War Is a Dead End

President Obama’s plans to add tens of thousands of more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are a recipe brewing with disaster. It will bring about the death of more children, yet do nothing to thwart terrorist attacks against us. One cannot fight terrorism by war because war itself is terrorism. The British, Soviets, and the Bush administration have unleashed violence already on the broken, desolate land–and all have failed. Obama’s soldiers will fare no better.
This is not “change we can believe in.” The plan smacks of musty, failed policy–warmaking as an instinctive recourse, empire as usual. What we need is “nonviolent change we can believe in.” I propose the immediate removal of our troops and massive aid to abolish poverty, illiteracy and disease. In Afghanistan and Iraq. War will fail to cut the roots of terrorism. Active peacemaking is the only solution.
Indeed, war fails in every conceivable way. Politically, it hasn’t the wherewithal to unite nations. War unleashes suffering, death and destruction, and such sows the seeds of resentment and revenge. A war wrapped up with fanfare today has only prefigured wars down the road. Violence breeds future violence.
Economically, war is grand larceny. It causes unemployment and inflation, and it erodes human services. Funds dry up that would help people get an education, find housing, afford healthcare, get job training. Those funds go instead to build an infrastructure of war across the globe. An economy, like ours, founded on the business of war, in the long run doesn’t last. The economy will fail unless new weapons continually come off the drawing board and go into production–and eventually are put to use. To maintain the economy requires actual war.
A heinous way to keep the gears of industry turning, to be sure. Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the war in Iraq will have a total cost of more than $3 trillion; it has bankrupted our economy, and to keep afloat has forced children yet unborn already into massive debt. War as an engine of economic growth is a sinking battleship–even, I submit, for the rich.
Socially, war is shattering. It destroys any hope of creating diverse human communities, where our basic humanity can flourish. The goal of society is to welcome God’s reign of peace, love, nonviolence and justice, a society that includes all. War, on the other hand, marks sisters and brothers across the globe as subhuman, expendable, collateral damage. They lie dead in rubble–the life we could have shared is deprived us.
Psychologically, war leaves its bitter legacy of post-traumatic-stress disorder, emotional breakdown, festering resentment and anger, fantasies of suicide and violence, wounds lingering for generations. Memories are long.
Environmentally, war sows on earth the seeds of death. Toxins waft on the air, seep into water. Radioactive metals poison the ground. Deadly matter hangs aloft in the sky. The first task of an environmentalist, to my mind–to stand against war and every obscene weapon.
Globally, every war threatens the destruction of the planet. So long as wars go on, we tread perilously toward omnicide.
Spiritually, war goes against the heart of the Creator. War is not the will of God or the way to God. God neither sanctions nor blesses nor calls for war. Quite the opposite. War is anti-God. And anyone involved in the business of war is, in the nature of things, declaring war on the God of peace. They are warring against God’s handiwork, against God’s way of love and truth, against the very presence of God in God‘s people. Every sincere person who undertakes a spiritual journey to God eventually comes to an impasse: one cannot serve both the false gods of war and the living God of peace. One must choose. God practices universal love. God’s children must do likewise. Godly people reject the ungodly business of war. Those who strive to live in mystical communion with this gentle God understand this truth instinctively.
You might expect such thoughts from me. But one can come to the same conclusions by other routes, even by the route of politics. Former senator George McGovern addressed Obama in a recent editorial in The Washington Post.
Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright with the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire…. Military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East–our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel–that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. This means a prudent, carefully directed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and elsewhere. We also need to close down the imposing U.S. military bases in this section of the globe, which do so little to expand our security and so much to stoke local resentment.
McGovern proposes instead that the U.S. work with the U.N. World Food program and other agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries. This would be a minimum, as far as I’m concerned. We should also make restitution for every nation where we have ever killed a single child.
Rabbi Michael Lerner writes that we need an entirely new economic structure at home, one that would lead to a new global Marshall plan for the elimination of global poverty.
Archbishop Tutu argues that the U.S. should build thousands of schools in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. I would add hospitals, clinics, homes, and everything else that we’ve destroyed. “We will never win a war against terror as long as the conditions for poverty and injustice remain,” he says. “Poverty breeds terrorism. So we should stop spending billions on weapons of destruction and instead feed the hungry people of the world. Then we’ll stop terrorism.”
It’s the very theme taken up in the best-selling story of Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea. An injured mountain climber, nursed to health by Pakistani locals, he departed for home having made them a promise out of gratitude–to raise the money to build the villagers a school. One school went up, then another–all told, fifty schools were raised in the desolate regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mortenson has done more to end terrorism than the billions bled from U.S. coffers to deploy troops and launch bombers.
Mertenson shows us a good blueprint for peace in Afghanistan. The most developed blueprint comes from “Sept. 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows” (www.peacefultomorrows.org). They’ve composed a “primer for activists,” which outlines a few unpopular truths.
1. U.S. and NATO occupation creates civilian casualties, angering Afghans.
2. Military occupation has hampered humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts.
3. Afghan women continue to face violence and oppression under the occupation.
4. U.S. policy has empowered warlords, drug lords and the Taliban.
5. The occupation contributes to violence and destabilization for ordinary Afghans, including refugees.
6. NATO allies and military leaders are questioning the occupation.
7. U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan are on the rise.
8. Afghans are calling for a negotiated end to the war.
9. Military escalation will only increase the violence, and potentially lead to a wider war involving nuclear-armed Pakistan.
10. Military occupation of Afghanistan does not curb terrorism.
They propose eight recommendations for change:
1. Set a swift timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO military forces, to be substituted by UN forces for short-term security.
2. Immediately cease air strikes on targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3. Support negotiations between all parties involved in the conflict, including Afghan women leaders.
4. Reform humanitarian aid and reconstruction funding efforts to prioritize Afghan organizations over foreign contractors. Ensure that funded projects address the needs and requests of Afghans and are not simply pet projects of foreign donors.
5. Invest in long-term aid that increases self-reliance such as sustainable agriculture efforts.
6. Immediately discontinue the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are costly, inefficient, and have militarized the aid process.
7. Standardize, increase, and publicly document compensation to Afghan families and communities affected by U.S. military actions.
8. Sign the treaty to ban cluster bombs, pay for cluster bomb and landmine cleanup in Afghanistan, and pledge never to use these weapons again.
The Obama Administration needs to hear this message and the world’s cry for peace. One hears it from every quarter, from the new book, Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan, (Bloomsbury) to plans for a massive “Global March for Peace and Nonviolence,” involving over a million people in ninety countries on six continents (see: www.worldmarchusa.net).
From every quarter, the message is clear: War is obsolete. War doesn’t work. The days of war are over. We want nonviolent solutions for nonviolent breakthroughs to a new world of nonviolence.
“We’ve tried and tested every form of violence,” Lech Walesa has said, “and not once in the entire course of human history has anything good or lasting come from it.”
And from the Dalai Lama: “If we look at history, we find that in time, humanity’s love of peace, justice and freedom always triumphs over cruelty and oppression. This is why I am such a fervent believer in nonviolence. Violence begets violence. Violence means only one thing: suffering. This small planet should be completely demilitarized.”
As a Catholic, I add: war is not the way to follow Jesus. Indeed, Jesus says that whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. In our wars, not only do we make Christ poor, hungry, homeless, sick and imprisoned, we kill him all over again.
So I urge us to resist the U.S. government’s plans for more war. Make phone calls, write letters, lobby, speak out, organize, march, pray, fast and protest for the end of U.S. war on Afghanistan–all of this toward a wider view: for a new culture of nonviolence.