Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The U.S. Warfare State and Evangelical Peacemaking

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The U.S. Warfare State and Evangelical Peacemaking

Article excerpt

Evangelicals are gearing up to be makers of peace. Are they ready for the serious responsibilities that entails?

AMID THE COUNTRY'S serious fiscal problems, our $775 billion annual defense budget, not to mention our tens of billions of dollars spent on intelligence and other national security expenses, is treated as sacosanct. Budget-cutters, especially on the Republican side, do not train their sights on the defense budget as they seek to address our flood of red ink, but instead focus on dramatic cuts in the safety net for the poor.

According to former Reagan budget director David Stockman, our $775 billion defense budget is nearly twice as large in inflation-adjusted dollars as the defense budget of Dwight Eisenhower for 1961, during the Cold War. Our FY 2011 defense budget was five times greater than that of China, our nearest competition for this dubious honor; constituted over 40 percent of the world's entire military spending; and was larger than the cumulative budget of the next 14 nations in the top 15. All of this occurs at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are sliding, and one-sixth of our population cannot find or has stopped looking for full-time work.

Stockman suggests that no plausible national defense goals today justify this level of defense spending. He rightly points out that "we have no advanced industrial state enemies" akin to the USSR of Cold War days. He argues that what in fact supports a budget of this size is an ideology of "neoconservative imperialism" and an attempt to function as a "global policeman" even after the world has "fired" us from this role.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Andrew Bacevich argues in several important recent books that the direction of U.S. foreign and military policy is slipping from democratic control. It is instead dominated by a cohort of active and retired military, intelligence, law enforcement, corporate, lobbyist, academic, and political elites whose power in Washington is sufficiently impressive as to foreclose serious reconsideration of what Bacevich calls the "Washington rules." The elites enforcing these rules consistently drive us to policies of permanent war, a staggeringly large global military presence, and regular global interventionism. This analysis stands in striking continuity with the warnings offered 50 years ago by President Eisenhower about the "military-industrial complex."

While our taste for large boots-on-the-ground military interventions appears finally to have waned after the bloody and bankrupting off-budget wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our special forces, covert, and technological interventions abroad- and the massive, secret national security establishment that supports them-have heightened. Our nation has not had a serious debate about the centralization of presidential authority involved in this recent shift, including the legitimacy of presidential authority to order long-distance drone strikes-in countries that want such strikes, and in countries that don't want them.

The United States remains a nation traumatized by 9/11 and its terror attacks. We are easily manipulated into military and covert engagements in the name of post-9/11 national security.

One of the greatest tragedies of the last decade has been the extraordinary burden borne by the small cast of paid (e.g. "volunteer") soldiers who have been killed or traumatized by our recent wars. We honor them with sentimental displays at airports and ballparks, but seem to have no serious answer for mental health problems that now take 25 veterans' lives by suicide for every one soldier now dying on the battlefield. And we will be paying their pensions and medical expenses for the next 70 years.

In a trenchant turn of phrase, Stockman suggests that we have developed into a "warfare state" whose military-spending excesses are one major factor contributing to economic decline and imminent fiscal emergency. I believe that Stockman is correct. …

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