One source of great unhappiness is a false belief that we “own” things. When we believe we possess something, or can acquire something, we become fearful of loss, or driven by desire. If we believe we own material possessions, the reality of death certainly proves otherwise. If we believe we “have” other people, such as children, a spouse or friends, the reality of personal choice and control clearly demonstrates otherwise. It is a delusion to think we possess parents, spouse, children or anyone else. Yet, I work with many people who honestly believe they own, and therefore can control others.

This same delusion even applies to information, opinions, and belief systems. How many conflicts have occurred, when someone else is believed to hold a different belief or opinion than those we “have?” Throughout human history, people have killed each other based solely on the assumption that the others “held” a different set of religious or political beliefs. How is it that we believe to know what others think or believe? How do we know others’ opinions are different than those we have? And even if they share with us those differences, why should we become angry or anxious? Do we own their minds? Do they own our minds? Do we ourselves actually possess the thoughts, beliefs, opinions we experience as our own? Can somebody steal our thoughts? Can others change our beliefs? Can anyone else possess our opinions? To believe so is actually delusional.

We often maintain the delusion of possession, in order to keep our own anxiety in check. We believe our bodies and minds to be “ours” to avoid the panic of believing they are not. We lay claim to our minds and bodies as though we could control what arises within them. Knowing about “our” digestion, does little to modify how it works. Our bodies and minds have the audacity to change, to seemingly obey their own laws, to function beyond our will or intention. They even have the ability to deteriorate and die without our consent or control. That anxious childhood delusion that if we “owned” something, we could control it, simply doesn’t hold true.

When we think of ourselves as possessing others, the desire to change them in some way, and the consequent feelings of betrayal can be especially strong. Sometimes I fall into the delusion I am in a helping profession. I often believe I form a healing relationship with others. When I fall into such a delusion, it is very easy for me to become frustrated when people don’t get better. When others don’t do the very things we talked about as improving their health, I feel betrayed. I could even become resentful if they didn’t do what they promised they would, especially when to do so would make their lives so much happier. From such a perspective, people often do not seem to want to be happier or healthier. I feel betrayed or resentful. Such is the personal consequence of believing I have control over others because we “have” a relationship.

The truth is there is absolutely nothing we can have that we will not lose eventually. So there is always fear. We cycle around and around, trying to gain possession of more and more…then we die. Talk about betrayal of our delusion!

Craving and anxiety circle around each other like a dog chasing its own tail. Fear gives rise to greater desire for something.  Intensified desire strengthens the delusion that “having it” will make us feel secure. Attachment to security increases our fear that it will be taken away. And the circle is complete.

Sharon Salzberg writes in her book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, “Attachment, which is based on desire,…is the root of suffering because of its two accompanying qualities: seeking and guarding [defending]. Seeking is endless. It never comes to a state of rest; it never ceases. Guarding involves trying to hold on, and this creates fear and anxiety, because everything we can know with this body and mind is in constant change.”

Happiness is rediscovered when we realize that states of mind are actually a function of our being, not a function of how much we have or even what we have. Inner qualities such as love, faith, wisdom, and peace are not created by feverish seeking. They arise from the quality of our inner being…from the choices we make…from the behavioral habits we’ve created, and from the beliefs we hold about ourselves. Separate who you are from what you do or what you have, and you free yourself to experience greater happiness…your natural and genuine state of being.



During war and its aftermath, there is always a need for healing, both physically and emotionally, for individuals, their communities and nations. One essential step is to look honestly at all the repercussions of violence, no matter how troubling or sensitive the issue. While the calls to “Support Our Troops” were repeated regularly at rallies and in editorials, it is not clear what the implications are for this kind of appeal when “our troops” are involved in violations of the Geneva Convention or violence back home, for example. In the photograph below, a Korean woman sits in the rubble that had been her community before the war.

Emphasize that sophisticated communication skills and high levels of emotional intelligence can help in processing information like what appears in this article for The New York Times on January 13, 2008. According to Sontag and Alvarez there were 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment—along with a range of other problems including alcohol abuse and family troubles—contributed to these tragedies. Volatile emotions then mix with violence and self-destructive tendencies to produce an explosive, deadly concoction. Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving. Imagine the stress on Korean civilians having to escape the war’s violence.

