We have met with people all over the country who have served in the military. We’ve heard their combat stories, saw their pride, their pain… Our administration would weigh going to war with tremendous gravity.
We came across this memorial marker in Franklin, Massachussetts. During a talk at a Memorial Day Service in Canyon, Texas several years ago I said it is not only paramount we remember the sacrifices these military people have made – there must be an iron clad safety net always for them.
Photo by Joe
In Box, Elder, South Dakota, just adjacent to the Ellsworth Air Force Base, we stopped at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. There are some 30 aircraft here, including this WW II bomber. There is also an F-106 interactive cockpit, an MQ-9 Reaper flight simulator, four types of missiles and a Minuteman Missile crew exhibit.
Photo by Joe
Military Position in Short
*To read Joe's full position paper, see further below.
Our administrations overarching paradigm would be we would adhere to the “Just War Principles” originally advocated by the Catholic Church. (And we would be as proactive as possible in helping build peace worldwide to head off potential conflicts.)
Under Just War Principles, there are a set of conditions to weigh before going to war. They follow:
The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain.
All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
There must be serious prospects of success.
The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. (The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.)
Just on the latter point, Just War Principles call for fighting only between enemy combatants, not innocent citizens. Yet with modern weaponry, many across the board are put in harm’s way. I told the Athens News in Ohio that what we so cavalierly call a war’s inevitable collateral damage, are really moms, and dads and little kids.
Our administration would also scale back our military considerably and, instead of predominately being a “military super power,” we would move the U.S. into becoming more of a “humanitarian aid superpower.”
America spends more on the military than the next 17 countries, combined! Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said by the year 2020, our stealth fighters will still be 20 times more sophisticated than the Chinese ones. This is “overkill.”
The military budget currently accounts for more than 50% of the Federal Budget. Foreign aid is 4%, with 24,000 people starving to death worldwide every day and one billion people without access to clean drinking water.
We are on hyper-drive spending all this money to protect ourselves, while there is so much potential relievable suffering worldwide. Our administration would work to switch this around.
We spend $50 billion a year to maintain our nuclear weapons arsenal. Much of this could go toward ending world hunger. This is a social justice travesty.
During a lecture at Notre Dame, retired General William Burns, who is an expert on nuclear weapons diplomacy, said if we unilaterally disarmed all our nuclear weapons – it’s his opinion we still wouldn’t be attacked.
On a stop in Omaha, Nebraska, I met with Fr. Tom McCaslin, who is the form Social Action Coordinator for the Omaha Diocese. He believes in unilateral nuclear weapons disarmament.
“You do the right thing, then trust God,” he said.
Our administration would lean toward doing just that.
“…doing good to one’s enemies”
Our administration would cut back considerably on designing new military hardware, given what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, for instance, about the sophistication of our stealth fighters. And we would help redirect some of these smarts and creativity into helping with initiatives like the following.
In Comers, Georgia, I interviewed Don Mosley who is involved with a Habitat for Humanity project with Jimmy Carter and others to build homes for people in poverty stricken North Korea (who at this point would be considered in many circles to be our “enemy.”)
He said the thrust of this was the Biblical exhortation to: “…do good to one’s enemies.”
Our administration would also ramp up, exponentially, the Peace Corps. (There are currently some 12,000 people in the Peace Corps. There should be hundreds of thousands of people, fanning out all over the globe to help people become as sustainable as possible in their own countries.)
We would also place more significance on the American Field Service (AFS) Program; the U.S. People Ambassador Program and the International Student Exchange Program… to help create more worldwide camaraderie , and peace.
We also propose a U.S. Department of Peace with an extensive set of initiatives to promote even more peace.
Early “Exit Program,” and conscientious objecting (expanded)
Our administration would make it easier to get out of the military if there were complications for a soldier and we would propose expanding the philosophy of conscientious objecting.
The “Early Exit Program” would be for soldiers who, upon completing basic training, realize, for instance, that they can’t shoot someone, or military life is going to be too stressful for them. Either way, you wouldn’t end up with an optimal soldier, and the soldier would most likely end up with a myriad of emotional problems.
