Higher Military Spending Leads to Less Security

W.J. Astore

What does “security” mean to you?  My dad had a utilitarian definition.  Born in 1917, he found himself in a fatherless immigrant family with four siblings during the height of the Great Depression.  To help his family survive, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and served for two years, earning a dollar a day, most of it sent home to his mother.  For my dad, security meant a roof over one’s head, three square meals a day, and warm clothes on one’s back.  Food, shelter, clothing: it really was that simple.

Of course, you needed to pay for those bare necessities, meaning you needed a job with decent pay and benefits.  Personal security, therefore, hinges on good pay and affordable health care, which many U.S. workers today – in the richest country in the world – continue to scratch and claw for.  Another aspect of personal security is education because pay and career advancement within U.S. society often depend on one’s educational level.  A college education is proven to lead to higher pay and better career prospects throughout one’s life.

Personal security is in many ways related to national security.  Certainly, a nation as large as the U.S. needs a coast guard, border controls, an air force, a national guard, and similar structures for defensive purposes.  What it doesn’t need is a colossal, power-projecting juggernaut of a military at $800+ billion a year that focuses on imperial domination facilitated by 750 overseas bases that annually cost more than $100 billion just to maintain.  True security, whether personal or national, shouldn’t be about domination.  It should be focused on providing a collective standard of living that ensures all Americans can afford nutritious food, a decent place to live, adequate clothing, a life-enriching education, and health care.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood this.  In his farewell address as president in 1961, he warned us about the military-industrial complex and its anti-democratic nature.  Even more importantly, he called for military disarmament as a “continuing imperative,” and he talked of peace, which he tied to human betterment, and which he said could be “guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”  Ike knew that huge, offensive-minded military budgets constituted a theft from the people; even worse, he knew they constituted a betrayal of our national ideals.  A hugely powerful military establishment had “grave implications” to the “very structure of our society,” Ike presciently warned.  We have failed to heed his warning.

Ike, a former five-star U.S. general who led the D-Day invasion in 1944, knew the dangers of funding an immense military establishment

For Ike, true national security was about fostering human betterment and working toward world peace.  It was about securing the necessities of life for everyone.  It entailed the pursuit of military disarmament, a pursuit far preferable to allowing the world to be crucified on a cross of iron erected by wars and weapons manufacturers.

Tragically, America’s “councils of government” no longer guard against militarism; rather, they have been captured, often willingly, by the military-industrial complex.  The “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” that Ike was counting on to hold the line against incessant warfare and wasteful weaponry is largely uninterested, or uninformed, or uneducated in matters of civics and public policy.  Meanwhile, military spending keeps soaring, and the result is greater national insecurity.

In a paradox Ike warned us about, the more money the government devotes to its military, the less secure the nation becomes.  Because security isn’t measured in guns and bullets and warheads.  It’s measured in a healthy life, a life of meaning, a life of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, not eternal belligerence, should be the goal.

Consider the following fable.  A man lives in a castle.  He says he seeks security.  So he digs moats and erects walls and piles cannon ball upon cannon ball.  He posts armed guards and launches raids into the surrounding countryside to intimidate “near-peer” rivals.  He builds outlying fortifications and garrisons them, thinking these will secure his castle from attack.  Meanwhile, his family and relations in the castle are starving; the roof leaks and internal walls are covered in mold; the people, shivering and in rags, are uneducated and in poor health.  Has this man truly provided security for his people?  Would we call this man wise?

Grossly overspending on the military and weaponry — on castles and cannons everywhere — produces insecurity. It’s the very opposite of wisdom. Let’s end this folly, America, and seek human betterment and world peace as Ike advised us to do.

Addendum: these are the words Ike spoke in 1953

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Are Women the Secret Weapon in a Mass Antiwar Movement?

W.J. Astore

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is an organization that’s helped to change the narrative on drinking and driving. Could a new organization like Mothers Against War (MAW) do the same for the world’s endless cycles of war?

In an antiwar movement that’s often fragmented and something less than the sum of its parts, a movement that unites women (and, of course, sympathetic men) in a dedicated push against war makes a lot of sense, argues Andre Sheldon. As he pointed out to me in our conversation yesterday, women united in the #MeToo movement against sexual violence; women marched on Washington in the aftermath of Trump’s election, donning pussy hats to remind us of his wanton and casual sexism (see Linda Roller’s account here for Bracing Views); Black women created the Black Lives Matter movement; and women helped to drive a movement against gun violence in the “Moms Demand Action” movement.

