Ersatz Security vs. Genuine Security

WWII Tank Destroyer carrying infantry

Is the war system as profitable as we think it is? Credit: Creative Commons/ Btphelps

Suppose a traveling salesperson came to your door and tried to sell you a product that was extremely expensive, beyond your budget, dangerous to people and the earth. Would you rush to a decision and go into debt to finance what is being offered? Even though it cripples the world economy, is dangerous beyond belief, and commands an outrageous price, the world has bought the war system. We might even be willing to sacrifice for this product if the security purchased was genuine and not ersatz.

To grow as a human family, we need to be internally free and open to new ideas. Questioning the war system may at first seem extreme. Haven’t we had wars for thousands of years? Don’t we need to defend ourselves? I ask only that the reader not reject my thesis before giving me a fair hearing.

I want to say at the outset that I do not wish to discredit those who put themselves in harm’s way. Whatever we can say about past and present wars, my essay points to a new and secure system for a better world. My own army experience would lead me to believe that those who have put themselves in harm’s way are basically decent people following their consciences.

I made lasting friends in the U.S. Army. In early 1945, as members of the 86th Infantry Division, we entered combat on the Rhine River near Cologne, Germany. We formed part of an Allied cordon that encircled the 4000-square mile Ruhr industrial region. Over 300,000 German troops surrendered, the largest mass surrender of the war. The 86th captured Attendorn, Luderscheid and Hagen.

We crossed the Danube later under fire. The Germans offered resistance, but it was the beginning of the end, and we took many prisoners. Members of our 342nd Regiment were killed and injured, but we did not suffer heavy casualties. We cut the Ruhr pocket in half and then went with General Patton’s Third Army south, ending in Austria when the truce was signed.

blackhawkers divison

Credit: Creative Commons/ BotMultichillT.

The 86th Blackhawk Division spearheaded Patton’s Third Army, moved through Bavaria in a rapid sweep of sixteen days, covering 110 miles, crossing six major rivers and taking Ansback, Ingolstadt, Freising, and Oberdorf.

The Blackhawkers also took their share of casualties during this period, but, because of their rapid advance, they prevented the Germans from developing any effective defenses. Resistance was met in small pockets, and many of these positions were simply by-passed by the lead units and mopped up by the trailing elements.

On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered. The 86th Infantry Division participated in three major battles: The Rhine, the Ruhr, and Bavaria. It captured 53,354 German prisoners, conquered 220 miles of German territory, and forded six major rivers including the Danube at Ingolstadt.

With God’s help I was able to draw good from the evil of the war. I received my vocation to become a Jesuit. Despite many years of repressing my memories, instinctively, I found my passion for peace and justice. I have had a good life and I hope I have made this a better world.

I think the Marshall Plan after World War II was superior to the policies after World War I. However, we should have moved toward greater sharing and cooperation rather than competing for resources.

World culture has embraced war and violence. Violence would at first seem to be quicker than non-violence, but this is not the case. For example, after researching over 300 attempts to overthrow dictators, Erica Chenoweth, a professor of government and director of Wesleyan’s program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research concludes that non-violent resistance movements are twice as effective as violent ones; they are effective even where one might think they would be futile (against the most brutal and repressive dictators), and they have helped societies transition to democracy as well as establish periods of stable civil peace.  Her research also found that violence leads to more violence.

To glorify war is to destroy ourselves, others, and the planet on which we live. We need to try every path that will lead to greater listening to the needs of other groups. We need to always be searching for agreement.

At the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola says the purpose of the Exercises is “to order one’s life, without reaching a decision through some disordered affection.” All of us believe in rational, civil discourse. Does the war system put order into our human family? Through excessive fear, insecurity, reluctance to change, have we made a bad buy? Do we have enough courage to examine another way to order the life of our small planet? Are we ready to listen to alternatives?

A case could be made that ending the war system is connected with so many of our challenges. Certainly it is one of the most difficult of the obstacles to a saner world. Confronting war requires the best in us—the closest union with God. It requires a generous attitude and careful research. As we become more and more educated, have more healthy interaction with other nations as we did in the world choir games and the Olympics, we will move in the direction of law where it is needed, not just to protect our civil liberties, but to allow a free market to function in an orderly way.

The world budget for the war system is crippling. Besides current expenses, we tend to overlook the cost of past wars, the human cost of post-traumatic stress, loss of limbs, and those who suffer for life. Veteran expenses and traumas are obvious. But we tend to forget that most wars are financed by borrowing and are one of the main reasons for debt and the interest on debts. The United States spends one trillion dollars each year on the military. Imagine what one-minute of that could do for the needs of peace. The US operates military bases in 150 nations!

