The U.S. military strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s military force, has raised questions in the minds of many Americans about what we believe about military action and warfare.
From my peace-church friends I have heard expressions of anger, frustration and sadness. Friends who hold a just-war ethic believe there are moments that require quick and specific military action in the name of peace and freedom.
This moment has revived debates about the military actions of past U.S. presidents and partisan arguing about everything from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya; to the 2001 attacks that led to the war on terror; to Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning in 1961 about the military-industrial complex. Many people — both pro- and anti-military intervention in the Middle East — have pointed out how few of us actually have a working knowledge of that region.
A Canadian friend texted me, “Do you think any foreign nation is bold enough to attack U.S. shores? Or will this just escalate in the Middle East as in every other conflict the U.S. is invoked in?” I’m not sure I have the answers, but I am aware of one thing specifically.
The United States of America is addicted to war.
Americans have used military power with religious justification and a sense of God’s approval. President Trump’s first re-election event of this year was at a megachurch in Florida. During his talk he celebrated his decision to strike Iran’s military leader, and my guess is not a single eyebrow was raised in the room. We’ve mixed faith, nationalism and military action so frequently that few ever bother to point out that Christ calls us to peace, not warfare.
Our addiction to war explains how we can continue to see violence as a way to peace. It is how we can express a desire for pre-emptive military action to prevent another nation from gaining the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, though we are the only nation to have dropped atomic bombs on civilians.
Our addiction is why we rarely name that the United States dropped millions of cluster bombs on the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside, leaving behind unexploded shells that continue to take the lives of people who uncover them more than 50 years later.
Our addiction is how we overlook that the war on terror has cost almost a quarter of a million civilian casualties, while the number of those affected by injury, displacement and loss of income, rises into the millions. The war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than the Vietnam War. The war in Iraq killed 4,419 U.S. soldiers and wounded 31,994 more. Taxpayers spent more than $800 billion on the Iraq War alone.
Last January, Fox News reported, without a trace of irony, that “Iran spends billions on weapons programs while ignoring Iranians’ basic needs.” This statement overlooked that the United States does exactly the same thing. The 2019 U.S. Department of Defense budget was almost $700 billion — in a country that can’t seem to figure out how to pay for health coverage, education or environmental initiatives.
If there is a leading indicator of our addiction, it may be that in U.S. history there have been only 16 years when the country was not at war in some way.
We are so addicted to war that it has become hard to imagine not being at war. We can’t imagine not spending a significant portion of our resources on war or preparing for war.
Perhaps we need to borrow from addiction recovery programs and admit we are powerless in our addiction to warfare. My hunch is that is the necessary first step to overcoming the war addiction.
Ben Wideman is campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State University. A version of this post originally appeared at sixoh6.com.