Anarchy, The State, And Christendom: Thinking About the Military
Let us think of the American military as we have it now and as we have known it since World War II. The military has a welcome place with Evangelicals because we know that government is supposed to protect us and the military is the government’s agency for that purpose. It is supposed to protect the American people from hostile invaders.
As clear as this seems to be, there are problems. In the first place, even though Evangelicals are correct that political leaders should lead in protecting their people from alien invaders, it still doesn’t make sense for those who honor the Bible to lobby for military buildups or technology. For it is written:
When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose… Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never return that way again.” And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
Horses, I am told, were the “war machine” of the ancient world. They allowed you to use chariots. This gave you equipment for your army that most people would not be able to afford or match. Naturally, such a build up would both require silver and gold as well as promise to be a means to acquire such silver and gold.
How does the military measure up? Not well:
In fact, we spend so much on the military that, even back in 2001, we have it on good authority that we were able to lose over 2 trillion (with a T!) dollars.
Here is where the priorities of the “Religious Right” get strange. The Bible commands kings to not build war machines. It does establish that governments should lead in aiding the people when they are under attack. The Bible doesn’t show us a clear example of authorizing the government to tax from the middle class or wealthy in order to make sure everyone gets fed and clothed. So, using an argument from silence, Evangelicals are hostile to the welfare state. But because they say they believe in “self-defense” they are champions for the US government to directly disobey Deuteronomy’s restrictions on military build-ups.
The short clip above is now over a decade old. If you have the time, you might watch The Pentagon Wars, below, and see a funny movie about the truth that generals in the military are happy to build death traps for soldiers in order to gain personal wealth. (One might ask oneself what moral limits such people could possibly possess if they felt their money or power were threatened.) What is plain from the movie and a fact from the nonfiction book on which it was based, is that the Pentagon will use the specter of overseas enemies to deal with anyone who tries to reveal their horrible mismanagement and willingness to kill soldiers in combat through their own fraudulence.
If you want to see an updated account of how carefully money is spent, consider the documentary below: Iraq For Sale. In the case of this latter movie, the presence of “civilian contractors” is seen as the problem. But that is naive. Using civilian contractors was simply a ruse that worked at the time. The Military has wasted money in many different ways and by many different means.
Perhaps someone on the Religious Right will play the “anti-theonomy” card. Yes God gave those restrictions to Israel’s kings, but not to all nations. Other nations did not have to obey that special law.
I have two replies to this. The first is that our present situation resembles what you would expect for people caught in a self-consuming pit of idolatry rather than for a righteous nation. No society being bled over a trillion dollars every year is being blessed by God.
The second is this, the prohibition on horses is portrayed as a Spiritual issue for all people at all times.
Thus, from Psalm 33:
The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but the victory belongs to the Lord.
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD!
So the concrete command does seem to address a universal and spiritual issue. How does one rely on military build-ups for safety and not build an idol that results in perpetual insecurity and instability?
So how do “Conservative” Evangelicals typically “apply the word of God” to our present political circumstances.
Well, it works like this:
Because the Bible does not endorse politically mandated wealth redistribution or safety nets, this argument from silence means Christians should oppose such things.
Because governmental rulers have something to do with national defense, the Bible’s explicit prohibitions on arms build-ups can be totally ignored and Christians are supposed to advocate for immense Pentagon budgets.
Makes no sense at all. But that is how “the Religious Right” operates in the United States.
In the meantime, the idea that “defense” is something separate from “economic stimulus” or even “welfare” is simply false. The Pentagon deliberately makes sure that various projects are funded in states that will ensure the state Representatives and Senators will feel their “constituents” are dependent on the Pentagon’s funding. I live in St. Louis and witnessed the local response to the possibility that certain military jets might not be purchased from Boeing. The American military is simply a justification for wealth redistribution.
Further, the Pentagon creates and/or exaggerates the power of our enemies in order to keep the populace submissive to their budgetary demands. This happens too often and too obviously for me to feel any need to argue for it. If you don’t believe me it is because you don’t want to do so. Further, the Pentagon and the State Department have decided upon requirements for “defense” that are actually naked aggression. The current defense philosophy is that we must be able to control the planet in order to be safe. The name, “Department of Defense,” is our Orwellian “Ministry of Peace.”
In the Bible we do see societies are able to defend themselves from invaders and raiders. The Bible envisions leaders summoning the people to go to war. At that point the people can agree with the war, leave for personal reasons, or conceivably tell their leaders to stop summoning them for what are obviously unjust reasons (That seems to me to be the principle behind the people rescuing Jonathan from the hand of Saul and his unjust and wicked prohibition on eating–First Samuel 14.45).
I realize that, in later times, the king had some thirty special warriors, so there was some room for a society with a political class that had a few such men. (Of course, any wealthy man probably also needed and acquired a similar troop of men; so the “state” was not really so exceptional and had nothing like the monopoly we take for granted today) But, in general, the army of Israel was simply the same as the capable men of Israel. They brought their own weapons. They came in units from their local towns and villages. They were the military and the military was them.
In other words, Israelite society had the resources within itself to defend itself. Productive people–farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen–when faced with the thread of murder, enslavement, and death, were able to organize and defend themselves. Notice how unthinkable such a prospect has become in the modern world, the age of the nation state. It is a zero sum game. By acquiring the power to defend us (and hold us hostage to feed it money and sons), the military has, in fact, transformed society into a vulnerable and easy target. We are like a man who decided that, instead of using his own paltry legs, he would hire athletic runners to carry him around at all times because these athletes would be faster. Speed may be desirable, but so is the ability to use one’s own legs. The military may bring advantages to defense, but the price may be the long-term atrophy of society’s ability to ever defend itself.
One final thought, when people see the immense military budget, they typically see this as resources that are available to our government. This is a delusion. In the Bible, mighty emperors have the authority to kill their bureaucrats and generals at will. There is a reason for that. You can’t delegate that level of power with any confidence that you will be able to keep your own power unless you have real control of your agents. That is not the way the American state is structured. All that spending does not represent resources at the disposal of anyone elected by the people. That spending represents an army of competing powers all pulling and pushing to get what they want. The agents all fight for power, but no has any incentive to limit the power or try to make it sustainable.
Thus, the Pentagon undermines itself. It needs self-disciplined, independent, men of character in order to function. But a society that produces such people is not the kind of society that will promote a bloated Pentagon. And since authority is diffuse, it become progressively more difficult for the bureaucracy to halt the process of degradation or find some point of “balance.”
Where will this end? With the further militarization of our society at home, we are now seeing Homeland Security join with the Department of Defense as an agency that is un-auditable. As the Huffington Post reported: “Along with the Pentagon, the GAO cited the Department of Homeland Security as having problems so significant that it was impossible for investigators to audit it.”
Those horses and chariots are going to trample all underfoot, foreigner and native-born alike.