Veterans Day Is Not a Christian Holiday
I've been growing and evolving my religious beliefs and political positions over the past 15 years. I may have changed the most in my attitude towards the American military and the hero worship that American evangelicals have for our military. I grew up in a conservative household, in a Navy town. I was surrounded by active duty and retired members of the military, both in my extended family and among my friends' parents and my parents' friends.
Our church was typical of many. Every July 4th, we'd celebrate America and its armed forces. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines would carry their service's flag down to the front of the church, as the service's march was played. The American flag would be prominently honored as well. Every Veterans Day Sunday, we would ask all members of the military to stand, to be honored for their service. I thought this was only just and right, as America was a Christian nation and these men and women protected us and helped to enact America's will and — by extension — God's will.
That's all changed. I can't abide churches mixing the worship of God and the worship of American military might. Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our first allegiance should be to God. If He is a jealous God, as we say He is, we shouldn't be bringing other powers into His church, to praise, honor, and venerate. God's house should be holy — set apart to God and God alone.
I've also become a peacenik. I no longer see American military might as a good thing and I no longer see the demonstration of American power as something to desire. Violence is violence and we should always mourn it and do everything we can to prevent it. In Foundation, Isaac Asimov's character Salvor Hardin says that "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent". I'm idealistic enough to believe that's true. I haven't become a full-fledged pacifist, but I do believe that we should avoid military force unless we've truly exhausted every other solution and we have no choice.
In that light, I read Brian Doherty's recent article for Reason.com, "No More Vietnam Syndrome". Here, he's talking about the results of America's military efforts since 9/11.
After September 11, 2001, the U.S. military fully re-entered the world stage. The last 17 years have seen a variety of wars, quasiwars, and ongoing interventions with a mix of shifting rationales, from revenge for the attacks to spreading peaceful democracy in the Middle East to targeting specific bad actors to simply helping our Saudi allies as they work to reduce Yemen to a charnel house. None of these more recent efforts have worked out well on a geopolitical level. Meant to end Islamic terrorism worldwide, our post-9/11 warmaking multiplied it. A 2007 study by NYU researchers found that the average yearly number and fatality rate of terror attacks rose by 607 percent and 237 percent respectively after we entered Iraq in 2003. If you exclude violence in that country, the increases were still 265 and 58 percent; most jihadis in subsequent years were radicalized by the invasion itself.
Meant to crush Al Qaeda, our interventions have expanded its breadth and numbers; meant to create stable democracies in the Middle East, they've helped reduce Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen to the same sort of chaos that bred the terror in Afghanistan that began this whole bloody, pointless process.
These various post-9/11 foreign policy failures have cost our debt-riddled nation at least $1.5 trillion in direct costs, according to a recent Defense Department report, and more than $5 trillion in ancillary costs—such as interest and future veterans expenses—according to a 2017 analysis by the Watson Center at Brown University. In constant 2018 dollars, the Defense Department will spend this year in excess of 50 percent more than it did in 1968.
But the more hideous cost—especially poignant for those who remember the cries of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"—is in lives. That same Watson Center study estimates that there have been 370,000 deaths from direct war violence since 2001; 200,000 civilian deaths; and over 10 million people displaced by the harm to property and municipal functionality. Alas, this human and social misery is obscured by consistent, deliberate use of bloodless rhetoric. American foreign policy professionals and pundits somehow manage to look at our costly failings and the world's suffering—all that money, all that death—and think the answer is that the U.S. military should have done more, and smarter, and harder.
If only the lessons of Vietnam, or even of Iraq, would actually stick. We can't expect the aftereffects of this century's foreign policy sins to be short-lived. Laos still suffers dozens of deaths a year because of 80 million unexploded bombs left behind by the Vietnam War. The casualties of our drone wars may be their own variety of unexploded ordnance, as generations grow up in the literal and figurative shadows of insufficiently discriminating robot death machines in the sky, courtesy of the United States.
As a Christian — not as an American, but as a Christian — are you proud of these results? Can you truly look at them and say that America was "doing the Lord's work"? I can't. I supported the Iraq War in 2003, but I don't support it now. There is nothing to cheer in the ongoing military operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, and in Yemen. And there's certainly nothing Christian in what the U.S. military is doing around the world today. Let's stop pretending that there is, let's stop treating Veterans Day as a church holiday, and let's stop confusing patriotism with religious devotion.