One thing we all have in common: we all have mothers. And there’s another thing that’s true for most of us (especially for us men): We should have listened to our mothers more, especially as a counterpoint to macho pro-war narratives being driven by powerful state and corporate interests.

As retired Army Colonel Ann Wright so eloquently put it recently: “For God’s Sake Boys, Stop this War S**t!!!”

In one of my favorite “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strips (from 1987), Calvin is shown comparing art projects with his friend, Susie. While Susie is content with a “tidy little domestic scene,” Calvin has something more ambitious in mind:

Something tells me we need more Susies and fewer Calvins.

For some reason, certain men, especially those who wear suits in the government, seem to think that toughness is all about putting on “big boy pants” and waging war. Of course, these same men usually don’t go to war themselves; they send other “boys” to fight and die for them. Macho posturing is common to both political parties in the United States, and it’s not just restricted to men. Perhaps the worst offenders were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who also both avoided the Vietnam War, but women like Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have shown no remorse in waging disastrous wars. Think here of Hillary’s infamous comment, “We came, we saw, he died” in the aftermath of the death of Qaddafi and the collapse of Libya into chaos.

Obviously, the answer isn’t as simple as putting women like Clinton or Rice in command. What we need instead are courageous and outspoken women like Barbara Lee and Dorothy Day. For, as Dorothy Day put it, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

Too many men have the emotional maturity of eight-year-old boys still seeking to knock each other over as they play “king of the hill.” But when the hill is Planet Earth and the toys they play with are nuclear missiles, the stakes are somewhat higher than bragging rights at the local playground.

Instead of “Jesus, take the wheel,” maybe it’s high time that women do. Something tells me we’d be better off as a people and as a planet.

Addendum: For more information on Andre Sheldon’s proposal, please check out his Facebook page.

In Search of Christianity Lost

Michael Gallagher

Despite the possibility that what a deranged Vladimir Putin planned as a small war against Ukraine could morph into a nuclear catastrophe capable of engulfing us all, the United States is still the most warlike nation on earth.

Wars don’t come cheap these days, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the only truly non-partisan issue in Congress is the Pentagon budget. Democrats and Republicans alike, neither of whom expect to get shot at, vie with one another to show how resolute they are in keeping America strong no matter what the cost, even in human lives, though preferably those of foreigners.

The Pentagon budget, now creeping toward $800 billion, is more than three times that of China, our closest rival, a country that had the effrontery to build an aircraft carrier of its very own to challenge our eleven.  The generosity of Congress enriches people who in the 1930s were stigmatized as “merchants of death,” but the latter have since learned the value of public relations.  America’s military-industrial complex, as might be expected, led the way in recruiting the very best PR talent.  The war to liberate Kuwait (Desert Storm) came to us thanks in part to the creativity of Hill & Knowlton (known in the trade as the Torture Lobby).  Wars have persisted even as critical domestic problems continue to go unaddressed, such as American school children suffering brain damage due to lead-contaminated drinking water.

There is something immoral about all this. To be fair, the Catholic Church in the United States, for which morality is presumed to be a major concern despite some very public failings, does take notice of war now and then.  Or rather it used to.  It hasn’t done so lately.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops meets twice a year, which you’d think would give a troubled bishop the opportunity to call into question the morality of much of what our armed forces have been up to.  But you’d think wrong.  Successive cliques of ill-educated, narrow-focused reactionaries—Burke, Gomez, Lori, Cordileone, Kurtz, and Dolan the most prominent among the current crop—have succeeded in keeping the topic of war off the agenda for more than thirty years.  Nor have they seemed to have had much trouble doing so.

Recently, however, two bishops have spoken up in their own dioceses.  Bishop Stowe of Lexington and Archbishop Wester of Santa Fe have pleasantly surprised Catholics like me by issuing pastoral letters calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, my pleasure is diminished by the realization that such efforts, however welcome, will do little to stave off a nuclear Armageddon after which, in the words of Nikita Khrushchev, the living will envy the dead.