Bansky peace dove in Bethlehem

The armed peace dove graffiti in now occupied territory in Bethlehem is regarded as one of the anonymous street artist, Banksy's finest creations. Credit: Creative Commons/ Pawel Ryszawa.

Given modern weapons, the threat of war makes all nations insecure. One nation’s armaments are another nation’s threats. If other nations feel insecure and anxious, then we are more insecure. We need common security for all. Nations need not be in competition with one another. The real enemy is the war system itself, the deterioration of the environment, decisions that are not democratic, and the hoarding of resources by a few,the curtailing of our civil liberties.

What is the alternative? On a smaller level, we already know what the structure of a federal government is like. I’m not sure we know what a federal government could be or should be because the war system has always been part of our world.  We certainly don’t want what Thomas Hobbes called “the war of all against all.” In our better moments we see the value of law and order. Not only does law protect our civil liberties, law gives order to the market. But law needs to be appropriate to the situation, the right size for the right region.

The April 15 edition of the New York Times reported, “For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about twenty-five veterans are dying by their own hands. An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year—more than the initial number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”

U.S. Army officials admitted suicides among active-duty soldiers hit another record high in 2011. I would be alarmed if even one active-duty soldier took his/her own life. Don’t suicides in the Army point to serious psychological sickness among soldiers who were otherwise healthy until they were asked to kill?

Why did a large number of Israeli soldiers who were ready to defend Israel become “refusniks” when faced with serving on the West Bank? Isn’t it because they saw the injustice of the occupation and the harshness of Palestinian suffering?

The U.S. Army also reported a sharp increase, (nearly 30 percent) in violent sex crimes by active duty troops last year. More than half of the victims were active-duty female soldiers ages eighteen to twenty-one. One could conclude that just in preparing for war we do great harm to the environment and workers. Workers suffer from cancer and toxic contamination.

Rio+20 was the first global summit of the Internet Age. More than fifty million people the world over participated electronically in this conference on sustainable development according to United Nations estimates. With the advance of technology, more educated world citizens will see that war and its preparations are foolish and dangerous on environmental and human levels.

As our ability to commit omnicide increases, war itself becomes unthinkable! In no way today does war defend our nation. War and preparations for war destroy, rather than protect. It is a democratic world federation that would better defend us from terrorism and violent groups and better preserve our environment.

I propose that there is a difference not just in degree but in nature between the war system in the past and present and that of the war system in the future. First, technology has made it possible to make the human family and all creatures extinct. The possibility of nuclear war, even a regional nuclear war, should give us nightmares. Radiation spreads. Second, education has made it possible to advance light years ahead in communication and peaceful conflict resolution. Peace and justice education needs to be part of our curricula from grade school through graduate school. Third, many religious groups now have radically different attitudes toward one another and toward those who practice no formal religion. Religion can advance from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Fourth, the natural secrecy intrinsic to the war system is an enemy to democracy and openness. Fifth, fairer and more inclusive visions of a world economy make the rationale for the war system obsolete. Sixth, our college graduates could devote their research to health care, sustainable cradle-to-cradle use of our diminishing resources, and better ways to relate to one another. Hope is our best asset. Our human family needs a new vision!

Another intrinsic evil of the war system and destroyer of democracy is the secrecy St. Ignatius assigns to the evil one in the Spiritual Exercises. The statement “that’s classified” is abused more often than we would like to think. In The Fog of War (2003), Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident that launched the U.S. more deeply into Vietnam, admitted that the alleged Tonkin attack by North Vietnam did not happen. A National Security Agency report in 2000-2001 concluded there had been no attack at Tonkin. When decisions are made openly with greater participation and democracy, the decisions are better and more moral.

Doesn’t the Catholic Church among many others recognize a ‘just war” if certain conditions are followed? Conditions for a just war are spelled out in The Challenge of Peace, crafted by the U.S. Catholic bishops after wide consultation. The cause must be just and declared by competent authority. The values at stake have to override the presumption against war. There must be a right intention. War must be a last resort after all peaceful means have been exhausted. There must be probability of success. There must be proportion between the costs and the good expected. Non-combatants must be protected. We must be working for social justice and reasonable alternatives.

My observation is that we do not thoroughly discuss just war principles, if at all. If we had established a world Council of Conscience, first proposed by the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, nations would have a body to turn to when deciding whether a war is just. Can we say that a war is just if we have not examined carefully the conditions for a just war? No nation by itself is a good judge in its own cause. Only a democratic communal body (national or global) can reasonably make such a horrifying decision.

US flag soldier afghanistan

"Afghanistan is far away," the author writes. "We do not reflect on the financial and the human cost of war." Credit: Creative Commons/ Boing-boing.

