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Voices / Letters from readers

Stopping terrorism with opportunity

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration provided dignity and income for 11 million jobless men and women.

Today, we need a United Nations CCC-WPA for places with extreme unemployment. Much of what the world spends on war and preparedness would be unnecessary if some were devoted to job creation.

And ISIS recruitment would be harder.

In the Middle Ages, the people who left their known world to become Crusaders against the infidels were not all pious Christians eager to serve God. Many were getting away from the impoverishment or sameness of their lives. By joining a Crusade, they gained glamor, excitement and a meal ticket, became part of a cause and a brotherhood, and stood a chance of getting a piece of the land they would conquer.

And so with the young men and women from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or New Jersey who join ISIS: often poor, sometimes not, illiterate or educated, but generally jobless.

Many, I expect, have little interest in creating a caliphate. Maybe most, like the Crusaders, believe in the end they will be rewarded. But offer them a job doing serious work for reliable pay, and I expect many fewer would be drawn to holy war. Especially if some of the work, as in the WPA, employed their advanced learning and skills.

As in our Depression, such a work program could serve the interests of the existing order — and that might not everywhere be a good thing.

But it’s generally a better thing than deepening poverty, despair or jihad. It could make possible all kinds of useful work. And its cost would be a fraction of what the world pays now for less rational ways of keeping order.

Byron Stookey

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Originally published in The Commons issue #311 (Wednesday, June 24, 2015). This story appeared on page D2.

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