Likewise, we would lobby for a provision for, say, Catholic soldiers who would be ‘violating their conscience’ to have to participate in an “unjust war.” For instance, before the Iraq War, Pope John Paul II said it wouldn’t be considered a “Just War.”
This put all the Catholic soldiers in a moral dilemma.
Can’t abandon either Iraq or Afghanistan
Our administration wouldn’t be too quick to pull all the U.S. troops out, no matter what the U.S. opinion polls were saying. We were a major factor in destabilizing both countries and we must work on a multi-tiered way of stabilizing both countries.
We would lobby for quite extensive and thorough training of both the Iraq and Afghanistan security forces. Reports indicate they are still under-armed and under trained. What’s more, when the U.S. and NATO planes go away, they will be even that much more at a disadvantage.
Given all this, we would slow the timetable on leaving, so there also wasn’t an “unjust peace.”
Our administration would also ramp up the work of the U.S. Defense Department’s “Task Force for Business and Stability Operations” in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Creating sustainable business and jobs in both countries is crucial for long term stability.
This would also be the case on the agricultural front. And our administration would also ramp up the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The programs include providing seeds, fertilizers, and so on… to help farmers in both countries become more productive.
To supplement this, our administration would also inject more Peace Corps people to help these farmers.
More help for veterans
We would significantly increase physical and mental health benefits to veterans. We would lobby for more, and better, VA Hospitals nationwide.
We would propose, for instance, more quality VA mental health assistance. Because of PTSD, for instance, one Afghanistan or Iraq U.S. soldier veteran now commits suicide, every day.
We would also propose funding to help Iraq and Afghanistan soldier veterans with similar mental health and physical issues.
We owe it to all these people.
Full Military Position
Subjects covered below include: 1) Overview 2) Cuts 3) Nuclear weapons 4) Peace through Strength? 5) Enemy combatants? 6) Exit programs and conscientious objecting expanded 7) Depleted uranium munitions 8) Radioactivity in the U.S.
The causes of war are, indeed, multi-dimensional. But the late Pope John Paul II summed up the crux of it, I believe:
“There will be no peace on earth while the oppression of people, injustice and economic imbalance, which still exist, endure.”
So any sane, systemic look at war in general -- and approach to the military specifically -- would have to be viewed through this lens. That simple.
And along these same lines, we would also look to another famous quote to help guide our decision making when it comes to the military.
The late 5-Star General, and U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower said of war in his farewell address:
“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, [a theft] from those who are cold and are not clothed…”
Using deductive logic (or just plain common sense) in regard to both these quotes, America would do well at this point to significantly cut back on military spending (and lifestyle choices) and help the poor way more, worldwide.
For one, global hot spots would diminish in kind.
Entering this century there were 40 armed conflicts in 36 countries, often fueled by the poor rising up against the elite of a country (elite backed governments, etc.) – mostly in developing countries where there is not enough to go around, period.
Another dimension to international tension is the tremendous economic disparity, not just within countries, but between the First and Third World countries. This is fueling anger toward, say, the U.S. from some of the poorer Middle Eastern countries, the poorer African countries…
And there is yet another dynamic…
I attended a seminar at Bluffton University where William Hartung was the featured speaker. (Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.)
He said some American youth growing up in abject, dead-end poverty in inner cities are apt to join: a gang. Reciprocally, some youth growing up in abject, dead-end poverty in Third World cities are, at times, apt to join: a terrorist cell.
Hartung went on that it only stood to reason that the more we can impact abject poverty in the Third World, the more we’ll impact things like terrorism.
President Obama, in a 2013 speech on counter-terrorism, said basically the same. He said fighting terrorism is multi-dimensional and there should be an increase in foreign aid to help the poor with food, shelter, education…
We would agree.
And how we would raise that money would be through, number one: increased taxes.
On a campaign stop in Tehachapi, California, we met with Kelly Rogers who majored in Economics at the University of California at Berkley. She was an enrolled agent with the IRS and had a business and consulting firm.
Ms. Rogers said she believes sound civic, and spiritual, principle would be that people see their giving to the government as “a privilege,” and as the civically responsible thing to do. That is, funding: programs to help the poor (both here and in the Third World), programs to help the environment; programs to help the elderly, the handicapped… should be considered desirable.
