Monday, May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Dream

Normandy Beach Cemetery where over 9,000 Americans are buried

Since the end of the Civil War more than 150 years ago, essentially all American casualties in war happened somewhere overseas with the exception of the 2,400 killed in a single attack at Pearl Harbor. The numbers of American casualties are pretty staggering in just the major conflicts:

World War I  53,000

World War II   291,000

Korean War  33,000

Vietnam  47,000

Afghanistan (on-going)   2,200

Iraq War (on-going)   4,500

By my calculations that comes to 430,700 casualties (I rounded down and used official sources like the Congressional Research Service) minus Pearl Harbor is 428,300. Almost half a million young Americans, mostly men.

Over the course of just over 100 years that averages out to over 4000 Americans killed every single year for over a century in foreign wars.

That is staggering. I know that is skewed by a couple of major wars but the numbers are still what they are. World War II which accounts for the bulk of those casualties is considered our "good war" because it is the only one where we were actually attacked but that war is the direct result of the first World War and a solid case can be made that our intervention in World War I, a war that was absolutely none of our business, helped to create the conditions for the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.

On Memorial Day here in the United States, my wish is that this country would embrace a non-interventionist or at least a less interventionist foreign policy thereby reducing the number of war dead we need to remember on future Memorial Days. That seems to be fanciful and wishful thinking since the current administration which pledged a less interventionist foreign policy has fallen right back into the trap of shooting at people to show that we are "tough" on terrorism. As of today the United States has almost 200,000 soldiers and sailors deployed to over 170 countries, not exactly the posture of a nation that is getting out of the business of being the world's policeman.

As a Christian who embraces what I believe to be a Biblical position of non-violence, especially state sponsored violence, I am not so naive as to think that there are never justifications for going to war or using the sword. Romans 13 makes clear that the sword has been placed in the hands of Caesar. However I also believe that most of the wars the U.S. has participated in over the last 150 years, and arguably even before that, have been unnecessary and in some cases immoral. As followers of the Prince of Peace we should be calling for fewer wars rather than cheerleading interventionism that leads to American military casualties, frayed foreign relations and untold civilian death and suffering.  It is a shameful reality that the most enthusiastic  Americans when it comes to war, to supporting it and sending their sons and daughters to fight in those wars, are American Christians.

This Memorial Day let's seek to reduce those memorialized, not with a Pollyannaish view of the world but with a realistic view that takes into account the history of foolish wars and unnecessary deaths.

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