The Vatican—even during the imperious reign of John Paul II, whose attention was fixed upon restoring freedom to his native land (which is now on the road to dictatorship)—has been forever calling for nuclear disarmament.  But how has it called?  In what tone of voice?  That’s the key question.

Forty years ago, and far too long after the nuclear massacres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—atrocities that the Catholic Church in America, like its government, has yet to condemn—the bishops of the United States, prodded, I’m sure, by Ronald Reagan’s missile-rattling rhetoric, surprised everybody by announcing that they were going to prepare a pastoral letter on war.

The deliberations of the committee, headed by Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, got off on the wrong foot when Bernardin was forced to announce at the first meeting that they were by no means to condemn the possession of nuclear weapons, an edict from Rome that slammed the door in the face of the Holy Spirit, whose guidance they presumably would be imploring. 

But the bishops labored on and brought forth “The Challenge of Peace.”  It was a good but compromised document. Not compromised enough, however, for John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  After the first draft was scrutinized in Rome, Bernardin and Archbishop John Roach, chairman of the U.S. Council of Bishops, were called on the carpet in Rome to defend it to the “NATO bishops” (a Vatican dicastery previously unknown to me), who were more concerned about a Soviet armor thrust through the Fulda Gap than anything that Jesus might have said.

Bernardin and Roach duly met with their critics, and the NATO bishops came away content.  The concessions were major. One, for example, was purging a declaration of “no first use” of nuclear weapons in response to an attack with conventional weapons.  The first draft had not done anything quite so bold. It merely proposed that any circumstances in which a first use would be morally acceptable would be difficult to imagine.  Well: Ratzinger and the NATO bishops had no problem imagining one. 

When the final version of The Challenge of Peace came out in May of 1983, the Pentagon, which had been a bit worried, and hawks everywhere—especially devout Catholic hawks like William F. Buckley Jr—breathed a sigh of relief.  It was obvious to all who cared to read it that the bishops had waffled.  With all due modesty—well, some anyway—the title of a subsequent article of mine in Commonweal, “Sidestepping The Challenge of Peace,” summed it up.  (Commonweal disagreed with me, and still does, but that’s another story.)

Whatever the case, the Peace Pastoral is gone and forgotten, a failure that casts a pall to this day over subsequent (and toothless) Vatican statements on how nice peace is and how bad war is.

What do I want the Church to do?  Let me quote somebody else, somebody who answered that question far better than I ever could.   

In 1948 the Dominicans of Paris invited Albert Camus to address them about what he and other non-believers wanted to hear from the Catholic Church in the wake of the horrors of World War II, their hope being that they could unite to confront the horrors that yet impended. 

Camus, who described himself and others like him as “isolated individuals,” was quite willing to challenge the Church. He did not share the beliefs of the Dominicans, he said, but neither did he dismiss them.  He recounted how during the war he, even as a non-believer, had looked to Rome.  He wanted to hear a “great voice” raised to condemn the monstrous evil of the war, but he failed to hear it.  There were those who said that they had heard it, but what little the world heard from Rome was the Church speaking in what he dismissed, not without cause, as its “encyclical voice,” a form of speech that was prolix, abstract, and devoid of inspiration for all those not attuned to it.  (The word “Jew,” incidentally, did not make the cut.)

The Dominicans wanted to know what the world expects of Christians.  He gave them his answer:

What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out loud and clear and proclaim their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man.  Christians must get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face that history has taken on today. 

And what happens, Camus went on to ask, if Christianity doesn’t rise to the challenge?  And here Camus shows a prescience that eludes the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.  For it was a question quite pertinent to our own era, marked as it is by empty churches and tepid bishops.

If Christianity does turn away from the challenge, Camus told the Dominicans, 

Christianity will lose once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago. In that case self-proclaimed Christians may still be among us, but Christianity itself will die, and world will suffer greatly for its loss.

In the spirit of Camus, here’s my recommendations.  However reluctant our bishops might be to confront the blood-stained face of history, they could make a start by talking to people who know more than they do and have experienced more than they have.

In his book The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg, working for RAND, tells how he was shocked to see an unguarded fighter plane on the tarmac armed with a nuclear bomb.  (This was more than 60 years ago, but even today nuclear surety remains less than sure.). A drunken pilot could jump into the cockpit and be off to Beijing to set off World War III just like that.  In any case, Ellsberg took the opportunity to place his hand on the bomb and feel the heat of radiation.  I’m sure he would be happy to share his feelings at the next USCCB conference if invited.