According to Sontag and Alvarez, about a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain. A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq. And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.

Add to this the alarming number of suicides among enlisted and returning veterans. According to the Times On-Line for October 3, 2008, “More American military veterans have been committing suicide than US soldiers have been dying in Iraq. . . At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide. Such statistics compare to the total of 3,863 American military deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 — an average of 2.4 a day, according to the website The rate of suicides among veterans prompted claims that the US was suffering from a “mental health epidemic” — often linked to post-traumatic stress.” Imagine the level of trauma on the civilian population having to flee the fighting.

Note how troubling it is to read the graphic details about the human stories that underlie the statistics. It is no surprise that the proponents of a particular war do not like to see these kinds of statistics or details made public. Yet it is in the public arena that democracy must play out. Take time to prepare an audience, to set ground rules for discussion, and to debrief the process when completed. Think about the full costs of war and violence, of the resulting trauma and hunger. As Paul Kennedy asks in his 1987 book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (New York: Vintage), with 800 bases overseas, will our “military overstretch” erode our own national infrastructure and safety net provisions as has happened to every other empire in the last 500 years?


A very common reason that people give for supporting harsh punishments in the criminal justice system is that they will deter future crime, both by the offender and the community as a whole. This idea has a long history. Michael Foucault explains that prior to the eighteenth century, ceremonial punishments were used to re-establish the authority of the king and the presence of an audience for both the trial and the punishment was considered very important. As Foucault says, “A secret punishment is a punishment half wasted.”[1] The spectacle of punishment was directed not principally at the offender, but at the watching community, as a way to communicate the terrifying consequences of deviancy. As Mitchel Roth notes, in this context, the meaning of “reform” applied to those who witnessed the punishment, not those who suffered it.[2]

Today, the mainstream justice system continues to try to prevent criminal behavior through threatening punitive sanctions,[3] but there is actually very little evidence to back up the assumed effectiveness of this approach. As Rock notes, “Legal theorists and practitioners themselves frequently confess that they do not know (and cannot propound a strategy for learning) about the wider effects of sentencing. There is little understanding of the impact of deterrence on individual offenders and would-be offenders.”[4]

We do, however, know a bit about the impact sentencing has on offenders. As Rock explains,

There is limited, almost casual evidence about one of those immediate audiences of sentencing – the offenders – and it would appear that they are not always impressed by the ceremonial work of the courts. Naive offenders may be too numbed, detached or ill at ease at the point of sentencing to respond appropriately (Ericson and Baranek 1982). Persistent offenders may be too cynical, too alert to the game-like, negotiated character of the underlife of criminal justice, to be impressed by what they see and hear. Theirs is a propensity, argued Coffey and Eldefonso (1975), to regard trials not so much as authoritative rituals but as contests to win or lose. Those offenders who eventually decide to desist from crime may have been struck less by an onslaught of moral doubt than by the personal belief that, with ageing, the costs and benefits of offending have begun to change to their disadvantage (Shover 1996: 142).[5]

Punitive sanctions, therefore, rarely lead to the decision to desist from crime.

So, what is the best way to deter future crime and keep our communities safe? Restorative justice programs, throughout Colorado, the United States, and abroad, have been shown to greatly reduce rates of recidivism. RJ Colorado reports re-offence rates following restorative justice of just 10%, down from a national average of 60% with conventional justice approaches.[6] This is done through bringing the offender, victim, and community together to talk about the impact of the crime and what is needed to make things right. The participants come to understand and connect with each other, experiencing a transformation of emotions and relationships that leads to future pro-social behavior. The best way to keep communities safe is, in fact, to have a response to crime that builds understanding and compassion.

[1] Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), 111.

[2] Mitchel Roth, An Eye for an Eye: A Global History of Crime and Punishment (London: Reaktion Books, 2014), 106.

[3] Tom Tyler, “Restorative Justice and Procedural Justice: Dealing with Rule Breaking,” Journal of Social Issues 62, no. 2 (2006): 309.

