American Militarism and a Christian Way Out

Posted: September 16, 2008 in Uncategorized
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The anti-war movement in the U.S. has been described as the weakest social movement in America, and for good reason. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) 2.0 is very, very smart.  It understands that Congress wields the power of the purse, and so it distributes its business across every single congressional district, thereby investing most Members’ constituencies economically in the various defense contractors’ well-being. How do you vote against the economic interests of your constituents (in a very concrete way, irrespective of whether your tax/budget policies in a wider sense harm your constituents) and keep your House or Senate seat? Let me give you a hint: you usually don’t.

It’s hard to tell what happened first in this chicken-egg situation: was the MIC 2.0 able to seed every congressional district in the country because the anti-war movement in the U.S. was so weak, or is the anti-war movement so weak because the MIC seeded every congressional district in the country? It really doesn’t matter. We’re hear now, with the Pentagon unable to wage war without the help of corporations, and a vast swath of U.S. citizens happy with it that way.

I had a thought while stuck in traffic this morning.  NPR aired a story about Gen. Odierno taking over in Iraq, which has been considered by some as an ominous indicator for our Iran policy, and I pondered what could be done to slow down what might be a very ugly process unfolding. It occurred to me that, while protests and symbolic action are important, considering where I was sitting at the moment, they’d be wholly insufficient.  The militarism of the U.S. is my daily routine multiplied by 350 million or so: my 30-minute, gasoline-powered commute to work, my patronage of companies-turned-defense-contractors, etc. In an important way, the typical daily routine of a typical American is the military-industrial complex, atomized and spread over the entire economy.  Those daily routines, and the howling protest that would ensue should they be altered by government policies (not to mention the economic strain on dependent communities), are the leverage used to generate ever more government patronage of not just a handful of egregious war profiteers, but a diffuse system of military corporate profit-sharing.

So. I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture here. What’s the point?  The point is that since, in a very real sense, the MIC has succeeded in turning itself into almost every American, every American has the ability to act on it.  The dynamics of the system emerge from us, so we can alter what emerges.

The traditions of the early Christians provides good guidance on how to deal with this situation.  For around three centuries, the church remained relatively uniform in its nonviolence.  The Apostolic Code of Hippolytus makes it clear that Christians serving in the military or in the civilian government who might be called on to kill or order the deaths of others must renounce the power of life and death over others or be rejected by the church. Kurlansky has noted that this attitude made the early Christians history’s first totally anti-war, anti-violence sect.  While the early church faced a rampant militarism hostile to the peace of Christ, they could probably never have imagined the sophistication of a military-industrial complex of today.  But, drawing on their general attitude, I’d cautiously offer the following update:

  • Christians should renounce killing in all forms, period. National interest and self-defense do not free us from Christ’s teachings and example.
  • Christians should renounce positions of authority that include the power to order the deaths of others.
  • Christians should withdraw from industries that profit from the production of weapons and should do all in their power to avoid patronizing such organizations.

This last point is not as simple as it sounds, though.  Nick Turse’s book The Complex details how pervasive military contracting is in our society. Endeavoring to follow this last bit of guidance will take constant effort, vigilance, and intentionality. But considering the state of the anti-war movement in general and the pervasiveness of MIC 2.0, it’s really the only viable option for either stopping the growth of American militarism, or at least removing Christian complicity with it.

Many Christian communities are working on what this could look like: check out The Simple Way and the New Monastics.


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