By Karen Camper, Special to The Commercial Appeal
Mother’s Day has its roots in the women’s peace movement of the late 19th century. One of its founders, activist Julia Ward Howe, sought to commemorate the struggles of the day by creating “a festival which should be observed as mothers’ day, and which should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines.”
There are many modern-day “peace doctrines” worthy of our attention on this Mother’s Day. In Tennessee, we continue to fight for income equality, better health care and affordable treatment for our veterans, better-quality education and good-paying jobs. I grapple with these issues and many others as the state representative for the 87th District.
As a mother myself, and someone committed to leaving the world better than when I entered it, I also work on issues that most Tennesseans aren’t contemplating in their everyday lives. Because of my service in the United States Army, having retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 in charge of dealing with our military technologies and capabilities, I am particularly interested in matters dealing with our armed services and veterans. To that end, I serve on the board of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), an organization devoted to promoting peace. WAND was founded out of another women’s peace movement: the 1980s movement to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.
What makes the threat of nuclear weapons a local issue is twofold. First, if used — intentionally or mistakenly — nuclear bombs have the power to wreak devastating long-term health and environmental consequences on top of the mass casualties they would produce.
Second, at a time when our federal budget is shrinking, we ought to be looking at where we can trim the fat. Nuclear weapons spending is ripe for a second look.
More than half of the discretionary budget Congress appropriates each year is earmarked for Pentagon spending, including nuclear weapons. Everything else (e.g., food stamps, low-income housing assistance, veterans services, education, transportation and infrastructure) competes for dollars from the rest of the discretionary budget.
Moreover, a report by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies projected that the United States will spend between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion over the next 30 years to maintain, replace and update our nuclear weapons arsenal.
If we drill down to just one program within the nuclear weapons budget, the president’s budget for fiscal year 2015 requests that we pour more dollars — 643 million of them — into an overly complex and costly upgrade for the B61 nuclear bomb. That amount could send more than 10,000 students to the University of Tennessee on full four-year scholarships or pay for more than 10,000 preschoolers to get Head Start assistance for the next eight years.
While complete nuclear disarmament may not be in our near future, we should have a serious discussion about what our budget priorities are going to be. Should we continue to maintain an excessive nuclear-deterrence program capable of destroying the world dozens of times over? Or should we adopt a more minimalist approach that maintains our deterrence capabilities while focusing more financial resources on ensuring our veterans receive the health care they deserve, that our military families are taken care of, and that promotes the health and well-being of regular Americans?
These are important questions that all too often aren’t discussed in Washington. Instead of engaging in partisan dog-and-pony shows, such as the endless “investigations” of the events in Benghazi, perhaps Congress should make some time to focus our energies on debating whether our nuclear weapons strategies are outdated.
Luckily, two Tennesseans in Congress are in a position to help fix this. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper have direct oversight responsibilities for our nation’s nuclear arsenal. They have the power to work with their colleagues in Congress to get our nation’s priorities right.
Mother’s Day happens to coincide with the time of year when members of Congress are working on the upcoming year’s federal spending priorities. I hope they will keep in mind the goals for which this holiday was originally established, and promote what Julia Ward Howe called “the great and general interests of peace.”
Karen Camper, a Memphis Democrat, represents District 87 in the Tennessee House of Representatives
via Guest column: ‘Peace doctrines’ to ponder on Mother’s Day | The Commercial Appeal (TN).