Recently a friend here in Cambodia asked me, “Max, what are Americans so afraid of?” The question came after some chatting about general local news and the sudden shift to this topic caught me a little off guard. “What do you mean,” I asked him, unsure where he wanted to take this discussion. He explained that he had just seen statistics stating that of the nearly two trillion dollars the world spends each year on their military machines, the US spends at least 41% of that total. He found this incredulous.
No one, he explained, would spend that much of their resources on weapons and preparing for war unless they were extremely afraid of someone or something. Being such a large and powerful country, he was questioning what the US had to fear. Furthermore, he found it strange that so many Americans seemed willing to allow so much of their money to be spent on weapons of destruction and yet were protesting the use of money to provide health care and education to the citizens.
I admitted that this was all very confusing and I also admitted that I did not have any clear answers for his questions. I said that I only hope that one day the people would listen to his questions and search their souls for the answers.
Why do we spend so much to prepare for war and yet protest at the suggestion that every person in our country has the right to good and affordable health care? Why do we allow students to graduate from university with such large debts that they hardly see any hope to be free and independent? What has happened to our priorities?
We prepare for war thinking that this is the only way to protect our liberty while we let our own people suffer from lack of affordable health care, and we threaten to take away the food stamps that help many poor families feed their children. Where do we really expect our liberty and our peace to come from?
James Madison, writing in the Political Observations in 1795 once wrote: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Perhaps it is time for us to think more seriously about where we should focus our work and resources to bring about peace and freedom. Does it come from putting huge portions of our national budget into a rapidly growing military, or does it come from caring for the people in ways that would reflect the concerns Jesus had for the poor and oppressed, the concerns he shared so eloquently in his Sermon on the Mount?
An answer can perhaps be found in Psalms 33: 16-19
“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.”
What do we need to fear if we truly trust God to deliver us from death and keep us alive in famine? We need to take time to seek an honest answer to that question and then have the courage to transform our societies from devotion to war to become seriously devoted to caring for the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and the stranger.