This was originally written in response to Chuck Fager’s article published in Friends Journal, “Slowing the Wheel of War: A Spiritual Struggle” in September 2010. FJ didn’t publish it so I thought I’d share it here. -Jay
Friend Chuck Fager offers a delightfully insightful analysis of the military industrial complex (MIC) in his “Slowing the Wheel of War”. It is a straightforward and accurate description of a very complex and diabolical machine that is deeply embedded in our society.
Yet, the analysis does not go far enough. The MIC is not an isolated phenomenon, but is a logical outgrowth of the underlying economic rules of the game. By accurately naming it the “Military-Industrial-Political-Academic-Scientific-Think-Tank-Mass-Media-Entertainment-Religious Complex”, Chuck gets at the essential nature of the problem; that the persistence and growth of the MIC is a problem of culture. We, as predominantly middle class Americans who play by those rules, are complicit in the spiritual death that gives rise to our excessive military machine.
Three deeper assumptions undergird the MIC and contain the seed of war. First the cultural assumption that we have been given dominion over all the earth to use as we see fit. If we believe that we are entitled to the possession of things (land, material wealth etc.) then it is only logical that we should have some right to defend those things. “Hey, that’s MINE!” Second, to which Chuck alludes in the “wheel, in an economy which is founded upon the necessity of perpetual growth we require the endless consumption of all resources on the face of the earth. And if we don’t happen to have enough oil to satisfy our insatiable appetite we go to Iraq “Hey, that’s mine TOO!” It’s not to difficult to see that this system seeks to dominate people as well by ensuring stable governments (whether democratic or not) to support export industries moving in to take advantage of cheap labor and backed by our extended military might.
Third, the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands in both rich individuals, centralized government and enormous corporations creates a self-perpetuating spiral in which rich people running huge corporations get preferential treatment allowing them to grow larger and larger – enough to subvert the will and rights of the rest of us. Since all that power is concentrated in few hands, these players can set cultural expectations that lead us to endless consumptive distraction, and limit access to legitimate decision making until we the people have forgotten how to be citizens and genuinely practice the art of democracy. Both the right and left have given in to this centralizing tendency as evidenced by tickle down economics, wall street bailouts and Obama’s “Race to the Top” education initiative. As a member of my local school board, we are essentially bound and limited in our range of possible action by state and federal regulations; ensuring that centralized so-called experts make all the decisions leaving no room for an informed and competent citizenry. Which makes sense, because the MIC doesn’t want us to be citizens, merely consumers of the war-entangled and morally suspect products they peddle.
The common theme here is domination which I believe to be the spiritual seed of war. But if domination is the seed of war, and we are enmeshed in the aforementioned systems than we have more to do than to witness against the atrocities of war. Wendell Berry captured the approach we need while talking about the environmental movement, but it is no less relevant to our case as pacifists. “A protest meeting on the issue of environmental abuse is not a convocation of accusers, it is a convocation of the guilty. That realization ought to clear the smog of self-righteousness that has almost conventionally hovered over these occasions, and let us see the work that is to be done.”
We, as a religious society, need to grapple with ourselves as the guilty party. As long as we are dependent on a system that leaves, as Marx put it, “no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment”, then it is unlikely that we will slow the wheel of war. Or the wheel of “I want MORE!” The good news, though, is that this is a spiritual problem. And we are fortunately a spirit-led people. It is time now to learn anew what it means to live in the life and power that takes away the occasion for all war. We have the resources needed at our disposal. We have a radical understanding of equality, a historic testimony of simplicity, an inkling to the type of community that will be needed to mutually support our new way of life, and a tradition of deep democracy practiced through our business.
To truly dig this weed out by the roots will take a radical reorienting of our lives on the personal level, on the corporate level within our religious society supporting one another in a new system, and in our external witness to the world. But our first job is to come to a right ordering of our own lives and our communal lives through our Meetings; deepening our time and experience together and feeling around the edges of a new Gospel Order. What an enormous opportunity we have to put our gifts to use and figure out what it means to live again, joining in the full life of the spirit and preparing ourselves to cast off the chains of our economic system and social expectations!