With sabers rattling in Persia for nearly 3,000 years, the latest Iran flare-up looks boringly familiar. Jews have spent most of history around warring empires: Starting with Passover and the escape from Egypt, it’s where our “You tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” holidays come from. The prophets’ visions of a better world haven’t stopped anyone from making war or creating cultures that glorify it. But maybe we can learn something new if we view the current scenario with fresh eyes.
World War II made the United States a warrior empire. We created a military-industrial complex to mobilize for the war and to never again be caught unprepared. But by 1960, President Eisenhower was warning that the MIC’s enormous influence threatened to endanger our liberties and democratic processes. Only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” could compel the MIC to serve America’s “peaceful methods and goals.”
Today, we spend 53 percent of our federal budget on the MIC, choosing to spend less on other essentials like education and health care. The MIC provides massive employment, operates from thousands of U.S. and overseas facilities, and delivers production capacity and revenues for national-level projects, including the Internet, interstate highways, satellites, renewable energy and international security. The MIC permeates our culture, language, media, fashion, designs, manufacturing and research. It endangers us through fossil fuel consumption and pollution, wars, laws and by promoting a culture of fear that encourages jingoistic attitudes.
The world’s most prosperous economies have always fielded the biggest militaries and imposed their worldviews by force. Dominant empires believe that might makes right, and create us-versus-them situations to reaffirm that the “us” is more powerful.
Rutgers University Professor Robin Fox asserts that we waste too much time asking what causes violence, when “it is as much a part of the human life process as digesting or reproducing.” The real question is how cultures manage to stop violent activity by de-escalating violent energy, managing it, and/or diverting it elsewhere. More broadly, defusing us-versus-them attitudes reduces the need for military force.
In “What’s the Economy For, Anyway?” John DeGraaf and David Batker assert that it’s time for our society to invest less in our military-industrial complex, and more in our human resources and infrastructure. Basically, we need to provide the greatest good, for the greatest number, over the longest run. A starting point is to measure America’s wealth in other ways than dollar output, like with the Happiness Index, Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, or Genuine Progress Indicator. Whereas bad outputs are added to good in the GDP – for example, the Gulf oil spill contributed more to the GDP in cleanup and legal payments than just delivering the oil would have – in the alternative indicators, bads are subtracted from goods to yield a net measure of wealth and health.
Another approach is to subsidize and empower the goods. Rather than military service being the only “full credit” way to serve our country, we should be able to serve in many areas, like trades, health care, teaching, and helping to defuse international conflicts.
People like University of Massachusetts professor emeritus Ervin Staub and Tikkun magazine founder Michael Lerner encourage dialogue and other practices to humanize opposing groups, overcome fear, create trust, and promote inclusive, rather than destructive, viewpoints and actions.
That’s where we alert and knowledgeable citizens come in. To change the might-makes-right attitude, honor the humanity of others and ourselves, and strengthen our society, we must demand that our leaders make federal investments as massive as those in the military-industrial complex in domestic infrastructure, research and development and employment, and – with adversarial countries – cultural exchanges, sports, open communication, and mutual, unrestricted travel.
It doesn’t mean we let down our guard. But it does mean we work toward Hosea’s vision: “I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make [all living things] to lie down safely” (2:18). And America will be more secure, and world history a little less boringly familiar.