Time for new Marshall Plan to rebuild, heal world

The Baltimore Sun

In the Bible, we read that God created the world in six days but took 40 days to partially destroy it in the flood. I wish the human race could operate more like that. Instead, we've developed weapons of mass destruction that can obliterate us in a flash, but we seem to lack the capacity to rebuild, repair and heal ourselves with any kind of speed.

For instance, more than five years after the attack on the twin towers, we have yet to complete a monument at Ground Zero - but have managed to drop an estimated 50,000 bombs on Iraq. Isn't it time we realized that the future depends on our ability to create, not to destroy?

The Network of Spiritual Progressives, an interfaith organization that recently emerged from the religious left, has joined with other groups and prominent individuals in proposing what they call a Global Marshall Plan. In their model, the United States, followed by other major industrialized nations, would dedicate at least 1 percent of gross domestic product each year for the next 20 years to substantially reduce or eliminate global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate health care, and to ameliorate the physical damage we've done to our planet. During that time, economic, industrial, environmental and political strategies could be developed and implemented to help make the gains permanent.

"Dream on," you say. "That's never going to happen." Which is why the first step in making this and other crucial ideas a reality is for us to shift our thinking. The original Marshall Plan to rebuild postwar Europe - signed into law 59 years ago last week - was also a bold concept with a big price tag. Yet it was backed by the pragmatic President Harry Truman, who recognized not only that the richest country in the world had a moral obligation to help countries devastated by World War II but also that the misery and chaos in those countries would make their citizens vulnerable to Communist indoctrination.

Similar conditions exist today in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, and are proving fertile ground for terrorist recruiters. Thus the Global Marshall Plan, though idealistic, is also realpolitik. Granted, the current U.S. administration lacks the moral imagination and pragmatic farsightedness to embrace such a plan. But what if millions of ordinary people with common sense and common decency rose up to affirm a different vision?

To help facilitate this, the Network of Spiritual Progressives has designated Sunday as a day to reflect on the unique power of generosity to promote global peace and security, and the tremendous good that could be done with our trillions of tax dollars - if only the government would listen to our voices. Programs are being planned involving speakers, music and prayer, as well as letter-writing campaigns and petition drives.

Participation in such activities helps to cut through our sense of powerlessness at seeing government officials endorse torture, bullying and secrecy, and rely on violence and dishonesty to ostensibly promote freedom and democracy. At the same time, these actions can energize us to express our deepest values, and to act on them.

For nearly a decade, I researched and interviewed people who had the generosity of spirit to risk their lives to save their Jewish neighbors in Nazi-occupied Europe. They often echoed the words of Miep Gies, the woman who tried to save Anne Frank and her family: "We can't wait for our leaders to make this world a better place." Rather, as another Holocaust rescuer put it, we must "do what we can, where we are, with what we've got."

Such deeds, however small, set in motion the tiny ripples of hope that Robert F. Kennedy once spoke of, ripples that can generate a giant swell of positive aspiration when millions of people act together. This is the power to create, to heal and to help. Through such bottom-up democracy, we will show what America and Americans are really about, and offer the world not a flood of militarism but a rainbow sign.

Mark Klempner, author of "The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage," has recently joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives. His e-mail is klempner@hearthasreasons.com.

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