Then there’s Bishop Botean, who leads the Romanian eastern rite Church in the United States.  He’s the only Catholic bishop who issued a letter condemning the Iraq invasion, calling it an unjust war in which Catholics may in nowise participate.  If the USCCB was willing to hear what he had to say, it would give some of the disgruntled brethren an opportunity to ask what prompted him to be such a spoilsport. 

There’s also Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and veteran of the Vietnam war, who is the head of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.  He’s a conservative Catholic who is a severe critic of American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. 

Finally, Archbishop Wester had the grace to praise the late Sr. Megan Rice who appeared on the front page of the New York Times after, at age 82, invading the Holy of Holies of nuclear weaponry in Oakridge, Tennessee.  The USCCB could follow up on the incredible feat that she and her two companions carried off by recognizing and commending the Plowshares Movement, founded by the Berrigans, a group of heroic men and women who have borne witness against nuclear weapons and suffered greatly for it.  They have heeded Jesus’ command to shout what he taught them from the rooftops, instead of keeping their mouths shut about anything that might disturb major donors.  (Those big churches and episcopal palaces aren’t going to maintain themselves!)  

The bishops have much to learn from talking to people like the ones I’ve listed here.  They might even learn to denounce the abomination of genocidal nuclear weapons—and especially any idea that a “first use” policy of the same is in any way morally defensible. 

Michael Gallagher served as a paratrooper during the Korean War.  His book on Catholic activists, Laws of Heaven, won the National Jesuit Book Award in theology, and his translation of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow was a finalist for a National Book Award.

Why It’s So Hard to Give Peace A Chance in America

W.J. Astore

It sure is hard to give peace a chance in America, as recent events with Russia and Ukraine show. The Washington consensus is all about weapons and more weapons, of economic sanctions, i.e. economic warfare, of not being seen as a pitiful helpless giant, as Richard Nixon once said during the Vietnam War. America can never stand on the sidelines, even when its national security interests aren’t even threatened. Something must be done, something forceful, something involving troops and weapons and ultimatums that could very well escalate into disaster.

Revealingly, Washington insiders always talk of “all options” being on a metaphorical table, meaning the most violent ones, including war, for the president to choose from. They lie. Because the one option that’s never on that imaginary table is peace.

Peacemakers might be the children of God, but perhaps America is more godless than it knows. Or maybe it just worships the god of war, a Pentagod. It’s discouraging to face the obstacles to peace in America, because these obstacles are not going to be removed just by singing songs and writing articles or even by protesting. What is truly needed is a mass movement against war, as we saw during the Vietnam War years, but even that mass movement took years to have an impact. And it was motivated as well by resistance to the draft, which no longer exists.

A short list of the obstacles to peace is sobering indeed:

  • The power of the military-industrial-congressional complex. It doesn’t want to get smaller or less powerful. It thrives off weaponry and wars. It has no interest in peace.
  • The mainstream media. It’s owned by major corporations and advances corporate agendas. It smears antiwar voices as naive (at best) and often as traitorous and/or weak. Antiwar voices simply aren’t heard on the MSM. Instead, retired colonels and generals, as well as senior ex-CIA officials, are put forward as unbiased voices of reason as they promote the most hawkish lines.
  • The absence of a draft. Let’s face it: the youth of America are much more likely to resist war if they have to risk their lives. But America has an “all volunteer force,” and if these volunteers are sent off to war, that’s what they signed up for. Right?
  • American culture in general is suffused with violence and misinformed about the world, especially America’s imperial role in it. Myths about American exceptionalism and beliefs about the troops as freedom-fighters serve to inhibit antiwar criticism and protests.
  • The difficulty of launching any kind of sustained protest nowadays. Ready to gather in the streets to march against war? Sorry, do you have a permit? Covid restrictions may prevent you from gathering. And maybe we’ll move you to a special “free speech” zone, which I assure you will be far away from media cameras. What good is protesting if you gain no traction because few people see you and the media ignores you?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s impossible to give peace a chance. Just that it’s very difficult, given the power structures of our society and our collective national ethos. It’s mind-boggling that America has so many agencies for “defense” and “intelligence.” We have the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security (a domestic mini-Pentagon), something like 17 intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA, the list goes on. State and local police forces are now heavily militarized and generally unsympathetic to your right to assemble and to protest vigorously. Get a job, commie peacenik!