[4] Rock, “Rules, Boundaries and the Courts,” 595.

[5] Rock, “Rules, Boundaries and the Courts,” 596.


THE COSTS OF WAR by Bob Meroney

“The cost of war in human lives is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones.  I am deeply moved to find some means or method of avoiding another calamity of war.”                                                                                            General George C. Marshall, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, 1953.[1]

War is sometimes a tool for nations to achieve a goal by imposing their will on other nations.  War-winning nations impose their will on the losers and weaker nations.  Of course, there are multiple costs of war:  human lives, financial debt, environmental destruction, psychological health, and social disarray.  But others would argue that there are advantages and profits to war:  economic wealth, technological advancement, acquisition of land and resources, international power and prestige, and national pride and patriotism.  Sometimes war is argued to be the only solution to a bad peace:  ending slavery, thwarting Nazism, or removing a feudal system or an abusive authoritarian regime.  Thus, there appear to be both advantages and disadvantages to war.  War is always bad, even an obscenity, but we persist in the savage belief that we must occasionally, at least, settle our arguments by killing one another in a “just” war.[2]

All to often we conclude that war is the “better” solution, but, usually, we have not considered the full costs of a war declaration.  Let’s take a moment to consider “the costs of war.”

The Economic and Financial Costs of War 

When we consider the US involvement in war around the globe, we usually assume that the consequences will be favorable, that the costs are acceptable, and that the wars are better than the alternatives.  Real numbers challenge these assumptions.  The Costs of War Project at Brown University has detailed statistics concerning the impacts of US involvement in military operations around the world:[3]

  • War and defense policies are costing the US more than we realize:  ~60% of our annual discretionary budget, more than $5.9 trillion or $23,300/taxpayer since 2001,[4]
  • Military spending impacts the US gross domestic product (GDP) growth negatively, and underlies macroeconomic instability and low growth during the last decade,[5]
  • War is extremely costly in the long-run in terms of democracy and freedom, rarely are democratic principles strengthened by war, (e.g. consider countries where we have intervened such as Nicaragua, Haiti, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myra-mar, Israel, Algeria, Somalia, Sudan, Congo, etc. etc.)  In many cases economic collapse and recession followed wars in these lands.[6]
  • The US military-industrial complex is the world’s largest arms manufacturer with exports of $10 billion/year; thus, supplying about half of all arms in the world,
  • The US is over-extended in terms of its bases, military training, and direct military action with 40 military bases or outposts, 65 training programs, 26 military exercises, 14 direct action or combat operations, and 7 air and drone strike operations in over 80 countries,[7]
  • Even if we dropped all US war and defense commitments immediately, future interest payments on past wars will add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt, and
  • The costs of war are likely to destabilize the United States economy.[8]

Neil Crawford, Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University summarizes his

concerns by noting that “high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security

concern because they are unsustainable. The public would be better served by increased

transparency and by the development of a comprehensive strategy to end the wars and deal

with other urgent national security priorities.”

Costs in Human Lives of War 

In 1953 Raymond Dart hypothesized that violence is a fundamental part of human psychology and that mankind’s instincts are rooted in his evolution from the “killer ape.”  Perhaps that explains why during the past 3400 years humans have been at peace during only 268 years, or just 8 percent of recorded history.[9], [10], [11]  Today, combined world armed forces is about 21.3 million people, and the United States has about 1.4 million in active peacetime service.

  • It is estimated that ~108 million soldiers died in the 20th century, and over all history ~1 billion died from war which is about 1% of all human life until today,
  • Combat deaths for Americans since 1775 are over ~666,000 and another 674,000 died during training, injury and from disease.[12], [13]
  • Typically, US fighters inflict about 10 to 20 times higher casualties on the enemy than it suffers itself, so US fighters may have inflicted injuries on another 27 million people.

