Preface All over the world tribal languages are going extinct. The language of peacemaking is likewise profoundly threatened. Whatever your religious or political persuasion, I am sure you agree that all is lost if we forget the logic of peace. I offer this letter to whoever will pass it from hand to hand in these desperate times.
Introduction This is a time of profound global crisis. The pathway into the future is tangled and confused, and some believe the world itself is at stake. It behooves us to call on the memory of great leaders who have faced the kind of international turmoil we find ourselves in today.
Dwight David Eisenhower was the chief architect of the defeat of the Nazis. Such was his stature, his affability and integrity that both political parties sought to nominate him as president. His presidency saw the Russians respond to our testing of the hydrogen bomb with their own just as Truman dealt with the Soviets going nuclear after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His were dangerous times. Yet he knew that questions of war and peace cannot be asked or answered crudely. A Five Star General skilled in war, though he despised it, he was also a consummate peacemaker.
In his final speech before the nation, Eisenhower expressed alarm about "the military-industrial complex": the radical interdependence of "a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions" and "an immense military establishment" dangerous both to democracy at home and the prospect of world peace. "The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government… we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must 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."
The situation Eisenhower warned us of has reached an extremity surely beyond his worst imaginings. The world is thoroughly armed against itself; yet few nations don’t hunger for more weaponry. And fewer still can remember the old traditions of making peace.
There are many ways to understand the current crisis, but one that is useful and empowering to each of us individually is the idea of addiction. We Americans, human beings have become addicted to weaponry, warfare, violence and images of violence. We see its consequences in the lives of our children, their rage and fear, and at night we are sleepless because we don’t know how to protect them.
We observe it in our souls which know little of peace but much of that appetite that will never be filled within an American dream that has become malls and multiplexes. We are victim to hungers that are not ours though they sometimes possess us.
To serve this imbalanced life, our government has been swallowed up by the military-industrial complex, and our foreign policy has become a factory that mass produces enemies. Feeding our hungers and allaying our escalating fears requires a permanent war economy.
When Eisenhower told the nation that the military-industrial complex influenced all aspects of contemporary life, he did not fail to mention the spiritual: Our souls are endangered. If we do not tend to our souls, the world itself is endangered by us. This danger is called addiction, and there is a way through it. Shall we walk the twelve steps together? I think we must.
It is awkward to find the language for this: the secret anguish in our individual lives and our families writ large in the behavior of a nation, the secret anguish of a nation mirrored in our everyday lives; us, citizens, this nation, walking the twelve steps that might return us to balance and understanding. Let us follow the question of hunger and first consider the context we live in: How did this extraordinary country come to such a moment as this? Knowing the history is necessary if we are to walk the twelve steps as an act of healing for both ourselves and this beloved country.
Eisenhower’s was a complex and penetrating intelligence, lucid and farseeing in a time of fear "when everyone else in the country," says historian Stephen Ambrose, "wanted to step up defense and was scaring others." Ike’s response was, "We’ve got to cut back on military spending."
That was two generations ago.
In their presidential campaigns Nixon and Kennedy outdid each other with the rhetoric of expanding defense spending, and soon M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) became the strategy of containing Soviet expansionism.The U.S. and the Soviet Union spent decades engaged in often devastating geopolitical manipulations in countries like Afghanistan, El Salvador, Angola, The Congo, Vietnam with little genuine understanding of these worlds and little substantive assessment of the consequences, leaving many millions of civilians dead. The end of the Cold War has left the U.S. by far the wealthiest country and the strongest military power in the history of the world.
Feeding the desire to kill other people is good business. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has supplied four times the weaponry of the second largest supplier and now arms ninety-two percent of current wars. According to the Center for International Policy, eighty percent of weapons exports went to non-democratic regimes. Selling weapons is good business also because after agriculture, it is the industry most subsidized by the federal government.
But these are numbers, dry and lifeless. They say nothing of the life of a ten-year-old girl before being blasted by a land mine in Quang Tri Province in Vietnam. Two-thirds of the mines have been cleared in Quang Tri, but 225,000,000 remain. Sixty thousand people have died this mindless death since the end of the war. ("I hate war," said Eisenhower, "as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.")
The American military budget is currently six times larger than its nearest competitor, but this is just the baseline. After a couple of generations of descending into addiction, we are more crazed than we know. In response to an atrocity committed by a handful of terrorists armed only with box cutters, there is almost unanimous bipartisan support for hugely expanding the Pentagon budget.
People who are recovering from addiction and those who love them know this story well. A teenage boy, for example, begins with a little pinch of cocaine up the nose, then takes to the pipe, freebasing omnipotence. Damage is done because he can’t really see another human being, is craving the next time he is in that place of ecstasy and power.
Nothing is so dreadful as coming down. Raw, fetid, defeated. One is so consumed in the compelling nature of hunger that one can ravage family, spouse, children, parents, even strangers and scarcely really notice.
At the core of the American push towards consolidating economic and military hegemony is an insatiability that bears the mark of a true addiction. How might the twelve steps help us recognize and then recover from this addiction to making war and preparing for war, making enemies and preparing for enemies that have yet to present themselves?