By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
On Memorial Day, our nation offers plenty of nods to patriotism and military service. But there is not as much focus on the high cost of our militarism.
The price tag for the U.S. military is staggering: Congress is proposing a budget of $733 billion for the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2020. This is more than the next seven countries combined and dwarfs the amount that the U.S. spends on diplomacy, development and humanitarian programs overseas. It also means that less money is available for meeting basic needs in this country.
The human cost is even more troubling. The Costs of War project estimates that as many as half a million people have died as a result of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since September 11, 2001. Of this total, about 15,000 were U.S. troops or contractors.
Despite the costs, U.S. military dominance continues around the globe. A map published recently by Smithsonian Magazine shows that the U.S. is involved militarily in at least 80 countries around the world, taking into account U.S. military bases, counter-terrorism training, air or drone strikes, combat troops and military exercises.
The United States is also the top arms exporter globally. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States has exported weapons to nearly 100 countries in the last five years.
The Trump administration wants to expand this even more. They recently proposed making it easier to export small weapons overseas, including semi-automatic weapons and ammunition, by transferring oversight for such sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department. Legislation has been introduced to block these changes (H.R. 1134, S. 459). (Urge your members of Congress to support it.)
Scripture warns us against such reliance on weaponry for our security. Samuel told the people of Israel that a king would conscript their sons and take their resources “to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots” (1 Samuel 8:4-18).
Similarly, the prophet Isaiah cautioned those “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!” (Isaiah 31:1).
As followers of the Prince of Peace, we can use the occasion of Memorial Day to remember the human and financial toll that war takes, as we proclaim the Good News that another way is possible.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.