Lt. Col. Daniel Davis has served in the U.S. Army since 1985. He was twice deployed to Afghanistan, once to Iraq and once during Desert Storm. He describes himself as “pro strong national defense” and “not a pacifist” but… he is concerned that in the United States, today, war has become a “normal state of affairs” and the horrible consequences of war are not simply downplayed, but virtually absent from the national consciousness. Afghanistan is far away. We do not reflect on the financial and the human cost of war. Families whose members have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan know what war can mean. 1.3 trillion dollars since 9/11 is not helping a healthy U.S. economy although it is adding to the cost of our support for the military-industrial complex. Would a program similar to the Marshall plan be a better use of 1.3 trillion dollars? Soldiers have had multiple separations from their families because of multiple deployments. Has terrorism decreased significantly in our world or actually increased?

The danger of an attitude of taking war for granted continuing into the future is that the threshold for more bloodshed goes lower and lower until war is no longer used “as a last resort,” but as a policy option of first choice. In fact, Davis argues that we are already at that point. When the truth about the full cost of war is more fully understood, people may be far less likely to support the easy application of deadly force abroad in their name. In his damning report following his return from his second year-long deployment in Afghanistan, Davis draws on about 250 conversations with U.S. soldiers as well as Afghan civilians across the country to conclude: “Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable.” Davis asks how many more must die in support of a mission that’s not succeeding. “When you’re given a mission that cannot — cannot — succeed militarily, then what is the purpose of the mission?”

Research has also shown that today war kills more civilians than combatants. How can that be reconciled with the just war theory? Indeed, wars today are even killing children! “Americans must pay attention to the way our wars harm the most innocent and defenseless civilians of all-especially children, born and unborn.” (America Jan. 15, 2012, Mary Meehan “In Harm’s Way.”)

Granting that I can only begin a discussion of alternatives, our best effort would be to create a democratic world federation, a structure that would give us a way to end the war system, establish human rights, and create a more humane world. Effective world law could address disputes between nations, global climate change, and a fairer, more inclusive economy. Differences would be decided by mediation and law.  A democratic world federation could give us a more open and transparent world, with basic decisions made in ways in which all are represented.  Indeed since a regional and world system of law and conflict resolution would give us more real security, a democratic world federation would help us to minimize prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Greater security would give us greater trust of other groups and nations. Our most creative minds would be dedicating their research into better and better ways of producing goods and services cradle-to-cradle. Our public officials could devote their lives to bettering communication among diverse groups and forming more effective government at all levels.

Some could agree that a democratic world federation would be more rational and more moral, but the obstacles seem overwhelming. Our human family instinctively moves toward violence, and some have a negative view of government and bureaucracy. Adding more structure to our world seems a huge encumbrance rather than an aid. Others have a more positive view of law and too many thinkers have embraced some form of world federalism throughout history for us to abandon the idea. There are those who believe world peace is possible and in the near term.

Going from a federal nation to a federal world would mean basic changes. Offensive armies would need to disarm and be used for internal national and state order as well as natural disasters. We would need to accept what has been termed the principle of subsidiarity, checks and balances in the world constitution, only taking to a higher level what cannot be solved at a city, state, or national level or by private groups. A democratic world federation does not mean one government. Economic democracy and the various forms of non-violence would also become a check and balance at all levels. A peace-keeping force could not have more than 3 percent from any one nation. Details of a constitution need to be agreed on. “We emphasize integrated solutions to global problems through the elaboration of world law and a world parliament. We share a common vision of a world of peace, justice, and freedom within democratic world government under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.”

A Constitution of a Democratic Federal Earth system drafted over many years by representatives from several nations can be found here:


“Realizing that Humanity today has come to a turning point in history and that we are on the threshold of an new world order which promises to usher in an era of peace, prosperity, justice and harmony;

Aware of the interdependence of people, nations and all life;

Aware that man’s abuse of science and technology has brought Humanity to the brink of disaster through the production of horrendous weaponry of mass destruction and to the brink of ecological and social catastrophe;

Aware that the traditional concept of security through military defense is a total illusion both for the present and for the future;

Aware of the misery and conflicts caused by ever increasing disparity between rich and poor;

Conscious of our obligation to posterity to save Humanity from imminent and total annihilation;

Conscious that Humanity is One despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures and that the principle of unity in diversity is the basis for a new age when war shall be outlawed and peace prevail; when the earth’s total resources shall be equitably used for human welfare; and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination;

Conscious of the inescapable reality that the greatest hope for the survival of life on earth is the establishment of a democratic world government;

We, citizens of the world, hereby resolve to establish a world federation to be governed in accordance with this constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Despite checks and balances, is there danger that a world government would become corrupt and dictatorial? If constructed properly, a democratic world federation would less likely experience a concentration of power than the governmental and economic structures we now have in place. However, no system will work if we don’t work at it. Despite the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, more crucial decisions are being made by fewer people.