Meanwhile, society’s heroes are U.S. military troops, or the “thin blue line” of police that “protect and serve.” Those who are committed to peace are generally not viewed as heroes, at least not by society at large. Again, Christ may have seen peacemakers as God’s children, but in the U.S. there’s a preference (judging by gun sales) for Colt Peacemakers.

How to overcome these obstacles to truly give peace a chance is perhaps the most pressing issue of our age, given the risk of war going nuclear and ending most life on our planet. Readers, I don’t have easy answers, but I’d begin with Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex in 1961, JFK’s peace speech in 1963, MLK’s speech against the Vietnam War on April 4th, 1967, perhaps even John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”

How do we imagine — and then create — a new reality that favors peace instead of war? How do we pursue a just and lasting peace with ourselves and with all nations that Abraham Lincoln spoke of near the end of the U.S. Civil War?

The words are there. The vision is there. Tapping the nobility of Lincoln, Ike, JFK, and MLK and their antiwar messages is possible. Isn’t it?

As JFK said in his “peace speech,” to believe that war is inevitable is a “dangerous defeatist belief.” I’m with JFK.

The antiwar movement helped to stop the disastrous Vietnam War, but it sure wasn’t easy

Shouldn’t Anyone Who’s Sane Be a Peace Activist?

W.J. Astore

Shouldn’t anyone who’s sane be a peace activist? And shouldn’t we question the sanity — or at least the motives — of anyone who’s constantly advocating for more spending on weapons and war?

How do we change the narrative?  How do we return to Christ’s idea of “blessed are the peacemakers”?

The obstacles are many. The national security state is immensely large and incredibly powerful. The mainstream media is a big problem since it’s been captured by corporations. The few political candidates who advocate for a different path, such as Tulsi Gabbard or Dennis Kucinich, get smeared as useful idiots for the “enemy” or dismissed as impractical dreamers by that same corporate media.

Surely, we need many things to effect meaningful change. We need public funding of elections. We need better education focused on questioning and challenging authority. We need better and braver leaders — but will they simply be assassinated like JFK, MLK, and RFK?  Among others?

We need to speak up, and we are. We need to enlist religion when we can.  True Christianity — true religion — is our natural ally.

We need, as peace activist John Rachel reminded me, to connect cuts in military spending to helping people — that is, we need real peace dividends, “peace checks,” if you will. Rebates to the American people tied directly to much lower spending on wars and weapons.

We need to remember what Master Po said in “Kung Fu”: fear is the only darkness. And thus we need to come into the light.

We need to stop buying guns and start reading books. I once read: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I don’t recall blessings being bestowed on weapons and the makers and owners of the same.

There are so many things we need to do.  Most of all, I think, is that we need to respect life and our planet, because if we don’t, the human experiment is going to come crashing down, and too many other forms of life on our planet will be driven to extinction by our own myopic selfishness and folly.

You’ve heard the saying, Power concedes nothing without a demand. We need to demand an end to fear, an end to folly (as with nuclear “modernization” at a cost of $1.7 trillion, never mind the unimaginable costs of a nuclear war).

We need to demand peace.

I think the planet’s oligarchs know the danger.  So they work to keep us divided, distracted, and downtrodden.  (As I’ve written about here.) If we’re kept divided by partisan BS and rumors of war, distracted by infotainment and the like, and downtrodden by medical and other forms of debt, menial work at starvation wages, and so forth, it’s difficult for people to unite.

We need to unite anyway. Unite to save our planet from ourselves and our destructive impulses. From our greed and selfishness.

There was a time when we humans congratulated ourselves as being made in the image of God. When we saw the earth as God’s creation that we should revere. How do we regain reverence for each other and for this wonder-filled planet of ours, a planet that keeps surprising us with its glories?

We need a collective awakening. A mass movement. One that recognizes that peace is normal and that war is insane, one dedicated to exploration of the world around us rather than its exploitation. One that demands the best from our minds even as it touches our souls. Perhaps that’s overly mystical or utopian or just plain fuzzy, but we need something like it or things are going to get far worse for ourselves and our planet.

