More quotes

This time from Robert Brimlow’s What About Hitler? Wrestling with Jesus’ Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World.

“The main difficulty in accepting the implications of our call to be peacemakers is our fear of death and dying, born of a weakness of faith.”


“The gospel is clear and simple, and I know what the response to the Hitler question must be. And I desperately want to avoid this conclusion. … We must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may also mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die. That’s it. There is nothing else…. We are called to live the kingdom as he proclaimed it and be his disciples, come what may.”


From “War Is a Racket” by Smedley Butler, for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is generally difficult for me in the abstract. I abhor the very idea of “celebrating” the “sacrifices” of people who might better said not to have sacrificed their lives but rather to have been murdered, murdered by the people who profit from the abstractions that are bandied about to mobilize money and man-and-woman-power in order to steal, kill, and destroy. It is not that I bear ill will to the soldiers themselves; rather, I mourn the fact that they are caught up in the spiral of violence and even have come to believe there is glory in it. The only true glory is in serving the Prince of Peace, and I’m pretty sure when he said “love your enemies” he didn’t mean kill them.

This year Memorial Day is especially difficult because only a few days ago we buried a friend who had just returned from Iraq in a flag-draped casket. My own brother is over there right now, and I hope and pray he doesn’t come back to us the same way.

War is not glorious, and warriors are not the highest class of men (contrary to the speech the general gave at Joe’s memorial service). The highest calling is being a part of the emergence of the New Creation, anticipating the day when finally the work is complete in God’s mysterious ways and the veil is lifted to reveal Christ fully to us again, just as the Eleven saw him ascend to heaven (Acts 1) – the time when the trumpet sounds, the Lord descends with a shout, and we rise up in the air to meet him and escort him, as befits a royal Prince, down to earth to survey his domain. [It should be noted at this point that much of what I’m describing actually has very little to do with what passes as popular Christian belief among certain segments of the population today – the Biblical imagery is clearly about the creation itself being redeemed and transformed, not about a certain class of privileged people “escaping” it.]

This is from the first chapter of Smedley Butler’s work War Is a Racket. Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC (Ret.), is the most highly decorated soldier in US history, one of only 19 people to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. After retiring from the Corps he came to see his “service” as truly only being in the service of making the rich richer at the expense of the thousands for whose deaths and suffering he felt responsibility. He embarked on a speaking tour of the country, and the speech he gave was expanded and published as War Is a Racket in 1935.

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [World War I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

[Butler goes on to describe the state of the world in 1935, describing the ongoing processes of militarization that would eventually erupt into World War II]

Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war — a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit — fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

War Is a Racket full text

Training for war

“Military planners operate on the basis of military expediency, and individual soldiers are trained to operate on the basis of unquestioning obedience to their military superiors…In the realm of copybook distinctions it may be a simple matter to divide the bombing of a city into separate acts of willed destruction of a war production plant and unwilled (though fully known and foreseen) destruction of thousands of innocent noncombatants. But it demands too much to believe that the man who loosed the bombs availed himself of such convenient moral schizophrenia—or that he saw any need for doing so. Our intensive military-training programs are designed to free men from the necessity of making such calculations by establishing in them as nearly automatic systems of stimulus-response patterns as possible. As far as the victims of his acts are concerned, our bomber friend had been rigorously trained to think of them either as purely expendable units or in terms of hatred or fear-inducing stereotypes which makes those victims fully deserving of their fate…