On the international level, critics state that the World Trade Organization now makes decisions that should be made in a more open, democratic, and moral way.

Not every nation would join immediately, but as in the case of the European Union, eventually nations would see that joining the membership would have more advantages than disadvantages, especially in economic terms. The time has passed when any nation can go it alone. Despite its size and resources, Texas receives financial and security benefits even though it means other restrictions.

The World Health Organization is an obvious need for our planet. Germs spread.

We need common security for all. Nations need not be in competition with one another. The real enemy is the war system itself, the deterioration of the environment, decisions that are not democratic, hoarding of resources by a few, curtailing of our civil liberties.

Uncle Sam I want you

Perhaps Uncle Sam is asking us for something we should reconsider. The war system is actually damaging to our economy and health. Credit: Creative Commons/ Jeanot.

At least two modifications of our present policies could lead the human family in the right direction. The first would be elimination of nuclear weapons. Many nations already agree with this strategy, but the United States among others has not put enough emphasis on pursuing this objective. Nuclear devices can be stolen by terrorists, are expensive to maintain. In Apocalypse Never Tad Daley has given five years of his life to research and concluded that nuclear capability makes us less secure rather than more secure. We know now that a regional nuclear war would have global consequences. Atmospheric scientists have modeled a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan in which each side used fifty Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons on the other side’s cities. Such a war would put enough soot from burning cities into the upper stratosphere to reduce warming sunlight for a decade, lowering surface temperatures on earth to the lowest levels in 1,000 years. This would result in shortened growing seasons, crop failures and famine that would kill hundreds of millions of people, perhaps a billion, throughout the world. The scientific modeling showed that there would be a Nuclear Famine, and it would be triggered by using less than half of 1 percent of the world’s nuclear explosive power. Such a famine could be initiated not only by India and Pakistan, two countries that have been to war over Kashmir on several occasions, but by any of the Nuclear Nine. The US and Russia could each trigger a far more devastating Nuclear Famine by a nuclear attack on the other side’s cities, an attack which would be suicidal even if the other side did not respond in kind. ( See Nuclear Age Peace Foundation)

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are begging for our attention. Radiation spreads.

Another approach builds on our first President George Washington who in his Farewell Address suggests we avoid friends and enemies among other nations. Putting other nations and groups into boxes and considering them as intrinsically good or evil is too simplistic. As Washington points out we tend to exaggerate the faults of our enemies and minimize their positive qualities as well as over-estimate the virtue of our allies and minimize their faults.

I could take North Korea or Iran as examples, but let me choose another hard one like Hamas.

Our approach has been to take the goal of Hamas as wanting “the destruction of Israel” and writing them off without trying to understand anything positive in their approach or future decisions. I think this is taking a pessimistic and completely negative view of Hamas. Considering Hamas as intrinsically evil does not harmonize with the conversations had with Hamas by former president Jimmy Carter, Lord Raymond Hylton of Britain, a still sitting hereditary member of the House of Lords and a most responsible and peace-minded observer, and Sir John Allardice, whose peacemaker credentials are attested to by his having founded Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party. In any case, collective punishment of all the people living in Gaza is not the way to win friends and have a positive impact.

The world choir games hosted in Cincinnati is an alternative practical way to see the positive in Iran, China, and many other nations whose policies we don’t always agree with or whom we tend to consider in completely negative terms. We need to accentuate the positive, cooperate more, and listen more compassionately. Most of the people of the world are basically decent people. The Internet exchange between the people of Israel and the people of Iran indicates nuclear strikes may not be the best way to go.

Rev. Martin Luther King joins President John F. Kennedy in pledging the end of war. “A final problem that we must solve to survive in the world house that we have inherited is finding an alternative to war…. Do we have the morality and courage to live together and not be afraid?

President John F. Kennedy said: “We must put an end to war or war will put an end to us.’”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. follows Jesus in love even of enemies: “When I speak of love, I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is the key that unlocks the door. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of St. John: ‘Let us love one another: for love is of God and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God, God is love.’”

In brief, I suggest we keep alive the idea of a democratic world federation—a reform of the Security Council veto in the United Nations would be a step forward. I also suggest a more positive view of other nations and groups, even those we don’t like. This would make it easier to move from a federal nation to a federal world.

Father Benjamin Urmston is a longtime instructor of theology at Xavier University, where he has focused his teachings on human rights, helped to create the peace studies minor, and directed the Dorothy Day House, overseeing the university's peace and justice programs.
tags: Democracy, Spiritual Politics, War & Peace   
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One Response to Ersatz Security vs. Genuine Security

  1. patti normile December 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

    This treasury of wisdom should be required reading in every church, synagogue, mosque, school, business place, home in the USA and around the world. It offers hope for the future.
    blessings on Fr. Ben for putting this scholarly yet very readable article together.

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