The Prince of Peace

W.J. Astore

As Christmas approaches, peace is on my mind. Christ, after all, was known as the Prince of Peace. I say “was” because we hear so infrequently of peace in the United States today. In fact, peace in the U.S. seems to be contingent on enormous military budgets dedicated to weapons and warfare. It reminds me of Strategic Air Command (SAC) in the Air Force, which was prepared utterly to destroy the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s but whose motto was “peace is our profession.” Paraphrasing Tacitus, one might say that SAC was prepared to make the world an irradiated hellscape and call it “peace.”

If Christmas is to have any religious meaning, one would think it would be centered on the arrival of the Prince of Peace in the world. As a Catholic, I can’t count the number of times I recited the prayer that begins, Glory to God in the highest/and peace to His people on earth, the Gloria in adoration of Christ as a bringer of peace. By way of contrast, Easter is about the fulfillment of Christ’s mission; His death and resurrection “takes away the sins of the world,” even as we continue to implore Him to “grant us peace.”

Now that I reflect upon it, the Christian mass must be one of the few places in American culture today where we routinely hear about peace, where the idea is not mocked as fallacious or faulty or insane.

To be honest, I’m not in close contact with Christian culture today. What little I know of it confuses me and disappoints me. I can’t square the so-called Prosperity Gospel with Christ’s teachings against the corruption of earthly riches. I can’t square the evangelical emphasis on personal salvation by being born again with Christ’s command to focus on helping others in place of celebrating oneself. (OK, you’re saved; now get over yourself.) It’s so terribly easy to lose sight of the great commandments of Christianity, which boil down to loving God and loving thy neighbor.

So many Americans seem to believe they live in an exceptional nation, literally holier than other nations because of shared Judeo-Christian traditions as well as God’s special favor allegedly showered upon this “city on a hill.”

Is it OK if I say that current events (and past ones too) suggest otherwise? Garrisons across the globe bristling with weapons are not the same as a shining city on a hill. There is nothing angelic about a Predator or Reaper drone, nor is salvation to be found at any end of a Hellfire missile.

What part of “love thy neighbor” is reflected in a gargantuan war and weapons budget that officially sits just under $800 billion, and which in its total cost routinely exceeds a trillion dollars annually? Not to be presumptuous, but something tells me the Prince of Peace isn’t too happy about this.

Yes, I am stunned that there isn’t more Christian opposition to America’s war machine. I am stunned that America’s churches and ministers have made their peace, so to speak, with nuclear weapons that can destroy all of God’s creation. I am stunned that on Christmas Day, when Christians are supposed to adore Christ and to recall the miracle of His birth, that we collectively give so little thought to making peace happen, to dedicating ourselves to it in His name.

Still, I must say this about my Catholic Church and my memories of it: At least we reached out to each other to offer a sign of peace. We reached across the pews to shake hands, to share smiles, to make human contact.

Let us offer each other the sign of peace: Should this not be our gift to each other, not just this Christmas but on each and every day? What better way to adore the Prince of Peace than to spread peace?

Time for a Real Peace Dividend

W.J. Astore

On “Two Minutes to Midnight,” I talk about some of the themes I’ve developed at this site. Produced by Catalysta, the idea behind the series is to encourage fresh thinking on the challenges confronting us in a rapidly changing world.

Here is the Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTc7Qj4AXWU&t=59s

In this interview, I explain how and why America spends way too much on weaponry and wars, and how we can shift the narrative and revive the idea of peace. Echoing George McGovern, it’s time to “come home, America,” to invest in our country and ourselves, rather than to fund more weaponry and more overseas wars.

Near the end of the video, I make an appeal to younger generations of America to lift their voices against the military-industrial-Congressional complex. I urge them not to be intimidated and to speak their mind, explaining that many veterans are just as fed up as they are. Collectively, we need to act. And perhaps the first and most critical step is getting big corporate money out of politics even as we work to make major cuts to the U.S. war budget.

Special thanks to Edward Goldberg at Catalysta.net for inviting me and offering me a chance to share my views with a wider audience.

Twenty Years After 9/11

W.J. Astore

When the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, I was at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  I was in my car, listening to the radio, just outside the North Gate, where a B-52 sits on static display as a symbol of American power. The first reports suggested it was an accident, but it soon became apparent it was a deliberate act.  As a second and then a third plane hit the WTC and the Pentagon, I remember hearing speculation that 9/11 could have a higher death toll than the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the U.S. Civil War.  It was bad enough, if not that bad.

