We are a force to be reckoned with. We have passports, luggage, maps, guidebooks, ipads, ipods, and an insatiable curiosity about the world. We go to ceremonies in Brazil, on treks in Patagonia, take cooking lessons in France, hunt truffles in Italy, meet Aboriginal people in the Outback, visit temples in Thailand, follow in the footsteps of founding fathers and mothers in Israel, dance in Greece, stay in castles in Ireland and pousadas in Portugal, meditate in India, cruise the Fjords of Norway.
We have power. We spend countless billions of dollars and keep many of the world's economies afloat. We are concerned with sustainability, protecting animals, habitats, forests, waterways and other cultures. Every nation tries to attract us with special offers, appealing packages, top chefs, festivals, novelties, extreme sports, museum exhibits, new hotels, new trails, restored sites, multi-media shows, music.
When we come home, we talk about our trips and make others want to travel. We share our photos on Facebook, and blog about the people we have met and the places we have been.
We have moxie. We go off the beaten trail. We find out about the latest authentic restaurants and how to get on underground and behind-the-scenes tours.
We give talks in our hometowns and people ask us for advice when they travel.
In short, we are opinion leaders, opinion makers, the vanguard of the modern wave of exploration.
Why, then, with our love of other countries and other cultures do we allow our tax dollars to be spent on destructive, useless, aimless, murderous foreign wars? How can we stand by when libraries are closed, bus service is cut back, aid to people with disabilities is slashed, school art programs are eliminated, teachers and researchers are laid off, environmental protection efforts are scaled back, and there is no money to sustain a civilized, humanistic, cultured, caring way of life?
If you were in a room with top government officials and asked them, point blank, what we are doing in Afghanistan, could they answer? While I was shopping recently, I met a young sergeant in uniform. He was on leave from the war in Afghanistan. I inquired if it was all right for me to pose a question. He said yes. I said I want to know if there was a reason for us to be there. His answer was simple and chilling. "Ma'am," he said, "it would be like Muslims coming to America and trying to get me to embrace their way of life. That is what we are doing to the people of Afghanistan."
At the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, I approached a Marine who was leading tours through the exhibits.
"You said you are going back to Afghanistan and had fought in Iraq. Can you tell me, please, why we are there?"
"I'm a Marine," he answered. "My loyalty is to the Corps and to other Marines."
"Marines are killing and being killed there, and you can't tell me a reason?"
"Because I'm a Marine, ma'am, " he said proudly.
I admired his loyalty and kinship to a group larger than himself. But I didn't understand. I still don't understand. WHY ARE WE MAIMING AND MURDERING IN OTHER COUNTRIES WHEN WE CAN'T EVEN STATE OUR GOAL, REASON OR PURPOSE?
A large majority of the U.S. population is not lucky enough to have passports. Maybe they have never traveled, or have only traveled close to home. They haven't yet -- and I hope they will, some day -- discover the joys of venturing abroad, and experiencing, first hand, other countries and cultures.
But we have. We have been. Seen. Been moved. Been stimulated. Been brought to tears of joy and inspiration. We have walked, talked, engaged with people who are different from us in their clothes, customs, food, prayer, values. We have learned from them and they have learned from us. How, then, can we sit back and allow these same people to be blasted by our bombs, shot by our guns, killed with our dollars?
You are students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, writers, singers, actors, retirees, masons, carpenters, salespeople, wait staff, business owners, financiers. You have contact with many people. You belong to groups and political parties. You write, you perform, you build. You have access to many forms of media -- at home or through work. You have courage and leadership. You can be the momentum that stops our obscene foreign wars -- in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and God only knows where else. There is endless talk about the budget, but no talk about where so much of that money is going: to foreign wars. You can be the force that allocates money where it is needed -- to enhance the lives of the citizens -- rather than to snuff out human lives.
You can choose to stop apologizing for the actions of our governments by saying they are "basically good people." They are war-mongering. They are putting lives at risk. They have blood on their hands. And every day, every hour, every minute, they feed our money into the war machine.
If you are tempted to say we can't do anything, look at Tunisia and Egypt. Look at the Mandelas and Ghandis of the world. Look at what people can do when they elect the right leaders and band together to bring about change.
We, the travelers, have to unite in our opposition to insane foreign wars. We have to speak out, and not shut up. We have to talk about it every day until it stops. If we put no pressure on the people making the wars, then we bear partial responsibility for the wars. If we vote for candidates who allocate money for wars, we are voting for those wars. We are war enablers. When we look in the mirror, we see the face of someone who is knowingly participating in human destruction. If our infrastructure at home is crumbling and our essential services curtailed, it is our job to redirect the resources. We cannot be diverted from this task.
We are young, old, educated, self-taught, religious, secular, working, unemployed. We all get caught up in our own lives, but there is something much bigger than us going on. We are humans craving peace but making war. We have to stop being distracted by the glittering trivia that surrounds us. We need to keep our eyes on the goal: protect and preserve the countries we love to visit.
As a nation, we stopped the war in Vietnam. We can and must do it again.
We were taught not to discuss politics or sex in polite society. But how about discussing war? Is there a ban on that?
Our organization is all over the world. It is made up of people like you and me who love to explore, to learn, to reach out to others around the globe. We post on interactive websites about our travels. We belong to online communities. We have many followers on social media sites. We must help to raise consciousness, support bills aimed at non-military solutions, demonstrate and remonstrate and blog against violence, hound our legislators, speak out on every and all occasion. Without our money and our acquiescence, there can be no wars.
As travelers, we must use our exposure, knowledge and power.
And, one day, which I hope is soon, we will pack up our passports and head off to places that we once invaded, proud of the fact that we have helped to bring an end to militarism, murder and mayhem.
Photos are by photojournalist Paul Ross.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist who has contributed to more than 90 publications. She blogs for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, is the author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel, and the editor and co-founder of www.YourLifeisaTrip.com. Her website is http://www.GlobalAdventure.us