The military-training program is crucial here, in that it may be seen as a set of social controls designed to subject the individual trainee to a process of systematic depersonalization in the interest of increased military efficiency. The self-image of the morally responsible person vanishes and is replaced by a new orientation, in which the individual sees himself as an agent of destructive force completely responsive to the decisions and directives of his military superiors. This new “self-image”—and the awareness that his enemy counterpart has undergone the same change—makes it possible for him to assume the role of professional killer and to perform acts which, under other circumstances, he would have found unthinkable. How else could he bridge the gap between the friendly repairman and the soldier spraying fiery death upon his screaming victims, between the playful collegian and the aviator lowering a blanket of death upon a flame-rimmed city? Certainly not by coldly rational calculations of good and evil effects. The secret lies in conditioning and not in conviction. The depersonalized agent sees no alternative; like Pilate, he washes his hands of all responsibility, leaving that to those who made the decisions and issued the orders. It also helps if he can be conditioned to regard the objects of his kill as similarly depersonalized agents—as the abstraction he knows simply as “enemy”—not as men with bodies that bleed and burn, with families and friends to mourn them, with loves and hopes and fears like his own. Once this level of conditioning is achieved, all things are possible. Men will follow orders to “take no prisoners”; or, having already taken them, to “deliver them to Paris, and be back in ten minutes.” It becomes possible for them to liquidate innocent hostages in reprisal for a guerilla raid without suffering too many troubling qualms of conscience. In a very real sense, atrocities are the hallmark of the perfectly accomplished military-training program, for they represent the ultimate of obedience to military discipline.

Fortunately, the “ideal” is rarely achieved, despite the total mobilizing of psychological talent and resources. But it is achieved often enough—or, even when the finished product falls short of that ideal, the partial success is sufficient—to justify firm theological condemnation of that violation of God’s proudest creation which such depersonalization and dehumanization represent.

A very specific example, which again is in no sense hypothetical, may be in order here. A few years ago, a network radio program devoted a Sunday to on-the-scene interviews at one of the nation’s basic training centers. One such interview featured the instructor charged with the task of training the young recruits in the use of the bayonet. He complained that he encountered a great deal of resistance from the trainees, who were naturally repelled by the idea of plunging this weapon into the vitals of a living human being. But he had solved his pedagogical problem in a rather ingenious fashion. Experience had shown that this initial resistance faded away if the men were induced to imitate the roars and snarls of wild beasts as they charged the training dummy. To conclude the interview, a microphone was attached to the dummy so that the listening public might be entertained by the sound of the recruits as they growled and ripped away at their mock victim. This, one assumes, is the much-praised “making of men” that only recently was recommended by one of our leading bishops as the solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency. Perhaps the use of this technique [for solving the juvenile delinquency problem] is not widespread. But, widespread or not, this “making of men into beast” is thoroughly in keeping with the demands of modern war.”

Dr. Gordon Zahn, from his book War, Conscience, and Dissent

Early morning, April 4, a shot rings out in the Memphis sky…

As you’re probably aware, on this day 40 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Fewer people are aware of this speech he gave 41 years ago, today.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence

by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 4, 1967

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.

Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

Continue reading

personal update

This weekend my brother, a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army, leaves to deploy to Iraq. His specialty is communications, which means he’ll likely be going out with patrols as a radio man – not exactly a “safe” job.

I must confess as to being somewhat conflicted as to how to pray about this – I obviously want to see him come home safely, but at the same time I do not want to fall into the trap of praying for the safety of those who go under the American flag at the expense of those who gather under other banners. I believe Christ calls us to transcend such tribalistic identity-markers.

My usual prayer in such circumstances is to pray not for the safety of particular people, but rather to pray that guns would jam, bombs would fail to explode, that soldiers would lay down arms and walk away from the field, and that people would refuse to engage in this ridiculous business of war any longer. I do pray that for my brother, but I also want him to come back home to us.

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts.

Ironic quote about the efficacy of war

“The blood shed on the European continent in the course of the last three hundred years bears no proportion to the national result of the events. In the end, France had remained France, Germany Germany, Poland Poland, and Italy Italy. What dynastic egotism, political passion and patriotic blindness have attained in the way of apparently far-reaching political changes by shedding rivers of blood has, as regards national feeling, done no more than touched the skin of nations. It has not substantially altered their fundamental characters. If these states had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser purposes the success would certainly have been greater and more permanent.”

— Adolf Hitler, in a speech intended to reassure the European powers of Germany’s benign intent in remilitarizing, which was against the provisions of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, May 21, 1935. On the same day Hitler spoke those words he had secretly approved a secret Reich Defense Law which put Germany on a war economy and revived the Army’s General Staff organization – also forbidden by the Treaty. Four years later Hitler would invade Poland, setting off World War II in Europe.