I remember confusion and chaos in the government, and the use of the word “folks” by President George W. Bush to describe the hijackers.  Very quickly, his rhetoric changed, and soon America would be launched on a global crusade against terrorists and other evildoers.

The flags came out and America came together, but that team spirit, so to speak, was quickly seized upon and exploited by Bush/Cheney to justify war anywhere and everywhere.  Good will was squandered and wise counsel was rejected in a calculated plot for power-projection disguised as righteous vengeance. Sweep everything up, related and unrelated, go big: those were the sentiments of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and crew.  They had failed so badly at protecting America on 9/11; they were not going to fail to use 9/11 for their own nefarious purposes.

And now, 20 years later, we’re witnessing how badly their hubris and dishonesty have damaged democracy in America, as well as damaging or destroying millions of lives around the globe.

After finishing my tour at the AF Academy in 2002, I became the Dean of Students at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey. I wonder how many of “my” young troops who so proudly crossed the stage with newly acquired language skills in Pashto and Dari and Arabic never made it home from Bush and Cheney’s GWOT, their “global war on terror.”

9/11 remains a traumatic day for America. It’s a day we remember where we were and what we were doing when we first learned of this horrific attack on our country. However briefly, 9/11 brought America together, but militarism and constant warfare along with prejudice and ignorance have served only to weaken our democracy while impoverishing our country.

This madness was on my mind as I recently re-watched “The City on the Edge of Forever,” a classic Star Trek episode in which history’s changed when Dr. McCoy travels back in time to 1930s America.  Here he saves the life of Edith Keeler, a social activist who, in an alternate timeline, delays U.S. entry into World War II, which allows the Nazis to develop the atomic bomb first, thereby winning the war.  Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock learn they must prevent McCoy from saving Keeler, which is complicated by the fact that Kirk falls hard for her.  She’s a visionary who speaks of space travel and a better world.  As Kirk courts her, Keeler says she dreams of a future in which all the money currently spent on war and death … and Kirk completes her thought by saying that that money will be spent instead on life.  Kindred spirits they are, Kirk and Keeler, yet to restore history to its proper place, he must let her die.

Joan Collins as Edith Keeler and William Shatner as Captain Kirk: Reaching for the stars

Keeler’s dream of peace – of all the trillions of dollars spent on weapons and war and death being instead spent on life – is the proper one, the right one, even as it was tragically premature.  For this she must die, forgotten to history, a bit player remembered only for running a small neighborhood mission for those with nowhere else to go.

I’ve always been attracted to science fiction and to plots both utopian, or at least hopeful, and dystopian.  But in the dystopia in which we increasingly find ourselves today, we need hopeful visions.  We need Edith Keelers.  But to use Star Trek-speak again, what I see issuing from the U.S. government is far more consistent with a Klingon Empire driven by war than a peaceful and life-affirming “federation” of planets.  The U.S. empire is not about to go quietly, nor will it go peacefully.

It’s time for a new course, a far less bellicose one, but a no less determined one, where Americans look within rather than without. Echoing Edith Keeler, let’s spend our money and resources on life, not death, love, not war. Let’s try that for the next 20 years. If we do, I bet we’ll be a lot better off in 2041 than we are today.

Words and War, Hawks and Doves

W.J. Astore

Two of my colleagues at the Eisenhower Media Network, Danny Sjursen and Matthew Hoh, recently gave the best interview I’ve heard on America’s failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can watch it here.

They were described as anti-war veterans, which is true enough. But it did get me thinking about the words we use to describe war in America, or just words in general that we apply to military actions and the broader military world.

For example, instead of describing Sjursen and Hoh as “anti-war,” why not say they’re “pro-peace” or “pro-sanity” or “pro-humanity” or even “pro-using-history-to-avoid-expensive-and-deadly-quagmire-wars”? OK — that last one may be too long, but I often find pro-peace activists being described as critics, i.e. as malcontents.

