“He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”
I will first note that this is not intended to be a peace-nick anti-war rant. I hope to address a growing mentality, that I observe; a dangerous one. This mentality inevitably involves the military as a system. I am not anti-war per se. I understand that in our current broken world, war sometimes happens. I understand that sometimes war is unertaken to avoid greater evils. I understand that there are honorable and brave men who are serving and have served in war. I am not anti-military, though one might say I am anti-militarization. I, as the Church calls me, pray for all those who serve in the armed forces. With that said I will proceed.
Social violence has become an almost numbing daily event in American society. People shooting other people. Police shooting people and vice versa. And on it goes. It is evident that modern society has not brought about its long-promised peace and security.
There is a direct correlation between our rampant social violence and our continued military violence overseas. As a nation, we have been continuously bombing or shooting some other nation for over 17 years now. My great concern is the normalizing of conflict and war. We have been sold a lie: violence to others will procure our safety. War is safety. In fact, we have become socially callous to the suffering and death of others (except when it can be used as an excuse to wage even more war). It is almost an unspoken reality: war is the cost of American “Freedom” so it is okay. I have heard numerous and varied people say when speaking of the Middle East, something to the effect of “we should just nuke them all.” One person even added, “we can drill through glass.”
What of all the innocent people? Who cares. Simply the price to be paid for our “security” and “freedom.” We claim to value life while in fact, we devalue it at home and around the world.
Yet, we must wonder why after 17 years of continued and concerted war, vast swaths of the Middle East and N. Africa are in ruins (not to mention the many wars before this endless and ever-evolving “war on terror”). Christian and Muslim minorities are slaughtered and victimized. Ancient historical communities are decimated. Terrible suffering is now not even newsworthy because it is so common (unless it can be exploited to justify more military action). We cry “democracy and freedom” as we support and arm terrorists groups that fight democratically elected governments (such as in Syria). The fruit of years of our nation’s involvement in that region is chaos. But we are just fighting for “freedom.” If “freedom” is dripping with the blood of others, I would rather not have it. Our elitism as a nation is disturbing. Our normalizing of war is terrifying. It is fine for millions to die and suffer as long as we get our stuff and keep up our illusions of freedom. Is it any wonder that the rest of the world views the U.S.A as the number one threat to global peace, according to a global poll?
Somehow we fail to see the concrete connection between our continued military involvement and the escalated rise of radical terrorism. And then that rise is used as an excuse for proliferating more violence and expanded operations. Even though the true reality is something very different, we are told by our “news” and government: violence will stop the violence. We are creating a lifestyle of war and violence. A mentality that accepts militarization as “peace and security.”
When we socially justify continuous war and violence in the name of our own security and peace something is very sick in the spiritual heart of our nation. We have become accustomed to having enemies and even needing them. There is always and constantly some new and greater threat that must be stopped. Some great “evil” to be opposed; a new Hitler lurking just around the corner; some darkness which must be enlightened by the glory of Americanism. But we fail to ask an extremely fundamental question: could we as a nation also be a major contributor of evil in the world? We don’t want to ask the question because we are too used to being the “good guy.” It must be good because America did it! We have been told much too often that we are the “exceptional and indispensable” nation. “Democracy” has only become that which we dictate it to be. Russia is invited by the democratically elected government of Syria to counter-terrorism, and America is conducting operations in Syria against the will of the democratically elected government, but Russia is the aggressor in Syria?! (So the “news” and government would have us believe. I have letters from my Senators telling me that we must counter Russian aggression in Syria.) My point is this: if we preach democracy then we must respect it even when it is against American “interests.” But we do not. So democracy is not the vote of the people, but whatever Washington desires (again that is not democracy. I am not able to address here the illusion of modern democracy, I am simply noting an inconsistency).
Even most Christian groups are pathetically silent. Not long ago I read how a prominent Evangelical leader lauded President Trump’s knee-jerk and unwarranted rocketing of Syria (in response to alleged, 2017, chemical attacks by President Assad of Syria. We no longer even investigate the evidence, we simply decree the situation we want to be the perceived reality and act accordingly). Do the Evangelicals not understand that as a direct result of America’s violence in the Middle East many ancient Christian communities have been all but obliterated? American actions in the Middle East have created an environment of greater persecution of the local Christian populations. Are their lives not worth anything? But God bless America! How can He when we have such a shameful disregard for humanity? The Liberal Left is not much better. Obama used drones to illegally massacre thousands of innocent people and almost never a word spoken from “progressive liberals.” But, if a homosexual is refused a cake for his “wedding” it is construed as persecution and a massive violation of “rights.” Yet barely a word is spoken concerning the utter loss of basic human rights for millions in the Middle East and elsewhere and our own role in that tragedy. Our “allies,” Saudi Arabia, can publicly execute homosexuals (where are the major news networks?) but Russia is horrible for restricting homosexual propaganda to youth! The Saudis may bomb the tar out of Yamen, creating a massive human rights catastrophe, but Russia better not annex Crimea (after a mostly peaceful and democratic vote)! Israel can shoot unarmed protestors, that’s fine; after all, they are only Palestinians! It is now American dogma that Israel is God’s gift to the world and can do no wrong. The hypocrisy with which we deal with nations is deeply troubling: if you are on our side, you may slaughter innocent people but if you are not, then prepare to feel the wrath of our military might! Even those called Christians cheer for this! Yet, true Christianity teaches that all life is valuable, even that of our purported enemies.
We have tragically become comfortable in an Orwellian reality – war is peace; violence is justice. Or in Biblical language, “They will say peace, peace when there is no peace” (cf. Jer. 6:14). The true Christian ideal is to avoid war and violence at all costs. Again, war tragically happens in this broken world. St. Nikolai Velimirovich makes this interesting point, “Wars among Christian peoples are not the same as war among pagans. Pagans fight with pride, while Christians fight with shame [my note: because we understand that even if we are truly protecting our family and lands we are bringing harm and death to others]. Pagan faith gives warriors access to their heavens, while the Christian Faith promises heaven to the saints” (Prologue, Aug. 8th).
America has become pagan in its approach to war. Our own vast aggressive acts are constantly justified and condoned and very few of the population seem to question them (to question them is now even presented as “unpatriotic”). American aggression is well and fine if it is for American “interests” and “security.” We as a people are willing to allow violence and aggression if it “protects our way of life” (which is most of the time very self-absorbed) and secures the “heaven” of American living. If that is the price to pay for our “freedom,” so the mentality seems to be, it has to be okay: let them die as long as we are comfortable and get our stuff. We are building an empire on the blood of millions; this is not freedom but tyranny. In our current national state, we are incapable of bringing peace to the world. Why? Because it is blatantly lacking in our own hearts and society.
Our nation can perform war game maneuvers on the very borders of foreign powers, but if those powers carry out military exercises within their own borders it is an “act of aggression.” We can rocket and bomb sovereign nations simply because Washington is the accuser, judge, and jury. Who, pray tell, gave us such authority in the world? We can maintain close to 800 military bases around the world, many of which pose great national security issues to other nations, yet other nations are the aggressors!? (Russia has only around 10 bases outside of its borders, for instance).
We will brazenly aggravate nuclear powers with little thought of the potential cost to life on our planet. But “evil” Putin has to be withstood! Our “interests” must be protected! Maybe if we stopped painting people as evil, we would find that there is not nearly as much evil in the world. The drums of war resound in the halls of government and throughout the media and instead of mourning, the population dutifully stands up and cheers. They feed us death and we eagerly eat it! Keep the bread and entertainment flowing and we will love them for bringing us death and destruction. O, but of course, I am just being naïve! War is for my good! I should be thankful. I must want evil to prevail around the world!
We are being trained to embrace violence as a way of life, and we confirm and support it as long as it is supposedly for our benefit (what separates us from the terrorists?). But reliance on, and normalizing of, violence only brings forth more violence. And we are reaping its bitter fruit in our Land. We devalue human life (from the womb to the grave) and then are surprised when people act according to this teaching. And the adherents of dehumanism are growing. If we do not change our ways, the cost to the world may be very grave. It is time to wake up and cease believing this lie. I hope that we as a nation do, for insouciance will be fatal. God will hold our nation accountable for its actions in the world.
I am reminded of some lyrics by Bob Dylan, “Like Judas of old you lie and deceive. A world war can be won you want me to believe … You fasten all the triggers for the others to fire. Then you sit back and watch as the death count gets higher.” These lines are from his song, “Masters of War,” which may be a sadly fitting song for our Nation’s foreign policy.
Our Lord never said, “Blessed are the war-makers.” He did say, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” But peace begins in our own hearts. We cannot give to the world that which we do not have. It is obvious that the American storehouses of peace are bankrupt; our moral and spiritual life is near depleted. Christ the Lord is the only source of true and lasting Peace. St. Seraphim tells Orthodox Christians, “acquire the spirit of peace.” As Christians, we must not be swept away by the currents of violence and fear that are driving our Nation and even the world to ruin. We must actively resist the propaganda that war is peace; that violence is good. The normalization of war is a material reflection of our normalization of sin in our Country. The more we become slaves to the violence of the passions, the more it will be manifested in physical violence at home and abroad. We, as a Nation, have lost peace and, as events are showing us, can only bring turmoil and war to the world. But there is hope, we can stop the madness. Let us arise from our enslavement to sin and look to acquire true peace, moreover the Prince of Peace.
It is also about time that we stop looking to earthly powers to secure that which belongs to God alone. The only source of true Freedom is God. God will hold to account those who play gods on His earth.