With Memorial Day upon us, we Americans are about to enter the three day ritual of remembering those who have served and do serve in the armed forces, and especially those who have given their lives on behalf of our liberty and security. As a progressive Christian, I will speak for myself to the question raised by the title; the answer is yes. Just as any sensible person would understand the need for communities to hire police officers and give them authority to use force to maintain public order and safety, so too must we all understand the necessity of having a defense force more capable than any outside entity which would do us harm. When the peace and safety of our nation comes into peril, then we have only one choice if we are to survive. Emerson reminds us that we all sleep peacefully at night because others among us “stand ready to do violence on our behalf.”
It is a strange paradox; violence and Christian belief. They really do not belong in the same breath or thought process. Perhaps this is because God’s kingdom is still being realized, and in the fullness of time there will be no more war. One can only hope! My own thinking about war and the huge amounts of our resources we commit to the defense budget is paradoxical as well. I have always believed in maintaining the strongest possible defense so that we will not have to go to war. History is replete with examples of nations possessing such a disproportionate share of military might that other nations deem aggression futile. But history is also replete with wars begun by mighty nations and empires; wars of conquest and economic gain. While some leaders share my belief that we possess such overwhelming power simply for our safety, the last twelve years have shown that leaders in our own country cannot seem to help themselves and have thus catapulted us into the maelstrom of perpetual conflict; as though it somehow seems incongruent to spend the money on our military power and not use it regularly!
So, a clear choice is presented. I declare in the name of God and everything we deem holy, it is our duty to limit warfare and conflict to the safety and security of our country and our people. It is never acceptable for Christians of any stripe to support wars of aggression or especially for commercial reasons. I can imagine nothing more obscene than to send our soldiers to kill or be killed protecting some businessman’s oversees ventures, or the assets of some multi-national corporation. And yet Americans soldiers have died doing just that for over a century; many of them. So if a new government in South America nationalized resources because that is what their people want, so be it if it costs American’s one-tenth of one percent a fortune. That is the risk of doing business oversees; suck it up! And even if an oil-rich foreign dictator threatens to trade his precious commodity in euros instead of dollars, cost US Energy companies a fortune; suck it up! Your money is not as important as the lives of our troops or of the civilians in the opposing country- not even in the same universe. And most assuredly not to Jesus!
So this Memorial Day, I will be honoring the men and women who serve and have served us all, regardless of whether they served in a just war or whether they have been tragically misused by our government. The honor of our service men and women remains intact regardless. But along with the celebration, I will be pondering ways in which those of us in the faith based community can hold ourselves accountable (myself included) to appeal successfully to the American people to hold our politicians’ feet to the fire; and make armed conflict more safe, more legal, and very much more rare.