Another example might be “think tank.” So many of the thinks tanks within the Beltway in DC are fronts for warrior corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and so on. Are they really “thinking” freely? And that “tank” word might be more descriptive than they realize, given they always “think” of expensive weaponry like main battle tanks as the solution to everything. (If memory serves, not only did we use the M1 Abrams tank in Iraq; we also tried a few in Afghanistan; similarly, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army deployed tanks in jungle areas that were designed to battle their Soviet counterparts on the plains of Germany.)

So maybe “think tank” should mean: “Thinks always of tanks and other ultra-expensive weaponry.”

Here’s a heretical thought: Why are pro-war voices in the establishment referred to as “hawks”? As if they’re noble birds of prey?

I feel sorry for all the real hawks in nature (red-shouldered hawk, Audubon Society photo)

Meanwhile, pro-peace voices are dismissed as passive cooing “doves.” More than a few peace activists have all the energy and tenacity of hawks, and most of the pro-war ones are more likely to be cooing like doves in the ears of their bosses about the wisdom and wonders of going to war and staying there.

I suppose you could call pro-war voices “vultures” or “jackals” or perhaps “ticks” or some other parasite on the body politic, but I’d feel like I’m insulting the tick, which just does what it needs to do to survive. It’s not like ticks have think tanks where they can weigh their choices.

Readers, have a little fun with this. What military/Washington Beltway term annoys you, and how would you define it, in plainspeak? Have at it in the comments section, and many thanks, as always, for reading my posts.

P.S. No one, of course, can beat Orwell and the “war is peace” formulation. And Ambrose Bierce was a master of exposing cant and hypocrisy and dishonesty in his “Devil’s Dictionary.” In their spirit, have at it!

Listening to Ike’s Military-Industrial Complex Speech

W.J. Astore

May I make a suggestion to all my fellow Americans? Even if you’ve read it, even if you’ve listened to it before, listen again to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation in 1961. It’s the speech in which he warned against America’s military-industrial complex, to which Ike wanted rightly to add Congress as well but decided against it.

You’ll hear some words in Ike’s address that you rarely hear in political discourse today. Words like liberty, charity, dignity, integrity, love, mutual respect, and that rarest word of all, peace. You’ll hear him speak of Americans as citizens, not just as consumers, and at the end you’ll hear him rejoice in becoming a private citizen as he prepared to leave the White House to his successor, John F. Kennedy.

You’ll also hear Ike deplore war as one who’d seen its horrors. Ike referred to 20th-century wars as “holocausts,” which they were, and of the need to avoid future wars as they could utterly destroy civilization if nuclear weapons were used in them. Ike called for disarmament in the cause of world peace, and when was the last time an American president made such a call?

Ike further urged Americans, despite this country’s military strength, to avoid arrogance. The strong must not dominate, Ike said, for the weak also deserve a say and a seat at the negotiating table. Ike talked about exercising power for the cause of world peace and human betterment, and that moral intellect and decent purpose should rule, not fear and hate.

Of course, this speech is best known for Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex, the immense U.S. military establishment “of vast proportions” as well as corporate weapons makers and the “disastrous rise” of their “misplaced power.” It’s vitally important we recognize how Ike framed his warning. His meaning is plain. He says the military-industrial complex, if allowed to grow unchecked, will endanger our liberties and our democratic processes. He says its immense power poses grave implications for the structure of our society. He calls on Americans, as alert and knowledgable citizens, to keep the Complex in check, and indeed to do their best to lessen its power.

Ike gave this address 60 years ago, and we have largely failed to heed his warning. We have allowed the military-industrial-Congressional complex to grow unchecked, so much so that the so-called national security state has become a fourth branch of government that gobbles up more than a trillion dollars a year while pursuing endless war around the globe.

As citizens (are we still citizens?), we are witnessing the slow death of our democracy, even as American militarism and repetitive undeclared wars have made the world a meaner, nastier place.

Our course of action is plain, as it was to Ike in 1961. Until we reject the holocaust of war and reduce as much as humanly possible the power of the military-industrial complex, America will remain on a catastrophic path that threatens the very existence of humanity.

Ike implored us to seek balance; to come together; to look toward the future; to cherish and protect our democratic institutions. He confessed he was disappointed in his own performance as president in ensuring disarmament and pursuing fair-minded diplomacy, but he enjoined us all to seek peace and to advance freedom around the world.

Why not do that?

Ike’s Warning (1961)

The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. 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.