Losing our independence on independence day?

Taking a Stand Against Perpetual War

by Rev. Paul J. Bern


Here we are, celebrating yet another July Fourth holiday weekend in America. I find it ironic that we call July 4th “Independence Day” when the American people are gradually losing their Constitutional freedoms bit by bit. There can be no doubt that this country has been turned into a police state, a process that started back in the 1950’s. The fact of the matter is, if you are a Constitutionalist, an evangelical Christian, a ‘prepper’, a conspiracy theorist, a Bernie Sanders supporter, or if you are opposed to economic inequality, you are classified as a ‘domestic terrorist’ by the Department of Homeland Security, and you are likely under surveillance. On the flip side of this coin, the US military has somewhere between 700 and 1,000 bases globally, depending on whose figures you believe. As if this were insufficient, President Obama has spoken to the nation in the past about the need to undertake still more wars while dodging the domestic gun violence issue. First there are the frequent drone strikes around the globe, next we have NATO encircling Russia, then again in Syria until overwhelming public opinion against another war forced Obama to change his mind several years ago, and most recently when he informed Congress and the American people that US troops will be in Afghanistan until as late as 2024. I recently streamed a CNN video where the terrible problem of rape in U.S. prisons was exposed. Violence surrounds us. It is ingrained into and embraced by U.S. society. This needs to change if we’re sincere about wanting a better country.

More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the growth of the military-industrial complex. He cautioned us about the need to guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, “whether sought or unsought,” by the military industrial complex. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” he said. More than 60 years ago, George Orwell wrote of “perpetual war,” a situation in which war operates as a means of controlling the population by constantly rallying them against a common enemy. It matters not whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House; wars go on and on and on, perpetually it often seems. World War Two lasted four and a half years for the US and six years for Europe, yet US troops have been in Afghanistan since October of 2001.

Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Qaddafi was the longest-serving ruler in Africa, having taken power in 1969. He was a strange character, noted for many eccentricities. He also has supported horrible terrorist incidents over the decades. The United States wasn’t really sure who to side with against Qaddafi. Libya is a complicated stew. As the winds of change blew across the Middle East, many in Libya seized the moment to revolt. At first, it appeared the momentum of their rebellion would carry the day. Sadly, Qaddafi unleashed his military forces against the rebels, and the rest is history. Obama administration officials maintained that United States decided to wage war on Libya because of the threat the horrible Qaddafi was to his own people. Then why not attack Bahrain or Yemen or Somalia? Tyrants in those countries are committing similarly repugnant acts against their citizens, maybe even worse. But they decided to ‘bump off’ Qaddafi instead.

It’s a good thing that America decided not to attack Syria. It could easily have started World War Three. Had America bombed Syria from the air, Syria would have called in reinforcements from its allies Russia and Iran, and it would have been only a matter of time before the nuclear weapons started flying. For this reason and more, I am excited that ordinary people are rising up, first across the Middle East to cast off autocrats, tyrants, kings and dictators, not to mention the secret police who harass the citizenry daily, in America with the formation of the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements, and most recently with the Bernie Sanders presidential primary campaign. The most damning thing about our federal government is the recent disclosure of an out-of-control foreign and domestic spy network, which proves to me that the US presidency has been remade into something tyrannical. People want peace and justice, not war and violence. We’re all sick and tired of all the fighting, all we want is some peace and quiet for a change!

In the United States, including right here in Atlanta, many leaders and members of churches constantly, loudly lament about a shortage of money. There is a reason for that – vast sums of the incomes of their members are being drained off for war, death and destruction. These are people who become enraged over an aborted fetus (which I agree is bad enough), but who have no problem going overseas to kill oftentimes innocent strangers. To call this a glaring contradiction would be an understatement. At any rate, and given the near silence of America’s pulpits in the face of the violence and war that surrounds us, the exertions of our theologians in justifying war, the devotion of denominational members to the myth of redemptive violence, it is certain that future historians will view organized religion as a slave to the vast war machine that engulfs us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” It looks to me like the USA is already there due to the fact that America spends more money locking people up than is spent on educating them. Will we rise up against this madness of violence and backwards priorities, or are we dead already? The outcome of the upcoming Democratic and Republican political conventions will be a key indicator for America’s future. It is up to us, the American people, to force things to change for the better.

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