Anti-War Is Not Enough (Reflection)

Anti-Imperialist Button 1900I served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including a consciousness-altering year of combat in Iraq.  Upon my return in 2010, I began the process of becoming an outspoken critic of war, especially U.S. wars. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Yet, since re-engaging my anti-war activism I have discovered that hating war and being against violence is not enough. Because the causes of war are systemic, our whole way of organizing political and social life must change if we are ever really going to end war.

I know I am preaching to the choir when I repeat the immortal words of Jane Addams that “True peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” This presence of justice, of course, can only be achieved when neo-liberal capitalist political, social, and economic systems, which create the impetus and machinery for war and the domination and subjugation of “weaker” peoples, are replaced by more equitable, human needs-based systems. Thus, true peace can only be established, not by simply holding a moral stance opposing war or witnessing to end violence, but by the more active engagement of joining the fight against imperialism—of intentionally opposing the neo-liberal capitalist system of the United States empire.

Recently, I have experienced pushback from some anti-war allies when I call for the expanded use of the term anti-imperialism. They say that the average person cannot understand the complexities of anti-imperialism.  Yet, this elitist position contributes to conflating instances of war with the systems that cause war, which keeps the anti-war movement in an infantile position where it doesn’t experience much success in thwarting or ending actual wars.

When I use the term imperialism, I mean when states, especially the United States, its allies, and their finance-capitalist handlers, attempt through huge corporate monopolies to exploit the resources of weaker nations.  Michael Parenti defines imperialism as “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people.” If the weaker nations do not submit to the imperialist’s expropriation, then various forms of violence (military interventions, sanctions, blockades, etc.) are used to keep them in line or to punish them. In the U.S. where there is a significant labor aristocracy (a large so-called “middle class”) the imperialist system is seen as beneficial for the “majority” and thus must be maintained by scapegoating any nation or people group that is opposed to the imperialist’s will (through racism, xenophobia, sexism, historical revisionism, etc.).

As a Christian and an Eastern-Rite priest I have come to understand the evil of imperialism not simply through my experiences in war or even studying political theory, but also through the Scriptures which are clear about God’s opposition to the oppression of the poor, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and capitalistic greed. The church is complicit with the imperialists when it does not stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, not just in our own backyards or communities, but also with those around the world. If the church is not the church of the poor and the marginalized but supports the neo-liberal capitalist status quo, then it is not the church of God. It is part of the empire.

Nevertheless, being an anti-imperialist cannot only be based on a metaphysically derived moral position or personal experience. It must be based on the concrete needs of all people to live in safety and have their needs met in interdependent communities of mutuality. The anti-imperialist position is one that is also understood through scientific study, which empirically shows that our humanity and our planet are sustainable only through cooperation, not “free-market” competition (the basis of neo-liberal capitalism). Thus, anti-imperialists promote the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all of life. Anti-imperialists oppose racism, patriarchy, sexism, fascism, homophobia, and anything that undermines the dignity of the human person and the environment where we live. Being an anti-imperialist is to stand for and with the worker, the tenant, the immigrant, the transgendered person—all marginalized people—and for the protection of our sacred environment.

So, simply being anti-war is only the first step in coming to understand the more mature and intersectional anti-imperialist stance, which is the true basis of an effective mass-movement for peace and justice.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

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