Memorial Day is a time set aside to honor our war dead. We have a twin obligation to honor those who have protected us from peril, and also to protect those who might today be used as chess pieces for causes that have nothing to do with defense. We do not dishonor the soldiers of the past, by protecting the would be soldiers of the future.
The Beatitudes say, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but every preacher knows that does not mean he or she would actually have a job after speaking against real war. Our job description in the clergy is to pray for peace, but never questions the parts of our culture that make war inevitable. We are to pray for our troops, but never for our enemies.
Because people who profit off war, like to cast anyone questioning their war as attacking the soldiers themselves, and because so many propagandized citizens turn into swarming bees if the subject arises, I have only used quotes by retired generals in this essay.
Gen. Smedley Butler had three suggestions for stopping war:
Make war unprofitable.
According to the book of James, war doesn’t always come from fear or hate. In fact, James traces the cause of war to unbridled desire. We want things and we can’t have them so our desire turns into anger. Fear is used as an excuse to justify war to the people, but most wars in history began because some rich and powerful person wanted something that peace would not allow. War is the most profitable business in history. Free markets therefore will seek out conflicts that will make their product necessary. the corporations who drive us to war would think twice if only adequate profits could be made from them.
“Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.” –Gen. Douglas MacArtur
“Talk of imminent threat to our national security through the application of external force is pure nonsense. Our threat is from the insidious forces working from within which have already so drastically altered the character of our free institutions — those institutions we proudly called the American way of life.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Decisions of war and peace should be made by those who are actually going to fight.
It is easy for rich people in Washington DC to send a poor people to die for questionable reasons. It would be a different decision making process if those declaring war were also risking their own lives.
“Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said, in effect, that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes. -Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” -General Dwight D. Eisenhower
War should be limited to defense.
Our nation is now a global empire. It is not honest to call everything we do overseas “defense.” One of the most decorated soldiers of all time was Gen. Smedley Butler. After his retirement he wrote:
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
This memorial day I want to meet my twin obligation. I want to honor those who gave their lives to protect us, but also to protect the lives of those whose bravery might be misused. It is not enough to pray for peace, we must dismantle this war economy. It is not enough to honor the brave dead, we must also protect the living.
“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 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. 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.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Blessed are peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”- Jesus