Racism is the key aspect of U.S. military conflicts, according to a Religious Left activist prominent in the “Moral Mondays” protests.
“Wars were fought by ‘us’ – the white, European colonizer – against, ‘them’ – the other – who were demonized as less than human, barbarians, savages,” The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II declared, calling to “exercise this demon of militarism from our national body.” Barber also declared that in the last 50 years, U.S. military actions “have been against black and brown countries – period.”
Barber identified “the war economy and militarism” as at the center of interlocking injustices during an impassioned May 8 address at historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., a church Abraham Lincoln attended. He cited historical figures ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr. to social activist and leftist historian Howard Zinn. At one point, the ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister reinterpreted Jesus Christ driving demons out of a possessed man as allegory about confronting Imperial militarism.
A past North Carolina NAACP President who rose to national attention as a speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Barber now serves as President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. A regular speaker at Religious Left events in the Nation’s capital, Barber’s initial call against state budget cuts and for an expansive welfare state has since evolved to encompass numerous causes on the political left.
War and militarism are persistent evils in America perpetrated by a “distorted moral narrative” that must be challenged, Barber charged before the interfaith audience of progressive activists.
“The war economy and militarism connect to what we in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, call five interlocking injustices: systemic racism as seen through voter suppression, immigrant injustice, the continuing legacy and oppression of indigenous first nation Indian nations, Islamophobia and xenophobia, systemic poverty of over 140 million poor and low-wealth citizens, ecological devastation, and our distorted moral narrative,” Barber outlined. “If you move on to address the other four, you must address the issue of the war economy and militarism.”
A Military Problem
Barber cited U.S. military spending throughout his talk, failing to note that, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, such spending is at a post-World War low.
“Martin Luther King taught, and we know, that if every decision is shaped by a nation’s commitment to a philosophy – an ideology that privileges militarism – that nation sows its own demise,” Barber intoned. Barber also quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech in which he warned of the “the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military industrial complex”.
Barber indicated that those warnings had come to pass, “Especially now, as we have a president fueled by narcissism as a commander, and the hounds of war lining up and filling up the top advisory roles, who just a few days ago dropped illegal bombs on Syria.”
Barber charged that current U.S. military engagements “in no way met the standards laid down in the joint war powers resolution.”
“We can never surrender this power to one man,” Barber insisted. “We must declare that moral dissent, moral resistance, and moral vision cannot in any way dismiss the violence of any country or leader and must challenge the war economy and militarism here in America.”
Barber bemoaned the size of the U.S. and world nuclear arsenals, noted that the U.S. military budget is larger than the next seven nations combined.
“We must know, if this in left unchecked, unchallenged, and uncritiqued, America, as Dr. King once said, has been – and still has the potential to be – the greatest purveyor of violence the world has ever known,” Barber declared to scattered applause.
Barber reinterpreted scripture in accordance with his political message. Citing Mark Chapter 5, Barber asserted that Jesus expelling demons from the Gerasene man identified as Legion was about confronting Imperial militarism.
“Mark clearly characterizes this man as a victim of militarism, a victim of military occupation, for he says ‘my name is Legion’. Legion for we are many: and that Latin term had only one meaning,” Barber insisted with a wag of his finger, “a division of Roman soldiers.”
Four such legions were based in Syria to control the eastern frontier at that time, “including Jewish Palestine” Barber reported.
“We need to understand that this text is trying to say to us that an over commitment to militarism and war will literally drive us down into the graveyard of life,” Barber interpreted. “It is trying to say to us that the whole complex, demonic structure of militarism can create a situation where we no longer know our names or our purpose.”
The activist pastor explained “We must wrestle with how historically the legions, down through the years, have held us as a nation in the low places.”
Barber identified the Vietnam conflict as “a classic rich man’s war” fought by and between poor people. Noting that wealthier men could obtain college deferments, Barber declared “that is where race and racism came in, and poverty, because the young men who weren’t wealthy, and didn’t get tracked into college preparatory courses, were disproportionately black and Latino, and many were poor whites. So they were the ones that were disproportionately drafted, disproportionately served in the front line units, and were disproportionately killed.”
Barber insisted that today’s United States’ all-volunteer military is not voluntary at all, but formed from a “poverty draft” in which participants are motivated by promises of paid college education and healthcare.
“These days the disproportion of the military isn’t by race, it is by poverty and by a rural/urban divide,” Barber asserted, suggesting that media were unaware or declined to report on the divide because military personnel came from areas where the media did not visit or cover.
Citing the Afghanistan conflict as “a still unwinnable, brutal war,” Barber said that the total number of deployed troops was less than at the conflict’s height, but that U.S. political and military leaders in the Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations “have repeatedly told us that there is no military solution.”
“Any nation that lives by the sword will ultimately die by the sword,” Barber warned. “Our is a country founded on two evils: the genocide of indigenous populations who had lived in this land since time immemorial and the enslavement of Africans brought to this country in chains.”
Barber argued that both slavery and mistreatment of native populations were enabled by superior military power perpetrating an unjust allocation of resources and labor.
“Those realities made this country – or at least the elites within it – richer and more powerful than any country in history,” Barber determined. “Not to tell this truth is to live the American lie and to ever be bound by its distortions. “
Quoting historian and social activist Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, Barber stated that there were two narratives in the United States: a “painful reality that genocide and slavery are central to our country’s history” and “that our country has also been a county of powerful peoples’ movements rising up against slavery and genocide with moral dissent, moral vision and moral resistance.”
Barber also took issue with American westward expansion, citing the “Doctrine of Discovery” as a motivating factor enabling the capture and control of territory. Barber did not explain how the overwhelmingly Protestant U.S. of the 19th century came to be influenced by a papal bull from the 1400s.
Barber bemoaned the cost of Tomahawk missiles used in a U.S.-led attack upon a Syrian facility after a “still unproven allegation of chemical weapons use.” Barber asserted that the approximate $119 million cost of the attack “could have made an enormous difference at home” and instead been spent on veterans’ benefits, hiring new teachers or funding infrastructure improvements in places like Flint, Michigan. Barber portrayed the decision to fund military expenditures as a zero-sum scenario, in which “we have to make a moral choice” in favor of instead directing federal funds to jobs, healthcare and education.
Barber also singled out billions sent each year to the Israeli Defense Forces in the form of military aid, which Barber asserted continued “violations of Palestinians’ rights” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “warmongering”.
“They are making a killing off of killing,” Barber accused “war profiteers”. Barber portrayed a world where U.S. tax dollars enrich defense contractors and stockholders without providing for additional safety and security. Those armaments contributed, Barber asserted, to the deaths of poor people across the globe. Deaths caused by enemies of the United States and its allies were unmentioned.
“The truth is, instead of waging a war on poverty, we are still waging a war on the poor at home and abroad for the financial benefit of a few,” Barber concluded. “If you are going to address systemic racism and systemic poverty and ecological devastation and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism, you had to add into those fights the interlocking injustices addressing the war economy and militarism.”Google+