In tandem, our administration would propose cutting back exponentially on our current bloated government spending. (Some of this is outlined further into this paper.)
And we would exhort churches to tremendously step up their charitable giving into the Third World. (What we currently see as a generous amount of giving to the Third World by American churches is actually pretty anemic in comparison with what could really be given.)
And although we couldn’t legislate the latter, we could point to excellent models of churches that have gone far beyond the norm.
At a stop in Bellingham, Massachusetts, we learned parishioners at St. Blaze Catholic Church there average tithing 17%. What’s more, about a fourth of this goes to causes outside the church. (So often a good deal of donations go right back into church building funds, and the like.)
Parishioner Phyllis Calvey said some of the St. Blaze money goes to one of the poorest Native American Reservations out west, and to an orphanage in Uganda. Ms. Calvey, who is a writer, said she regularly writes up poignant stories of who the money helps, like a young Native American girl who was able to purchase her first dress. The stories connect the St. Blaze parishioners to the outreach projects in such a tangible way, that giving to the church has become way more than “…just paying another bill,” said Ms. Calvey.
USA Today recently did an article noting that the average Christian tithes 3.5% of their income. Again, this could be so much more if people here cut back.
And speaking of cutting back…
Our military spending is way over the top.
Nationally syndicated columnist George Will recently wrote that the U.S. Defense Department Budget is 43% of the world’s total military spending. This is more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations -- including Russia and China. (You read that right.)
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates posed: “Is it dire that by 2020 the U.S. will have an only 20 times more advanced Stealth Fighter as the Chinese?”
At a campaign stop in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida (with several military bases in the area), I told the Northwest Signal newspaper that this bloated defense spending was nothing less than: “overkill.”
Gates would agree, in part: “We have to turn off the spigot of money [to the military],” he said.
In the past 10 years (following 9/11), the Pentagon budget has gone from $305 billion annually to $694 billion annually.
Toward the end of Gate’s tenure, he proposed a 6% cut in military spending. This would mean cutting out approximately $100 billion for the Pentagon in the next five years. This would, in part, mean cutting back on people, bases and programs not directly involved with combat.
Gates also ended production of the Air Force’s next generation F-22 fighter and stopped the Navy’s futuristic DDG-1000 destroyer.
All this, in our estimation, is commendable – but far short of where we should be in downsizing.
As an example (and as mentioned earlier), Gates said by the year 2020, our stealth fighters will still be twenty times more sophisticated than China’s stealth fighters. So our administration would halt any work on new generations of stealth fighters.
Gates also tried to cancel the Air Force’s C-17 transport aircraft. Our administration would not only push to halt this, but we would convert some of the fleets of existing transport planes to permanent fleets of humanitarian aid transport planes.
As one application…
At an Alternative Energy Seminar in Custer, Wisconsin, we learned that millions of people worldwide don’t have access to clean drinking water, and many become sick, or die, from the tainted water. However, we also learned that simple-design solar ovens can heat water (in a relatively short time) to temperatures that will kill all the pathogens.
Our administration would push to purchase and distribute -- in these transport planes -- a massive amount of solar ovens into the Third World. (And this would be just one of a multitude of more humanitarian aid projects.)
And to finance some of this, our administration would work exhaustively to cut the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program exponentially, I told the LaGrange News in Georgia.
3) Nuclear weapons
Just prior to that newspaper interview in Georgia, our then 10-year-old daughter Sarah posed this to me:
“Dad, we have enough nuclear weapons to blow the world up 200 times over. Why not have enough just to blow it up once?”
A question retired Navy General William Burns grapples with. I attended a talk he gave at the University of Notre Dame, put on by the Institute for International Peace Studies there.
General Burns said he advocates for an incrementally scaled back U.S. nuclear arsenal, and he offered so relatively startling numbers. He said, on average, the U.S. spends about $50 billion now to maintain its nuclear weapons in a year. (It’s considerably more if it’s an upgrading year.)
General Burns is Catholic. During the Q&A period, I noted that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had issued a statement that nuclear proliferation in the face of world poverty is a social justice travesty. (According to UN figures, some 24,000 people starve to death every day in the world. This is like a limited nuclear explosion going off every day in the world.)
