President Abraham Lincoln took office as the sixteenth president facing a divided nation, north and south. "One of them would make war rather than let the nation survive,” Lincoln concluded, adding, “and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.” And the war came!1
That war crippled America. It killed 418,206, wounding 362,130, and scarred the national body for generations to come. World War One added another 116,708 dead, with costs totaling $33 billion. World War Two sacrificed another 408,306, wounded 670,846, at a cost of $360 billion.
The Iraq War corrupted American politics forever, adding pre-emptive strike and making us just another conqueror in the eyes of the Islamic world. It cost more than 4,100 deaths, 28,000 wounded, and hundreds of Allies and civilians killed. The 2007 surge added 30,000 American troops, with Iraqi damages exceeding 70-76,000 citizens killed as collateral damages (Washington Post, 8-21-07).
By any measure, war is expensive, excessive, and wasteful! By 2006, the Iraq War had exceeded $378 billion, or $3,375 per household, $2,848 per tax payer--$11 million an hour--$285 million daily.2 Our April 2005 (just one year) taxes revealed a median income family in Kalamazoo, MI. paid $2,827 in federal income taxes, of which $806 was military. An additional $249 went for interest on military spending, and another $105 for Veterans benefits, with continuing costs spiraling (while benefits diminished).
Former President Eisenhower agreed to our new American military-industrial phenomenon in 1961, but he warned of its grave implications: “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry . . . new in the American experience, a total influence – economic, political, even spiritual. . ” (emphasis added).
He cautioned us to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex” (emphasis added). He [rightly] feared the potentially disastrous rise of misplaced power, but insisted we must never let this endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
Take nothing for granted, he concluded, knowing that “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. . .”2
Half a century later, peace diplomatic efforts fumble in dark corridors of the War Department. Congress marches meekly ambivalently to the economic melody of the Pentagon--arms manufacturers, including a new army of unseen-and-unaccountable Para-military sub-contractors, earning gauche profits from weapons of destruction.
Very few of us dare to march to a different drumbeat, yet members of Vista de la Montana United Methodist Church began meeting for worship above a former missile silo. They planned to build on top of their former Titan II ICBM site, now filled in with concrete. Peacefully resting their house of prayer on this once potentially-destructive missile site, symbolized their hope of turning swords and missiles into plowshares.
Pastor, Stewart Elson, called this symbolism a fitting closure to Cold War years when ICBM weapons formed a strategic part of our national defense. He saw it as hope for a world falling prey to its own worst self. He called the ending of the Cold War, and the dismantling of nuclear defense systems, a superpower exercise of control, forever hampered by human frailties and political gaming.
Since 1939, my lifetime has been filled with endless global conflicts, called “just cause.” We hid in our boxes of status-quo thinking, and we jested at suggestions of a Peace Department. We called non-violent peace initiatives pink, socialistic, communistic, leftwing liberal politics--unpatriotic.
Sadly, President Obama inherited a nation in which distrust infiltrates every level of social intercourse. Political striving infects and poisons diplomatic relations, religious convictions, and global politics. The innocent become helpless victims, paying intractable tolls. World futures fester, global peace disintegrates, and nations destabilize. All the while arms producers and military contractors protect plush profits.
Today’s New York Times reports high-level talks aiming for an end to the Afghan War: “Talks to end the war in Afghanistan involve extensive, face-to-face discussions with Taliban commanders from the highest levels of the group's leadership,who are secretly leaving their sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of NATO troops, officials here say” (10-19-10, italics added).
While I applaud such efforts, I know anyone caught defending such action is politically suspect. Nonetheless, if we cannot cooperate together and institute a new world order built on our common humanity under God, what future can we expect? Installing military leadership, and patching torn “I win, you lose” diplomacies, is like rebuilding New Orleans and leaving it unprotected from the next hurricane.
The sandy foundations will evaporate in the wind and raging floods of terrorism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious hostility. The collapsing house will leave all of us with irreparable loss (cf. Luke 6).
If the teachings of Jesus speak no relevant word to our socio-political forum, we need to quietly withdraw from public discussion, practice our faith privately, and free others to do the same. If our message of the cross has no validity, we should bleep John Wesley, when he defines himself as homo unius libri--“a man of one book.” Wesley concluded, “The sum of all religion is laid down in eight particulars, and called the Sermon on the Mount an aggregate total of the New Testament message.”4 Jesus intended for us to work out win-win relationships and stop this win-lose business (emphases added).
Peace-maker John Bernbaum describes Jesus as the consummate peacemaker. He suggests ”The Church of Jesus Christ, because of its multinational character, should by definition be an agent for world peace!”5 The Old Testament built on our being created in the image of God. The New Testament revealed Jesus inviting disciples to participate in the love of God and introducing the gifting of God’s indwelling Presence.6
Jesus challenged us to forgive as God forgives us.7 He left us a model of God’s indiscriminate love.8 Christian discipleship merges belief and behavior, action and attitude, prompting Pastor J. L. Sparks to call it “transformation.”
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” concluded Paul. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres .. . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.9
In becoming the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King challenged his people to “ meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” King addressed “white brothers all over the South,” declaring, “we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering . . . Bomb our homes and we will still love you. . .We will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.10
Love alone can minimize human hostilities, maximize global community, and reduce the wastes of war! Let us war on waste rather than on each other.
1 Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865.
2 National Priorities Project, 17 New South Street, Suite 302, Northampton, MA 010160: www.nationalpriorities.org.
3 Eisenhower's “Farewell Address to the Nation,” January 17, 1961
4 The Works of John Wesley, Vol. V, p. 251.
5 John a. Bernbaum, Perspectives on Peacemaking. (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1984, p. 254.
6 I John 1:5-7; 3:1-3, et al.
7 Mt. 6:12, 14,; 18:32; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13.
8 Mt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36.
9 I Corinthians Chapter 13, NIV.
10 Marshall Frady, Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2002), p. 5.
Wayne at Warner's World,