The Meaning of “Strength Through Peace”
Adapted from a message to the Ft. Collins Mennonite Fellowship delivered by Kevin Cross on July 4th, 2010

In a nutshell, the name of our organization means that pursuing truly peaceful policies toward other countries would make our society, as well as the societies with which we interact, stronger.  The converse of that statement is that pursuing warlike policies toward other countries makes both “us” and “them” weaker, more fragile.

Let’s start with the converse statement, that war makes us all weaker.  It’s easy enough to understand why war makes “them” weaker.  Modern asymmetrical warfare, in which one side is overwhelmingly more militarily powerful than the other, targets both civilians and infrastructure.  The 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq resulted in an estimated one million Iraqi deaths, forced nearly five million Iraqis from their homes, and crippled the telephone system, the electrical power system, water distribution systems, sanitary sewer systems, the health care delivery system, and the educational system.  Iraq remains a very badly damaged, much weaker country than it was before March 20th, 2003.

But what about our country? How are we weaker? So far, over 4,000 members of the U.S. military have lost their lives in Iraq, and some 30,000 have been wounded, many severely.  That’s over 34,000 people who either can’t contribute to our society at all or who can contribute much less than they would have been able to do otherwise.  In 2008, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated the total budgetary and social costs to the United States of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to be over $3 trillion.  That’s $3 trillion that can’t be spent on providing health care, educating our children, rebuilding our own decaying infrastructure, or making investments that would allow us to move beyond our dependence on fossil fuels.

Perhaps even more significantly, the entire “war on terror” has made it almost impossible for people in the U.S. to recognize our common humanity with people in the Middle East and countries elsewhere with sizable Muslim populations.  The most egregious violations of human rights have been visited upon those designated by our government (often incorrectly) as terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Force Base, and countless other places, with little outcry from the home population.  Often, the only deaths regarded as being consequential are those of U.S. military personnel; the deaths of Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani civilians are generally met with a collective yawn.  Many, if not most of us, consider the value of an “American life” to be much higher than the life of a citizen of any country in the Middle East.  This too weakens and diminishes us as human beings.

What about the claim that pursuing truly peaceful policies toward other countries would make both our society and others stronger?  To begin with, lives and existing infrastructure would remain intact.  Investments could be made to improve living conditions in the present, and to prepare us for the inevitable decline in the availability of fossil fuel in the future.  And sincerely following peaceful rather than warlike policies would elevate the idea that as human beings, not just as citizens of the United States, we all have an equal claim to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I believe that taking the way of peace would make us incalculably stronger than we are at present.  And shouldn’t this be the Christian position? After all, if the Christian God does not recognize the difference between the Jew and the Greek, surely he does not recognize the difference between the American and the Iraqi, Afghani, or Pakistani, either.

Children have an easier time understanding all this than adults do, of course.  This is not because children are inherently more moral than adults.  However, to survive in a fallen world and more specifically, in a fallen country, most adults have been forced to accept, to some extent, the role played by the military in our society.  And that role is significant.  Late capitalism, in its U.S. variant, at least, relies heavily on military spending in order to maintain both marginally acceptable levels of employment and allegiance to the social system as a whole.  And so we adults allow both the military and the criminal war spoken of by David Smith-Ferri in his poem to ride our streets, largely unseen and unrecognized, behind dark and bullet proof glass.  These are the opponents against which Strength Through Peace has struggled since the fall of 2001.

* The following poem was read at the beginning of the service:

Anywhere USA
by David Smith-Ferri

A local resident, an American soldier,
died in Iraq yesterday
and now
no one speaks against the war.

An eleven-year old girl is fatherless
but she cannot lay her grief at the culprit’s feet.
Her grief is a dead child strapped to her back.

She knows the creature who killed her father.
Every night it steps out of darkness
into the daylight of her dreams,
but she cannot curse its name,
She cannot exorcise it.

Her anger has no object,
no pointed purpose.
Her rage is a sword locked in its sheath.
The sharpest phrases die in her, unexpressed.

Adults speak dully of honor and service and heroism.
Meanwhile, the impeccable, honorable war,
like a Mafia don
snaps its cufflinks,
narrows its eyes,
and, flanked by bodyguards,
rides our streets in a limousine,
unseen behind dark and bulletproof glass.