Environmental Effects of War 

Air, water and soil are affected by wartime activities.  Weapon destruction, oil field spills and fires, and chemical spraying impact both plants, wildlife and humans.  A list of war related factors affecting the environment would include:

  • Unexploded ordinance and land mines,
  • Agent Orange and other defoliates,
  • Nuclear armaments testing, dispersal of Strontium 90,
  • Fossil fuel use, green house emissions, (oil spill by Iraqi forces in 1991 into the Persian Gulf during Gulf War was the world’s largest spill),
  • Land and resource use and damage, population displacement,
  • Fires, oil field fires, building fires, (WW2 urban destruction in Hamburg and Dresden, Germany; Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Japan), and
  • Additional climate change induced by war activities.[14]

Psychological and Social Costs of War   

It is known that conflict situations can cause more mortality and disability than any major disease. Wars destroy communities, families, and health infrastructure.  They can damage the social and economic fabric of nations.  Death as a result of wars can be considered only the “tip of the iceberg.”  Wars affect both the mental health of soldiers, civilians and refugees.  Consider,

  • Effect on soldiers and their families,
    • 68% suffer depression, 72% see anxieties, 42% see PTSD, and
    • The WHO estimated that, in the situations of armed conflicts throughout the world, “10% of the people who experience traumatic events will have serious mental health problems and another 10% will develop behavior that will hinder their ability to function effectively. The most common conditions are depression, anxiety and psychosomatic problems such as insomnia, or back and stomach aches”.
  • Refugees and population displacement,[15]
    • As of 2018 there were 68 million people forcibly displaced out of their home country,
    • As of 2018 there were 42 million people displaced internally in countries,
    • Children make up 50% of refugees, and
    • Asylum seekers as of 2016 were 3 million.

Possible Alternative Investments in Peace Rather Than War 

One might paraphrase the old weather quote to “Everybody talks about war (the weather), but nobody does anything about it.”[16]  Let’s end this war costs discussion with several alternate suggestions on how to avoid national confrontations leading to war.  Any alternative is likely to be less costly.

  • Support multinational organizations like the United Nations to negotiate between conflicting states,
  • Hold an international peace conference among all parties emphasizing restorative justice principles,[17]
  • Offer aid and support to nonviolent movements, humanitarian aid, economic and technological support that can reduce fiscal or resource tensions that often initiate conflict,[18] and
  • Create a nonviolent international civilian peace force of trained arbitrators and negotiators. The peace force would provide witnesses that could testify concerning human abuses and could also open safe spaces for discussion.[19]


“For how many thousands of years now have we humans been what we insist on calling “civilized?” And yet, in total contradiction, we also persist in the savage belief that we must occasionally, at least, settle our arguments by killing one another.  While we spend much of our time and a great deal of our treasure in preparing for war, we see no comparable effort to establish a lasting peace. Meanwhile, emphasizing the sloth in this regard, those advocates who work for world peace by urging a system of world government are called impractical dreamers. Those impractical dreamers are entitled to ask their critics what is so practical about war.”                                                                                                                                                                             Walter Cronkite address at UN, 1999[20]

[1] General Marshall was the architect of the Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild Europe after WW II as a safeguard for peace into the future. America gave $12 billion (nearly $100 billion is 2016 dollars) in economic assistance to rebuild Wester European economies after the war (1948-1952).

[2] Others like Quakers, Mennonites and Buddhists have held to a strictly pacifist position in all circumstances.


[4] Figures do not include costs to state and local governments for caring for veterans, donations of equipment to other countries, and costs for American presence outside of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and the US in 75 other countries.


[6] War is also extremely costly morally and emotionally to the perpetrators for twisted excuses for military intervention often have been hidden, amoral, violent and contrary to publicly espoused positions.


[8] Paul Kennedy (1989), The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, argues that great nations tend to steadily overextend themselves with repeated conflicts and become militarily top-heavy for a weakening economic base.

[9] War is defined here as an active conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives.





[14] See Rotary Peace Builder Newsletter No. 15, November 2018.



[17] E.g. This is a tried-and-true solution that resolved the wars in Southeast Asia through the Paris Conference on Cambodia (1989), and in the Balkans through the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995).

[18] E.g. The Indus Waters Treaty (1960) resulted in the construction of the Tarbela Dam which was built to compensate Pakistan for the loss of head waters diverted by India for its own consumption.  Multinational and World Bank aid for this project in 1960 and again for an extension in 2012 forestalled an incipient war between Pakistan and India over water resources.