1The beginning of the good
news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in
the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my
messenger ahead of you,
4John the baptizer
appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for
the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside
and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were
baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John
was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist,
and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is
more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down
and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water;
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,”’
I have a rather absurd proposition for you
this morning. My
proposition is this: we
have a serious addiction problem in our society.
Nothing absurd about that, we are all familiar with the various
addictions that plague us: alcohol,
drugs, gambling, pornography, even food and shopping. We see the impact
of addictions all around us—lost jobs, broken marriages, damaged
children, drunk drivers, etc. But
I am not talking about any of that.
I am talking about an addiction, if true, is even more serious,
more costly, more deadly. I
am talking about our addiction to war.
It sounds absurd to
say we are addicted to war. I
know, because the first time I heard it I laughed.
I said, “that’s ridiculous.
How can one be addicted to war?”
The person who introduced me to the idea nearly 20 years ago is
one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, author of such books as Breakfast
of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five.
Vonnegut knows a bit about war from personal experience.
He fought in the famed Battle of the Bulge in WWII and was taken
prisoner by the Germans. He
was sent to a work camp where he made vitamins for pregnant women.
The camp was in Dresden.
It was there, on February 13, 1945, that Vonnegut witnessed the
fire bombing that burned the city to the ground.
In 1984, the year
Judy and I graduated from seminary and were ordained into the ministry,
Vonnegut published an article in The Nation.
In the article he calls Alcoholics Anonymous the greatest
“nurturing contribution” of the United States to the world.
He defines addiction as a habitual use of a substance that gives
brief spasms of pleasure but in the long run is self-destructive. And he notes that the 12-step method of AA has been proven to
be successful with all kinds of addictions, from alcohol to gambling.
Then he says,
I now wish to call
attention to another from of addiction, which has not been previously
identified … I am persuaded that there are among us people who are
tragically hooked on preparations for war. … I mean it.
I am not joking. Compulsive
preparers for World War III, in this country or any other, are as
tragically and repulsively addicted as any stockbroker passed out with
his head in a toilet in the Port Authority bus terminal … If Western
Civilization … were a person … we would be directing it to the
nearest meeting of War Preparers Anonymous.
We would be telling it to stand up before the meeting and say,
‘My name is Western Civilization.
I am a compulsive war-preparer.
I have lost everything I ever cared about.’”[i]
prophets Isaiah and Micah talk about turning swords into ploughshares.
Consider what that one trillion might buy. In the minute we spend $2 million on armaments, approximately
30 children die of hunger and related diseases around the world.
It has been estimated that just ten percent of the world’s
annual military expenditures could provide health care
for all mothers, provide clean water for the two billion people
who do not have it, provide basic health care for all the developing
world, provide job training for 50 million youth, teach everyone to read
and write, provide schools for 50% of the children in developing
nations, save one million Africans from starvation and eliminate
diseases that kill 15 million children every year.[ii]
A shift of even one percent could save millions of lives.
can measure the physical effects of the arms race, but what about the
mental and spiritual effects? In
the 1930s, even before nuclear weapons were even conceived, Sigmund
Freud wrote that people “have gained control over the forces of nature
to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in
exterminating one another to the last [person].
They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current
unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety.”
If that was true then, how much more true it must be today.
the days of the Cold War, we called our defense policy MAD, Mutual
Assured Destruction, in which we held each other’s cities hostage.
As our weapons became more accurate, however, we shifted our
targeting to very specific military objectives.
The MAD doctrine was replaced with Nuclear Utilization Target
Selection, or NUTS for short. Isn’t
a great comfort to know that the war planning of our country went from
MAD to NUTS?
statistics and strategies aside, is this an addiction as Vonnegut
claims? Here is how Anne Wilson Schaef defines addiction in her book,
She writes, addiction is “an unhealthy and abnormal disease
process, whose assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, and lack of spirituality
lead to a process of nonliving that is progressively death-oriented.”
I don’t know how much more death oriented you can get than MAD
and NUTS. “This basic disease,” she continues, “from which spring
the sub-diseases of co-dependence and alcoholism—among others—is
tacitly and openly supported by the society in which we live.”
Does that not describe our world and its propensity to warfare?
I was first pondering the validity of Vonnegut’s claim, I came across
another article, this written by a recovering alcoholic.
Jack Smith, is a senior associate for the Stanley Foundation, a
private family foundation working for a secure peace with freedom and
justice through the promotion of multilateralism.
He describes the characteristics of alcoholism and compares those
to the dependency of nations on armaments.
Looking back now on his essay, I find it even more descriptive of
the present realities today. Because
the examples he gives are outdated, I’ll leave them out and let you
make your own connections to modern events.
writes, “The similarities are striking to me. … As a practicing
alcoholic, a scapegoat was easy to find when confronted about my
drinking. It was also
common to blame circumstances for my drinking. … The other side is
always responsible… It’s their fault, [not mine].”
Who do we blame for war? Can
you spell 9/11?
addict is irresponsible; effects from drug usage cause poor judgment.”
