There's a myth that the Rev. Ray Buchanan wants to debunk. Most U.S. citizens believe the government just hands out loads of money to the world's poorest nations. When asked what percentage of the U.S. gross national product goes to help the world's poor, many people say five to 10 percent.
The true figure is less than one-tenth of one percent, says Buchanan, founder and president of Stop Hunger Now, a Raleigh-based relief organization that is raising funds to help victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami that hit a dozen Asian and African nations.
Buchanan says the U.S. government response has been "shameful" to what he's calling "the biggest natural disaster in our lifetime."
With perhaps 200,000 dead and millions more homeless, Buchanan says President Bush "had to be shamed into anteing up to $350 million" after initially pledging just $35 million in aid.
"That shows a mean, niggardly spirit if you ask me," Buchanan says. "The real spirit is showing there. He's doing what he has to do to save face with the world. That's all there is to it."
Buchanan says the United States "ranks almost at the bottom of the developed nations as far as per capita giving to relief. The big myth is most people think the U.S. government relief efforts and programs are the most generous in the world, and that's just simply not true."
A former Marine and Vietnam veteran, Buchanan, who turns 58 on Saturday, says one need look no farther than the Pentagon budget to find the U.S. government's real priorities.
The lead story in the Jan. 1 edition of The News & Observer reported the increase in U.S. aid to tsunami victims ("U.S. Aid Jumps to $350 million"), Buchanan says, while on page 3A of the same edition, a news brief reported a $716 million contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin for continued work on the F/A-22 stealth fighter jet, a project with a total projected budget of $72 billion.
"We spend more on one military contractor than the entire budget of the (UN) World Food Program, which is the largest feeding agency in the world," Buchanan says. "The reality is the United States could be taking the lead in erasing the obscenity of hunger for far less than it's spending on the war in Iraq."
Buchanan cites statistics from the Borgen Project (www.borgenproject.org) that show the United States has already spent $147 billion on the war and occupation of Iraq. The U.S. military budget stands at $416 billion annually in a world where "800 million people are chronically hungry" and "four billion people live in poverty." The project says just $23 billion would be needed to cut global hunger in half by 2015.
"When you have the largest, most powerful nation in the history of the world, a nation that most of the world is recognizing as an empire at this point, the position of leadership that we should take is one where we should be showing the rest of the world how to respond, and we're not doing that," Buchanan says. While the United States leads in actual dollars given, Buchanan says the aid is often used "as a tool of diplomacy."
"There's nothing inherently wrong with that because our government has responsibilities for our nation, but our government does not provide aid out of the humanitarian impulses of its heart," Buchanan says. "It provides aid as another tool of diplomacy. We have not hesitated to hold an economic club over the heads of any country that doesn't do what we want it to do."
Buchanan said he is "thoroughly impressed and gratified" at the U.S. public's response to the tsunami. "There's been a phenomenal outpouring of compassion and generosity beyond anything I have seen in my 25 years of public service and working in hunger relief."
In December, Buchanan received the International Human Rights Award from the Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina. He was honored for the relief efforts of Stop Hunger Now, which has provided relief aid to 40 countries since Buchanan founded the group in 1998. Stop Hunger Now is working on two specific projects in response to the tsunami. Buchanan says he's trying to raise $50,000 to send a bulk shipment of Vietnamese rice to the region, and he's raising funds to send multiple large containers of a high-protein, dehydrated soup mix from a Texas dehydration plant. The cost is $39,000 per container, but each container holds more than a million servings of soup at less than four cents per serving.
Buchanan, who did a four-year tour of duty with the Marines, was ordained a United Methodist minister in 1973. He says a 2002 visit to Iraq turned him against war. "I saw what the sanctions had done," he says, "and I've been totally against U.S. aggression ever since."
To contribute to Stop Hunger Now, go to www.stophungernow.org or call 839-0689.