Confronting the Challenge of Militarism

Remarks by Brian Corr, Executive Director of the Cambridge Peace Commission, at “Remembering Hiroshima”, August 6, 2013:

Today, we remember a terrible moment in human history, and in the history of war.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a new meaning to the idea of “total war.”

The people of Hiroshima and the people of Nagasaki paid an almost unimaginable price.

Incredible amount of our world’s time, talent, and treasure have gone towards the creation and production of nuclear weapons – and to the fear of their possible use.

Today marks 68 years since the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

In 1968 – only 23 years later – Rev. Martin Luther King described the spiritual threat to American society that grew out of the intersection of U.S. history, increasing technology, and not meeting the human needs of all. In his words,

    “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

More than 40 years later, the United States still faces these three existential challenges to our values as a nation. How do people of faith and courage understand this contradiction and work to heal our society and help it live up to its promise?
To do this, we must understand the history of the United States and how it still shapes our country today.

We all speak from our personal experience and from our own situation in society – our “station” so to speak – and I speak to you as an African-American man, born in 1966 in Detroit, who grew up there in the late Sixties and the Seventies, and who began my work in the peace movement in Ann Arbor as a volunteer with the Nuclear Freeze in 1982 and then as a canvasser there with SANE in 1986 (they soon merged and form what is now Peace Action) – this is part of the lens through which I see and understand the world.

Therefore, I understand power in our society – in our nation – as being exercised in systemic and systematic ways – and I see it manifested in the same framework that Martin Luther King used when he spoke of the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.”

We are – by far – the most militarized society on the planet. We spend more than the rest of the world combined on war. We drive military vehicles – the Hummer – down our highways, guzzling $150 worth of gasoline at every fill-up. We have a national fetish about guns – and violence in general – and we consume endless TV shows and movies about the police, hospitals, criminals and the courts, the military, and war. We watch football and think of it in completely military metaphors. Coverage of the Olympics is basically profiles of our warrior-athletes followed by listings and highlights of how many Americans “won gold.”

Meanwhile, our minds are numbed by so-called reality shows, “infotainment” instead of news, and the latest escapades – or even just the mundane details of their lives – of actors and pop “musicians.”

Here, in the United States of America, we are – by far – the most militarized society on the planet. We spend more than the rest of the world combined on guns, tanks, bombs, and war. We drive military vehicles – the Hummer – down our highways, guzzling $150 worth of gasoline at every fill-up. We have a national fetish for guns – and for violence in general – and so we consume countless TV shows and movies about the police, about hospitals, about murder and criminals and lawyers and the courts, and about the military and war.

We compulsively watch football and describe it in completely military metaphors. Coverage of the Olympics, self-described as “representing the best of humanity, where nations put aside their differences to celebrate athletic grace and achievement “ in the U.S. consists profiles of our proud warrior-athletes followed by listings of victories over lesser nations and people, accompanied by sound-bite-size highlights of how many “Americans won gold.”

In “These United States,” although we live in the wealthiest nation on the planet – with the largest and most powerful military by far – our political discourse is dominated by the politics of scarcity and fear. Politicians and governments so often speak of cutting budgets and reducing services for “those less fortunate” – that is, those who live at the margins of our vast wealth – that politically it is simply “common sense” that we can’t afford to simply provide healthcare for the 50 million people in our nation who don’t have it – while spending about $700 billion each year directly on the military.

The fact that the U.S. dominates the world’s wealth and receives a huge share of its benefits mitigates the desire – or even the ability to see the need to change our society – and this also plays itself out in sexism, racism, classism, and all the other “isms” – collectively “oppression” – all play out here.

We are a nation that lives in self-imposed poverty and in fear: fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of our neighbors, and fear even of ourselves. Moreover, most “Americans” feel that they are (currently, today, right now) victims of the one “ism” that matters – terrorism, or at least that they are very likely to become victims of terrorism at any moment.
But this is all an illusion!

Yes We Can … have a world free of nuclear weapons!

Yes We Can … have a world where we work to meet the needs of every person, instead of creating weapons of mass destruction!

Yes We Can … have a nation that spends more on human needs than on the instruments of death!

I want to end with a short excerpt from the founding document of SNCC – the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – written nearly 50 years ago – in 1960:

    “Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supersedes systems of gross social immorality.”