Was our nation led into war on the basis of good judgment? No
become judgmental of others when unable to control the world and its
people to adopt my values and to behave according to my standards was
exhausting, unproductive work. People
would not allow me to change them, so they were fair game on which to
vent my volcanic frustrations.” How
familiar is that?
are also insecure. …
Personal experience proved that drugs only gave me a false sense
of security.” Do all of
our war preparations provide true security or false security?
are self-centered. The
world revolved around me, I thought.
Everyone should cater to my needs.”
We do not expect the world to cater to us, do we?
addict falls prey to warped spending as the disease progresses.
… [A] higher percentage of scarce dollars are devoted to
feeding the growing drug dependency.”
Here’s one more statistic to ponder.
While I believe this is a global problem, that the U.S. by far is
not the only country addicted to armaments, the hard truth is that
nearly half of the global military expenditures from those top 15
countries comes from the U.S. At
$455 billion, we spend more money on war preparations than the next 14
countries below us combined. Adjusted
for purchasing power, since it is cheaper to build a tank in China than
the U.S., and we still spend more than China, India, Russia, France,
Britain and Germany combined.
final comparison … relates to people I call ‘enablers,’ persons
who aid the addiction process through silence and inaction.”[iii]
In other words, Smith is talking about us, the silent public.
You probably won’t recognize the name of Norman Kember, but
remember these words he wrote:
it has always worried me that I am a 'cheap' peacemaker.... talking,
writing, demonstrating about peace is in no way taking risks like
young servicemen in Iraq. I look for excuses why I should not become
was taken hostage in Iraq last week.
He is one of the members of the Christian Peacemakers Team
scheduled to be executed on Thursday if the demands of the hostage
takers are not met. What
excuses do we have for not becoming involved?
Smith and Vonnegut are right and we, western civilization in particular,
are addicted to what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial
complex, then we must treat it as an addiction.
Just as will power alone cannot stop alcoholism, so to political
will is not sufficient to stop this addiction.
The genius of 12-step programs is the recognition that addiction
at it’s root is a spiritual disease.
War addiction, therefore, must be treated in the same way, as a
must begin the road of recovery by recognizing first of all that we have
a problem and second of all that only by relying on a higher power, not
on our military might, can we solve the problem.
Building bigger and better weapons will ultimately only result in
bigger wars not more peace. Only by placing our faith in the power of
God can we free ourselves from the dangerous, intoxicating power of
military weapons. We must
develop strategies for confronting the compulsive behavior with the aim
of bringing it to an end. We
must examine our own involvement in it, ways in which we have become
co-dependents. Lastly, we
must educate ourselves and others on the reality of this addiction.
I was Present of City Club a few years back, a retired teacher came to
us with one of those pie-in-the-sky dreams.
After touring much of the U.S. in his retirement, he noted how
often he found monuments to war heroes and how rarely to the peace
makers Jesus called blessed in the Sermon on the Mount.
His dream? To build
a monument in Eugene, Oregon, dedicated to the 22 American citizens who
have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
City Club became one of the first groups in town to endorse the
idea. Former Mayors Jim
Torrey and Ruth Bascom have agreed to be our honorary co-chairs.
A location in Alton Baker Park and a design by a local firm have
been secured. Just before Thanksgiving we learned that Spirit Mountain
has awarded us a $50,000 challenge grant. We only have $450,000 to go!
of the 22 recipients, which include such notables Americans as Martin
Luther King, Jr., Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter, are being sought for
$5,000 each. A major component of the monument will be a curriculum for
classes of various ages to educate students on who these recipients were
and what they did to receive the Nobel prize. The Nobel Peace Monument
will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world and I believe is
just one small step we can take to educating ourselves and recognizing
the problems created by our dependency on war preparation.
My dream is to have the following inscription on one of those
plaques: “’Blessed are
the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.’
Matthew 5:9 from the members of First Christian Church (Disciples
of Christ) in the heart of Eugene.”
Gospel of Mark opens with people from the whole Judean countryside and
all the people of Jerusalem coming to hear John preach in the
wilderness. I suspect that
is a slight exaggeration on Mark’s part, or what we call an
hyperbole—a literary device to make a point. The entire nation is in effect brought to the river Jordan to
be baptized by John for the forgiveness of sin.
In other words, we are all in this together. It is not just individuals who are invited to repent, but
nations. While I would hope
that our country would lead the way, it really isn’t about us. It’s about the addiction, it’s about global military
expenditures, It’s about tribal wars and international disputes,
it’s about Iraq and Darfur, Palestine and Kashmir, it’s about
repentance and forgiveness, it’s about refugees and malnutrition,
it’s about learning to trust God and not military might, it’s about
the people of God preparing the way of the Lord.
about the beginning of the Good News.
It’s about time for it to begin now.
The Nation, January 7, 1984.
[ii] See John Turner, The
Arms Race: Modern World
[iii] “Addiction to Arms”,
Jack Smith. 1987
pamphlet from The Stanley Foundation.
[iv] Sojourners weekly e-mail,
November 30, 2005.