There was an article in the news a few days ago about the ongoing cost of war. It cited the dollars paid out for veteran support, with some current expenditures fulfilling obligations dating back to the turn of the twentieth century. I don’t recall the figures, they were in the billions. What is that money paying for? Damaged lives, lost lives, lives that need to be rebuilt, lives than never can. Last night I watched part of a show on the development of automatic weapons. The narrator, with pride in his voice akin to car dealer commercials, announced that in a single WWI battle 19,000 British soldiers were killed by the effective fire of newly invented machine guns. Mere pocket change compared to what we can do today. Woo Hoo for us.
It’s easy to measure the cost of war in dollars, and so much harder to measure it in the numbers of dead and injured, both combatant and noncombatant. But to score war by body count as if it was a contest to see who can rack up the highest number is what? What words fit? We not only do it, we are proud of it. We celebrate improvements in the art of human slaughter as worthy technological achievements around which we build entire economic systems dependent on weapons as lucrative profit centers and engines of job creation. Congressional delegations in league with defense contractors elbow each other out of the way for funds to keep the weapons juggernaut well fed. Mayors and governors salivate over the jobs they create. So called conservatives are willing to cut spending on everything except defense, by which they mean equipment in the field and new weapons development. Angry defenders of Eisenhower's famous military-industrial complex, wrapped in flags of patriotism, pummel the public with reminders that many of the wonderful gadgets of modern life have come from war and weapons, as if it somehow all works out for the good of humanity.
I suppose it’s not all that different from what human societies have always done, each in their own way, but the scale of it has grown to such massive proportions, and we seem to have entered an era of perpetual war, not as a necessity for defense, but as an intentional strategy for economic development. We live the good life by the death of others, and we justify it in the name of making the world a safer place. Our own dead we call heroes, and hope their families will take some pride in that. The others are enemies, terrorists and other forms of the subhuman, except for the innocent civilians whom we label as collateral damage, and hope their families are not too upset by our occasional mistakes.
We are not alone. What the major nations do on a gigantic scale is replicated all over the world by governments, war lords, rebels, and criminals with a viscousness that even we would have hard time matching.
I wonder what public opinion would be if we annually rounded up a few tens of thousands of young men and women from throughout the world to be marched into the arena for slaughter. Would it surpass the outrage of the holocaust? I’m not so sure anymore. We don’t do things like that, yet all around are signs of romanticizing weapons, war, and killing by otherwise upstanding citizens who claim they are just patriots, God fearing patriots at that.
If there is hope, it is that the public mood, at least in America, seems to be shifting. Maybe reflections on the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War have something to do with that. I hope so. Daily Office readings these last few weeks have been from Jeremiah, and I wonder if he is speaking as loud to us in our own day as he was to the leaders of Jerusalem. Pay attention national leaders, the way we have forged is not God’s way, it is a way that leads toward national death, not life. Life, life in abundance, lies in another direction.