This past week saw the formal end of a war that lasted more than eight years, resulted in more than 150,000 deaths and countless more injuries, and cost trillions of dollars. I find myself struggling with ambivalence in its wake.
I am thankful, of course, that the last of our troops have finally left Iraq and that they will now be able to come home to their loved ones. I am grateful to all who served. I am hopeful that we may not see another struggle like this in my lifetime.
I am, at the same time, mindful of the continuing war in Afghanistan, frightened by the sabre rattling over Iran, and frustrated at our seeming inability to find better ways to resolve conflicts in the game of nations.
Last year, the United States spent $687,105,000,000 (and change) on the military. That is, by far, that largest military budget of any nation on Earth. It is more than 40% of all military spending on the planet. It is more than was spent by all of the other nations ranking in the top 15 of military budgets combined. It is more than six times what China (number two in military expenditures) spent. It represents nearly 5% of our Gross Domestic Product, and constitutes well over half of our federal budget.
As staggering as those figures may seem, they do not include expenses that are not part of the formal Pentagon budget. When you include related spending that is not under the Department of Defense (such as foreign arms deals, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, defense-related costs at the Department of Energy, FBI Counterterrorism efforts, interest on debt incurred for wars, etc.) the total price tag balloons to more than $1 trillion dollars annually. By some estimates, the figure is close to $1.5 trillion.
China spends less than $75 per capita on the military each year. The United States spends more than $2100 per capita each year on the DoD budget alone. Add in the other defense-related expenses listed above, and we’re crowding five grand per year in military spending for every man, woman and child in the country.
By conservative estimates, the United States now has active duty military personnel on the ground in more than 100 countries around the globe, and maintains more than 650 bases on foreign soil.
Abraham Maslow said “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” America seems cursed with the hammer of military might…
Though the current situation may seem overwhelmingly daunting to people who care about peace and justice, and we may be tempted to think of it as a remote and inaccessible problem, in truth it is not.
Today I pray for an end to the war in Afghanistan. I pray for an end to violence as an accepted solution to conflict on God’s good Earth. Especially in this Season of Christmas to come, I will pray that humankind will open our hearts to the Spirit of the Prince of Peace.
Prayers, however, will not be enough. We need to take away the hammer, or at least put some new tools in the box.
If the events of this past year have taught us anything, they have taught us that the power of ordinary people who come together, resolute in solidarity, seeking justice, is greater than any other power on Earth.
War is over, if you want it.
The Carter Center
The Albert Einstein Institution
Pax Christi USA
The Peace Alliance
The United Nations Association of the United States
If you are involved in an organization that practices peace and advocates for it, or if you have other resources to recommend, please leave a comment or email me with a link and I’ll consider posting it here.