Big Military, the Bible and the Common Good

I can’t understand why anyone who claims to be committed to a biblical faith would support Big Military. It doesn’t make sense to me. And this is not just because I am a pacifist who believes the teachings and life of Jesus preclude support for war. Indeed, it is not essential to look at the Gospels in order to see the basis for my concern. Rather it is found in the fact nothing in the Bible – in either Testament – lends much support to Big Military.

From the escape of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage when Moses announced, “The Lord will fight for you and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:14), to the destruction of Jericho where the fortified walls of the city tumbled down by an act of God (Joshua 6:11-21), Big Military is given no role. From Gideon’s forces reduced by God from 22,000 to only 300 men who then defeated the Midian army whose soldiers numbered like “the sands of the sea,” (Judges 7:2-23), to the choice of the boy David to fight the giant Goliath, obvious strength was shunned by people of faith. From the many prophetic warnings not to trust in horses and chariots –that is, military technology- and the condemnations of military alliances (Isa. 30:1-3, 31:1) to Ezra who prayed and fasted for protection for the Jews returning Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity and would not “ask the king [of Persia] for a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him” (Ezra 8:22), the bottom line is the same: either God or armed might. Both/and is not a faithful option.

Trust in God and reliance upon military technology and armed forces are not -from a biblical perspective – compatible. Massive armed might is a clear witness to the belief that God is not being trusted for security. Religious sounding words only make matters worse. It is an offence against the third Commandment (Exodus 20:7) for the United States to have “In God We Trust” as a national motto while maintaining the most powerful military in the history of the world. As the stories of the Bible powerfully portray, real trust in God entails not trusting in superior armed might. Real trust in God is accompanied by tangible evidence, not just by words printed on currency and uttered by politicians who manipulate the religious sensibilities of the American people.

At a time when concern for a balanced national budget and paying down the national debt is a major topic of conversation, Christians should be the loudest voices calling for deep cuts in the military. It is a matter of faith, not just politics. Yet even on pragmatic grounds the hyper-bloated defense budget is unjustifiable. Those who claim that the fight against terrorism necessitates continuing the huge military budget ignore the fact that historically terrorism has for the most part not been defeated militarily but through other means, primarily politics and police action. A Rand Corporation study of terrorists groups over a 40 year period found that only seven percent of the time was military force effective. At the same time, it is the most expensive. Still the U.S. continues to pile money into a solution not proven to be particularly effective.

Even as the war in Iraq is ending and there is increasing pressure to pull out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon is dreaming up more ways to spend the freed up money and Congress will almost certainly rubber stamp its requests. Fear of being accused of being “weak on defense” and concerns over local short term economic effects that would be caused by defense cut-backs in their districts will guarantee that politicians will not support any bold reductions. But given that the military budget of the U.S. nearly equals that of the combined total of the defense budgets of the rest of the nations of the world, Christians should say “No!” to the requests of the Pentagon. Even if the U.S. military budget were cut in half, it would still be nearly three times larger than that of the second largest military budget, that of China.

It is time for Christians who think the words “in God we trust” are more than an empty phrase to call for serious reductions in the military budget. Not just a billion here and a billion there but hundreds of billions. The money could be far better used helping people than by threatening them. Far more jobs could be created by putting the funds into education and a host of other areas than in defense, recent studies have shown. Big Military is not helpful for the economy and the common good of a healthy society. Too many needs are being left unattended. Money is available to meet the needs of the nation without either draconian cuts to healthcare for the elderly and poor and slashing programs that benefit those who are the least advantaged or by drastically raising taxes. But that needed money is now in the military budget. It is well past time to pull it out. May Christians say with conviction, ”The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exalts, and with my song I give thanks to him” (Psalm 28:7).

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