreign aid, even though these goals are not extraordinary or unattainable. The goals listed above would require only a fraction of the $400 billion the United States has spent on the Iraq quagmire.

Instead, the United States has used this money to start a war in which multiple new enemies appear for every one that is destroyed. If we had utilized our resources fully, perhaps we could have peacefully reduced the size of the enemy rather than violently increased it. The United States possesses more money than any other country in the world, and therefore the greatest capacity to help others. If we recognized this, played it to our advantage and used diplomacy instead of warfare, perhaps we could create a better world. Our government’s purse is full, but its heart is empty. If generosity to other human beings–regardless of their nationality–became a more prevalent virtue in our society, someday in the future we might be able to solve the world’s most urgent problems.