By Emily Council, Age 17 Williamsburg VA
Sponsored by Monica Schauffler, Lafayette High School
Reading the newspaper always gave Thomas a headache. He laid the front page on his placemat and went to the window, rubbing his temples. The grass, suffering from the illness called January, was as brown and crispy as Thomas’ half-eaten toast. Thomas sighed and left for work. It was not one of Thomas’ better days. It didn’t look good for the Mets this season, and he didn’t have a date for his cousin’s wedding in two weeks. Thomas pulled out of his driveway and considered his options.
“Maybe I’ll invite Julia,” he said aloud. Thomas often carried out little conversations like this when he was alone in his car. To passersby he just looked like he was talking to his iPhone. He chuckled grimly. Julia, a vivacious secretary at work, would probably rather move to the North Pole and live as a penguin than go on a date with him. “Besides, a wedding would be a creepy date,” Thomas mumbled. He sighed and straightened his tie.
All of the cousins at family events always crowded around him in fits of pride, throwing arms around his shoulders in photos. “Our pride and joy,” his mother whispered in his ear when they hugged hello. His nephews were told to look on Uncle Thomas a role model, and the great-aunts kissed his cheeks with old lipstick and gratitude. It was all because Thomas had made it. He’d gone to college and then to law school, passed the bar, bought a house. He’d gotten a job, a collection of silk ties, and a subscription to the New York Times.
Thomas turned the corner to park near the office. He eyed a pigeon flapping around near the meter and thought suspiciously of his car. Instead of admiring the periwinkle sky as he walked into work, he thought about buying new cufflinks and the color of the lawn. He smiled at Julia as he walked in, and she handed him a piece of paper. “What’s this?” asked Thomas aiming for a confident tone.
“It’s for charity,” she said. “Did you see the article on the front page of the Times this morning about the conflict in – “
“I try to put stuff like that out of my mind,” Thomas interrupted, making his way into his office. “It’s too much for any one person to handle.”
“Well, that’s true, but if you donate or volunteer--“
“Oh, I don’t have time for things like that. Sorry,” Thomas said. “I have my cousin’s wedding and my lawn –“
“Things like what? Peace? Humanity”
“Lets not be too dramatic,” Thomas chuckled.
“I don’t think I’m being dramatic enough,” Julia retorted angrily. “There are people dying while you worry about your lawn.”
Thomas mumbled something and carried the paper into his office, where he threw it in the trash. Outside, the pigeon circled twice and flew away.
A malnourished, fragile boy of five sits hunched over a dirty tin bowl licking the remnants of a broth made of weeds, murky water, and little bits of leftover meat from their limited ration. His 12 year old brother takes his bowl over to the makeshift sink—a large clay bowl filled with cloudy water, infested with dead bugs—rinses it off and sets it to dry. His brother sits next to him and tells him stories to transport them to a world away from their own, if only for a minute, in a effort to distract them both from the pains of starvation. His older brother is the closest thing this five year old boy has to family. It’s unfathomable how many children are forced to bear the burden that life throws them before they are ready, before they are able to enjoy their childhood.
It’s hypocritical of those who preach of world peace and equality when there are still children like these who constantly struggle just to get through their day- to- day lives. Personally, I don’t believe that we will ever reach world peace until every mouth is fed and starvation is eradicated. But how does the government see peace? By fighting wars and “defending our values”. How is spending money on weapons to intentionally kill people peaceful? It’s not. Even though the United States government is buried under trillions of dollars of debt, we can still afford to pay hundreds of billions of dollars on our military budget. In fact, the United States military budget for 2010 was $693 billion, but when you include all of the “off budget” items and other categories of defense spending you get a grand total of somewhere between $1.01 and 1.35 trillion in one year.
This news just breaks my heart, knowing that children like the two young boys I just described are starving, unable to acquire even a few extra dollars, while the government is pumping in billions of dollars into the military budget without a second thought. How is this fair? How can we even dream about peace when we live in a society where this is a commonplace? However, if America can collaborate with the United Nations and halt defense spending for just one year, we can make a major difference in the fight against poverty and starvation.
Peace shouldn’t be about equality and everyone “holding hands”, that won’t be accomplished realistically. My definition of peace is renewed hope, a world in which children aren’t forced into adulthood or to fend for themselves. It’s time for a revolution, one where poverty will become a thing of the past and starvation will be nothing but a myth. The day food, health, and shelter become attainable for each and every person in this world is when we will truly achieve world peace.
What’s the matter with one day with nothing but peace?
Where no one will steal and the fighting will cease?
Where the streets are not stained with one’s innocent blood,
Where no great man will fall where once he had stood?
Why can’t there be one day with nothing but smiles,
And friendship and good-will that goes on for miles?
Can’t we just agree, for one day, for one hour?
To quiet the gun that seeks to claim power?
Please lay down your weapons; please lay down your hate,
For just twenty-four hours, let the smoke dissipate.
Let the blue sky reign clearly and dry every tear
Let the whole world find safety from danger and fear.
When we all stop suspecting each other of crime
Can we all just for one day enjoy a good time?
For our children, our honor, for one day let’s cease
Let’s all come together, and celebrate peace!
Judge: Rae Abileah
co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace