For those who follow the Christian tradition, Christmas is a time of hope and promise in the unlikely person of a child. It is a time of celebrating the birth of the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah and heralded by Handel as the “Prince of Peace.” Yet religion and war have become so grotesquely interconnected that we can scarcely tell them apart. Indeed, to suggest that war is antithetical to the message of Jesus is to risk accusations of treason, heresy or both.
Most people are unaware that for the first few hundred years of the Church, Christians were total pacifists. A vein of this ancient ethic has persisted throughout history. In the dominant culture, the reverse is true; religion and war have become so enmeshed that some areas of the military have become evangelistic recruitment centers (http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org). Politicians and ministers alike fawn over our military as if war and religion were made for one another.
Steven Green, the soldier who raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before murdering her and her family, says that he “didn’t think of the Iraqis as humans.” While our troops include many good people whose consciences would be repelled by Green’s deeds, the reality is that we must dehumanize the enemy in order to go to war and in order to kill. One military training cadence shows the perverse nature of training for war: “Bomb the village, kill the people/throw some napalm in the square/do it on a Sunday morning/kill them on their way to prayer.”
The tragic reality is that we can’t dehumanize the enemy without dehumanizing ourselves. This is why Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, calls war a form of “necrophilia” and “organized sadism.” The destructive nature of war, though often cloaked in noble causes, is by definition the antithesis of life. In the words of Dr. King, “the ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
It is time we recognize that President Eisenhower’s warning about the “military-industrial complex” has become a reality. The U.S. not only has the largest military budget in the world, we have a larger military budget than all the rest of the world combined! Our military budget has become so sacrosanct that we will cut aid to schools and health care and the unemployed before we ever consider reducing our military budget. Our society, economy and culture have become increasingly militarized. And we can expect more of the same. But for what?
We are sacrificing our humanity on this altar of militarism, the altar of death. Our militarism is a danger to the environment, our economy and the future of the world. It creates more enemies than it destroys and leaves death and destruction in its wake. The only ones who profit from this madness are the corporations who benefit from the extension of U.S. policies and those who manufacture the armaments of death. So we must ask, is it to big business that we pledge our allegiance?
Stanford is considering bringing ROTC back on campus. How many students are aware that Stanford has received more than $100 million in military contracts over the last 10 years? What is the affect of that money on the University’s commitment to its mission and pedagogy? To paraphrase Eisenhower, are we seeing the deepening of the “military-university-industrial complex”? I hope that Stanford will conclude that ROTC doesn’t belong on campus because we need to be scaling back the militarism of our universities, not expanding it.
As the Christmas story suggests, peace on earth and goodwill to all will not be achieved through the machinations of war. It is more likely to arrive in the unassuming form of child amidst a clash of empires. May we, as global citizens of the world, be ever mindful that the Prince of Peace is not the god of war.
Rev. Geoff Browning
United Campus Christian Ministry (UCCM) Campus Minister
Writer’s note: This is a personal opinion and not necessarily the opinion of UCCM students.