How much does it cost to kill a man? The late Bishop Fulton Sheen posed this question during a replayed 1968 episode of his internationally followed television series.
In the 1960s, Catholic schools used to assign pupils to watch Bishop Sheen’s TV show as homework. As a kid, I would have protested such homework which interferes with viewing my favorite programs.
Ironically, I find myself viewing Bishop Sheen replays these days on the two Catholic Cable TV Networks, EWTN and Familyland Network. It is not for the preaching of Catholic dogma that glues me to Bishop Sheen replays whenever I happen to chance upon it. It is for the timeless values he talked about in his show.
I was never keen on dogma, rituals and ceremonies that we see too much in the Catholic Church. Many times, I have called the Church hierarchy to task for being too “ceremonious” like the Pharisees Jesus Christ used to denounce and I’ve suggested to them to be more involved with the communities, especially the poorest of the poor.
I have always espoused that Filipinos need to overhaul their values if they are to move forward. This should be one of the top priorities of the Catholic Church — to help reform the values of the poor that conspire to keep them trapped in their station in life.
“How much does it cost to kill a man?” Bishop Sheen asked in that 1968 telecast. He proceeded to list the facts and figures that painted a grim picture of the destructive tendencies of man which, from Cain and Abel and up to this day and age, continue to be the darkest side of mankind.
Bishop Sheen explained that it needed Cain a mere branch of a tree to kill Abel. From this first murder (according to Christian faith), the concept of weaponry evolved — the sword, the arrow and the spear. Bishop Sheen presented what it cost warriors (based on 1968 value of money) through the centuries to kill their fellow man.
For Julius Caesar, it cost an estimated 75 cents. For Napoleon, to kill a man cost him US$700. In World War I, despite the existence of the capacity for wholesale killing, Bishop Sheen said it averaged to $21,000. In World War II, where more nations were involved and where even more deaths occurred, the cost to kill a man averaged $200,000. As of 1968 when the telecast was done, the US spent $1 million an hour in the Vietnam War, according to Bishop Sheen.
Of course, the cost in money terms is one aspect — the least mankind should be concerned with. Money can be recovered but not human lives. The toll in human lives and human misery must never be accepted as collateral for war.
But what mankind should worry about is the tracked tendency to engage in war even when times have improved in terms of economic standard of living, health and education. In many cases, of course, the more developed country adopts an imperial inclination and decides to make vassal States of the weak ones.
Bishop Sheen cited several periods of peace between wars that became shorter and shorter. Between the Napoleonic Wars and the Franco-Prussian War, Bishop Sheen said that there was an interval of 55 years. Between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, there was a shorter interval of 43 years. Between World War I and World War II, the interval was only 21 years. Progress, it appears, increases instead of decreases the likelihood and incidence of war.
In the case of two European powers, Great Britain went to war 76 times during the last 100 years (note that reference point here is 1968). France went to war during the last 100 years — 16 times. Of course, after Napoleon, France became less imperial.
In 2007, US President George W. Bush asked for a Defense Appropriation of $493 billion, a 7% increase from that of 2006. At its height, the US spent an average of $40 billion a month in the Iraq invasion. These are monies that could easily go to health care, a thorny issue during the recently concluded US presidential election.
Let’s not go far from home. Over here, Dictator Ferdinand Marcos sent his First Lady, Imelda Marcos, to charm Muammar Khaddafi in Libya in order to seek a resolution to the Mindanao War. Marcos realized that the cost of the war could destabilize his martial law regime. The Tripoli Agreement resulted in that trip of Imelda Marcos and we had peace, albeit temporary.
If wide scale hostilities erupt anew in Mindanao, the Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime will find it extremely difficult to cope with the cost of a full scale war in addition to the economic crisis we are already encountering. A full scale Mindanao War could undo her just as World War I brought the end of the Romanov Tsars in Russia.
The sum of Bishop Sheen’s presentation is the dark side of man that is focused on using technology for things that can kill better and faster instead of using technology and resources to foster peace, harmony and development. After all, prosperity and development is the best insurance that a nation will not go to war.
Normally, a nation that is enjoying prosperity and peace will not willingly want to go to war. Japan today, an aggressor in World War II, is the best proof of that. The only reason why Japan is now rearming is because of signs of the US weakening and the looming threat of North Korea and China — both being Japan’s enemies in the past.
War as an instrument of foreign policy is too unpredictable. Who would imagine that a superpower like the US will run away from Vietnam with its tail between its legs? On the other hand, look at what the Great Depression created — the dawn of Fascist regimes in Spain, Italy and Germany under Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, respectively. Look at the casualties and devastated cities of Hitler’s World War II.
Invariably, the extreme income disparity in a society where many are miserably poor and too few are filthy rich proves to be the best promoter of conflict. A strong man emerges when there is a down trodden class in society, a big brother who promises to spread the wealth.
This is the reason why up to now we have not resolved our issues with our Communist rebels. Nothing promotes the ideas of Karl Marx better than a Wealth Gap such as the one that festers in our society.