I once heard Rev. Billy Graham say that war does not increase death because we are all going to die. I was taken aback, startled. Then I thought about it. He was right. War does not increase death. It does however increase horror and misery and destruction.
A few days before the 70th anniversary of D-Day while standing in the grocery line, I saw the special edition of Time magazine in remembrance of D-Day. I was under budget, so I had the extra money to make the impulse buy. I saw the movie Saving Private Ryan, the Ken Burns documentary about World War II, The War, and I have seen many documentaries about various aspects of that particular conflict. Still, I am stunned anew every time I read again, see again, the carnage of war in general and D-Day in particular. The thousands of deaths in that one 24-hour period may not have increased death, but the D-Day assault, as necessary as it was to the defeat of Nazi Germany, increased physical, psychological, and moral injury. It increased nightmarish dreams. It increased broken relationships.
Not only was there an increase in tears and pain, but there was an immeasurable decrease. Young men died too soon, too young. How much laughter and love died too soon? What inventions to add to the sustenance and joy of humanity drowned in the invasion or was shot to death hanging in a tree after jumping into the battle or died on the beaches, too easy targets for German gunfire?
As French President Francois Hollande remarked at the Ouistreham commemoration, there were also German victims of Hitler and the Nazis. Hitler first killed the people who could oppose him –intellectuals and military opposition. Later, in July of 1944, high level military officials tried to assassinate him and failed. There were courageous men and women throughout Europe who put their lives in jeopardy to defeat Nazism. Hollande gave proper respect to the courage of soldiers, paratroopers, rangers, British soldiers, the French resistance, the free French, the civilian population in Normandy, the Red Army and the people of the Soviet Union.
In his remarks at the American cemetery in Normandy, President Obama paid homage both to those who fought on D-Day and to the 9/11 generation, the young warriors who fought in Afghanistan and in Iraq. He sees them as the continuation of the legacy of the heroes of D-Day. He said: “We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that free people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”
What he did not say, what no American president will probably ever say, what every president from this moment forward ought to say is: “We will never do this again. We will live for the principles of freedom for everyone, but we will not kill and die for them.”
Since no president will say this, We the People of the United States ought to say this through the leaders we choose on Election Day. And when some writer for the Economist news magazine asks “What would America fight for?”, the answer is for our own country. Yet, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We will fight for our own country and for global peace through working with a will to eradicate poverty, ignorance, and fear.
In April of 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower, former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, the general responsible for the planning and execution of D-Day, gave a speech entitled “The Chance for Peace” before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In this speech, he spoke of a chance for just peace as the primary question challenging the world. He said that “an age of just peace” was “the only fitting monument” to honor the dead of World War II. He warned against an arms race, and said that the best that such could bring was a draining of wealth and labor, “a wasting of strength” and an inability to bring abundance and happiness for all people. He said:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
We pay for militarism with schools, power plants, hospitals, paved roads, and new homes that are not built. He called for the limitation of the size of every military and security force on earth. He called for a new kind of total war. He said: “This would be a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need.”
He wanted to see “a substantial percentage” of the money saved by ending the arms race dedicated to a fund for aid and reconstruction in the world. He wanted to see the underdeveloped countries of the world developed and he wanted “to stimulate profitable and fair world trade, to assist all peoples to know the blessings of productive freedom.”
It is a mistake to think that the willingness to deploy weapons of warfare across the globe or even to send American military personnel into this or that violent conflict is a mark of global strength. The willingness to kill and to die is not the stuff of America’s prestige no matter the opinions of people who have benefited from America’s past willingness to fight perpetual war.
In his farewell address, a.k.a. the “Military-Industrial Complex Speech“, Eisenhower says in
1961 that America’s prestige depends upon “how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.” And I say: It is nonsense to think that we can get to lasting and just peace through war. We get to the positive peace, the peace where enemies no longer want to fight each other, through justice. In this speech, Eisenhower, calls for balance, including a “balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.”
He calls upon “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry ” to insist upon a balance between “the huge industrial and military machinery of defense ” and our peaceful goals. Security and liberty ought to grow together.
So, when someone wants to know what America will fight for, we ought to tell them that we will spend our money to put police on the streets so that our children do not hear gunshots in the night, so that the death toll in Chicago will no longer rival that of Iraq during the height of the war, so that people will feel free to walk the streets and children can play outside without fear.
When our “so-called” allies call us weak because We the People insist that our government stops bearing an outsized share of the military burden across the globe, we say that when we start spending more money on education, government subsidized child care, better health care, the education of more doctors, nurses and health technicians, more drug rehabilitation centers, green jobs, high speech rail, infrastructure, and a Marshall Plan for our own decayed cities, towns, and villages, that we will be strong at home.
To keep returning to the beaches of Normandy year after year while we continue to send new generations of our children into the tragic crucible that is war, when we continue to send military hardware across the globe so that others can continue war, does not honor the sacrifice of the men and women who died on that day and in that war. It is madness pure and simple. I get suspicious when I hear talk of sending our sons and daughters to die for this or that. This is especially suspicious when, unlike World War II, not everyone’s children are signing up to make perhaps the ultimate sacrifice.
On the 70th anniversary of D-Day let us remember the prayer of President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address. He prayed that all peoples of the earth would have their basic needs satisfied, that all would have opportunity, that all would experience the spiritual blessings of freedom and understand its responsibilities, that humanity would learn charity, that poverty, disease and ignorance would be no more, “and that in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”
The D-Day commander had become a just peace president and the lesson we ought to learn from D-Day and the promise we each ought to keep is that we will never perpetrate such carnage again, that we will honor those who fought and died on that day with our daily effort to make and keep peace.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is the founder of JustPeaceTheroy.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.