I continued that to spend $50 billion a year to keep ourselves, and our international interests, protected, in the face of, say, worldwide starvation is unconscionable. And on a spiritual level, at what point do we actually become culpable in these deaths because of our fear and insensitivity?
I also asked General Burns, based on his years of worldwide nuclear diplomacy work, that if the U.S. disarmed all its nuclear weapons tomorrow, would we be nuked by another country.
He said: “No.”
During a small gathering after the talk, I asked General Burns how we can tell these other countries they can’t have nuclear weapons – while not only do we have them, but some are aimed at these other countries? The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty notwithstanding, he said because we think we’re right and they’re not.
I couldn’t help but wonder (U.S. political paradigm notwithstanding), how ‘right’ it is to spend $50 billion to tremendously over protect ourselves with nuclear missiles, while, again, little children are starving in Uganda, Somalia, the Sudan…
4) Peace through Strength?
Part of the American political paradigm has been the doctrine: “Peace Through Strength.” For instance, Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of State James Baker was recently on an National Public Radio show espousing this.
In a call in segment on the NPR show, I challenged Baker. I said, for instance, the problem with a nuclear weapons program on steroids (which we have right now) is that common sense says that it is prompting other countries to race to get nuclear weapons. And it is also causing countries who have them (there are now eight countries), to try to keep up with us.
Our administration would push to unilaterally down size, for instance, our nuclear weapons arsenal, moving toward total nuclear disarmament. In tandem, we’d take the savings (as mentioned earlier) to try to tremendously impact world poverty.
In sacrificing some of our at least perceived security to help those less fortunate, we’d be demonstrating another type of “strength.”
Instead of military strength, we’d be demonstrating “strength of character.”
And for many of us in America, we’d be demonstrating something else: “strength of faith.”
During a stop in Omaha, Nebraska, I met with Fr. Tom McCaslin, who was the former social action coordinator for the Omaha Diocese. He walked in solidarity with Civil Rights protesters in Selma, Alabama. He regularly protests at Nebraska’s Strategic Air Command Base. And he, too, believes we should unilaterally disarm all our nuclear missiles and take the savings to help the poor.
“You do the right thing, then trust God,” he smiled.
With our administration there would be less military expenditure as well – simply because we probably wouldn’t go to war much. (According to a recent Brown University “Costs of War Report,” the totals for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for the U.S. has been more than 3 trillion dollars.)
Our administration would use the metric of Just War Principle to guide decisions about going to war.
According to the Catholic Answers website, we are called to proactively promote peace (we propose a U.S. Department of Peace to do just that); but when necessary, and when all other options are exhausted, we can use arms if evil remains unchecked.
As a limited example of this, President Obama recently authorized the deployment of 100 American troops to work with Uganda soldiers in searching for Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (rebel group).
Kony abducts children then forces them into his rebel group where they are then forced to regularly rape and kill villagers throughout the Central African Republic. His “reign of terror” has lasted three decades. All attempts at negotiations, cease fire, and so on… have failed.
American military assistance would seem the next right step, and fall within the principles of Just War in this particular case, in our estimation.
Overall, the template for entering into a “Just War,” whether big or small, includes:
1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations
must be lasting, grave and certain.
2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical
3. There must be serious prospects of success.
4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the
evil to be eliminated. (The power of modern means of destruction
weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.)
The website also notes that, according to Just War principles, one can’t go to war to simply expand one’s sphere of influence, conquer new territory, subjugate peoples, or obtain wealth. You can only go to war to counter aggression.
To go back to the “nuclear option” within this context, Just War principles include not putting innocent civilians in harm’s way. So indiscriminate destruction of whole cities (fire-bombing Dresden, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…) would be way out of bounds.
Also, Just War principles call for non-combatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners to be respected and treated humanely. Our administration would not engage in so-called “waterboarding” or taking prisoners to “secret prisons” in other countries where torture is tolerated – as happened under the Bush Administration.
Terrorism has, indeed, become a major international problem. According to the book Just War (Principles and Cases), another dimension to terrorism is “…the support that certain nations lend terrorist groups.”
The principles of Just War could apply to “victim nations” having just cause to use military force in retaliation (or even pre-emptively if there is enough moral certitude) against the nation that is harboring, or in other ways, abetting terrorists.