Support our troops?

This morning, my grandfather sent me an email “action alert” from the American Family Association urging protest of the recent Berkeley, California City Council resolution that declared the downtown Marine recruiting office “unwanted” and urged the recruiters to leave town. This article does not respond to that issue, but rather to the subject line of the email he forwarded from the AFA, which was “Support our troops”.

I have to admit being somewhat perplexed by the exhortation to “support our troops”. Whose troops are they? They certainly aren’t mine – I’m not sending them anywhere, and they don’t represent me or my thoughts. It seems to me that the designation “our troops” implies a kind of kinship between us and the troops that does not really exist. Certainly it is true that my (step)brother is among those who are being sent over there, but it is not on my behalf that he is being sent, just as it is not on my behalf that any of them has been sent.

This entire enterprise of war in foreign lands has very little to do with the protection and preservation of American values, but it has everything to do with protecting and preserving business interests that profit heavily from maintaining a forced subordinate status in certain nations around the world. The United States has done the same thing for over a century now in Latin America, and has long maintained an official policy that essentially says “if you have something we want, a resource we ‘need’, then as far as we’re concerned it belongs rightfully to us, not to you”. This is the only rational explanation for the military interventions in Hawai’i for pineapples; in Guatemala for bananas; in Iran for oil (with the deposition of a popular government in order to reinstate the Shah, a move on our part whose eventual consequence was the Islamic Revolution of 1979); in Iraq not only for oil but also to create a living experiment in extreme neoliberal free trade as an example (and warning) to the rest of the world that consumer corporate “democracies” will have what they want from the “developing nations”, and we can get it the easy way or the hard way.

This critique stands regardless of one’s religious persuasion, but it is much more pertinent for me as a follower of Jesus, the prince of peace and king of all creation who urged his followers not to retaliate when evil was done to them, but rather to turn the other cheek. The unanimous response of the early church to persecution was not to respond by fighting back for their own gain, even in defense of their own personal liberties, but rather to witness to those who tormented them by showing the same attitude of Christ – loving and forgiving their attackers in the hope that they would be transformed. They believed the cross of Christ is the hope for the transformation of all doers of violence and opponents of God. To suggest that the idea of premeditated war for the economic gain of certain sectors of society (the corporate management classes first, and then to a lesser extent the consuming classes – which is to say that yes, you and I likely are beneficiaries of the violence), which was sold as a preemptive (or preventative, depending on who you ask) war to ostensibly “protect our way of life against the terrorists” would never have even occurred to them as a valid option for Christians.

Even three centuries after Christ when the church went from being a persecuted minority to the triumphant majority with the imperial sanction they did not develop a theology of warfare that went so far – instead, Augustine’s formulation of Just War doctrine carried the day. It is important to note that even Just War doctrine does not actually justify war for self-defense, to say nothing of preemptive warfare. Therefore, even on the less-strict Christian stance on war than that of Jesus himself, the type of activities in which the U.S. military has engaged in Iraq cannot in any way be construed as representative either of me or of my Lord.

They are not “our” troops, they are troops under the command of people in the thrall of the American political/business system which “make[s] unjust laws. . . deprive[s] the poor of their rights, withhold[s] justice from the oppressed. . . [makes] widows their prey, and [robs] the fatherless” (see Isaiah 10:1-2 in the NIV). They are being asked to die for a cause that, in the words of Alisdair McIntyre, is rather like being asked to die for the telephone company. They are not my troops, they are my fellow-human-beings being manipulated and exploited in more ways than they realize, and rather than praying for success in their mission I simply pray for an end to war and for the desire of men and women to make war. I pray that guns would jam and bombs would fail to explode, and that soldiers on all sides would simply lay down their weapons and refuse to engage any longer in this silly business of war. I support people, not troops, and I support them as potential brothers and sisters in the new world that God is creating even in the midst of this world of bloodshed and hatred, a new world of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation who walk in the ways of God’s shalom.