While our administration would, at times, adhere to the spirit of this; we would also, at times, adhere to the spirit of the spiritual principle: “Do good to those who would harm you.”
I mean for those of us who are Christian, do we think Jesus was kidding on this?
This means that in the gathering storm clouds of war, a tactic might be to actually shower the enemy (or potential enemy) with a creative outpouring of humanitarian help.
A scenario… Just following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, President Bush went on television and said: “…today we will pray, and tomorrow we will get revenge.” (Bush is a Christian. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus advocate: ‘…getting revenge.’)
Shortly after the day of prayer, Bush followed up with the Afghanistan War, including the initial “Shock and Awe” bombing incursion into that country. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Afghanis (soldiers and civilians) have been killed in the more than a decade long war, including scores of innocent moms, dads, children…
But what if after 9/11, we had initially ‘bombed’ Afghanistan (including Al Quaida, the Taliban…) with humanitarian help? What if we had flooded that country with food, Habitat for Humanity homes, Peace Corps agricultural help…? What if we’d done the same in Iraq?
And even though the political right, and left for that matter, might have scoffed at the suggestion, shouldn’t we have tried something like that first? I mean, didn’t we owe it to, say, this little innocent girl?
This picture was taken by Damir Sagolj of Reuters. She was imbedded with one of the American units in Iraq. She said this day gunfire unexpectedly started up. When the firing stopped, there were dead bodies around a car, with several wounded people crying for help. Among them, most likely, were this girl’s parents.
Or perhaps we owed trying a different type of strategy to this boy in Baghdad who was killed when a bomb exploded. (This picture was also taken by Damir Sagoli.)
At a stop in Comer’s Georgia, I met with Don Mosley. He and former President Jimmy Carter were involved with a Habitat for Humanity Project in impoverished: North Korea. While North Korea rattles it’s saber toward the west, these Habitat for Humanity people were quietly going about building homes for the poor in North Korea, with the hopes (among other things) of helping diffuse the tension.
Mosley said while North Korea could well be considered our “enemy” at this point, he believes strongly in the Biblical teaching about “…doing good to one’s enemies.”
“Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the ‘Christian Revolution,” Pope Benedict once said.
5) Enemy combatants?
Just War allows for “enemy combatants (soldiers)” to engage at times. But this, too, is in no way black and white.
I interviewed former WWII U.S. Army infantryman Bill Corrigan in Cleveland, Ohio. (Part of his fighting happened at the famous Battle of the Bulge.)
Corrigan said during basic training, soldiers are basically hardwired to kill – and the enemy is depersonalized. The Viet Cong were called “gooks,” the Germans were called “krauts.”
Yet Corrigan said he never became totally desensitized. And he vividly recalled he and others in the squad shooting (and killing) one particular German soldier.
Corrigan said it was hard for him not to wonder if this man had been a husband, a father of young children, a youth soccer coach…
This then got Corrigan to wonder: “Who would Jesus kill?”
Another gray area around “enemy combatants” would come during the Iraq War. When it became clear America was going to attack Iraq (even though it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction), Hussein’s Army went door to door conscripting innocent young Iraq men into the military. They had no choice.
Then stuck on the front line, these innocent young men (somebody’s sons) become “enemy combatants” we can just automatically feel justified in killing. The irony being in this case that they were put in harm’s way because of faulty, or manipulated, U.S. intelligence around the non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
Corrigan, in talking about innocent civilian deaths in war, pointed to former WWII Atomic Bomb Group military chaplain Fr. George Zabelka.
Fr. Zabelka once wrote: “If a soldier had come to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him absolutely not.”
Yet Fr. Zabelka continued that in just one day of firebombing over Tokyo alone, 75,000 civilians had been killed.
One highly distressed American pilot told Fr. Zabelka that he had been doing low level bombing down a street, when a little boy appeared looking up with childlike fascination toward the plane. The pilot said he knew in a few seconds that the child would be burned to death by the napalm he had already released.
Corrigan eventually joined Pax Christi, a Catholic Church group that advocates for non-violence. Mike Griffin is also a Catholic who advocates for non-violence.