Breaking the Addiction to Weapons and War
Diana Ohlbaum / Friends Committee on National Legislation
(August 7, 2021) — At FCNL’s 2019 Annual Meeting, I asked the following: “Why is the US government so reliant on the use of threats, coercion, and military force around the globe, and why can’t our policymakers admit it’s not working? Why are we so stuck in this way of relating to the world, and what do we have to do to change it?”
Without understanding what motivates US policymakers to seek global military domination, we will have trouble convincing them to abandon this counterproductive and morally repugnant course.
Like addicts, foreign policy elites resort to the drug of violence to avoid dealing with the fundamental causes of conflict and end up making the situation far worse. They won’t be ready to hear our policy solutions until they admit they have a problem.
Over the past year, FCNL has been working with the Center for International Policy, a progressive research and advocacy organization, to understand why the US foreign policy establishment clings so stubbornly to a course that is so harmful to so many people, particularly people of color.
With the support of several foundations and individual donors, we convened a high-level working group that met virtually for two hours, twice a month, for six months, from October 2020 through April 2021.
The diverse group included a cross-section of advocates, activists, organizers, faith community leaders, and scholars in the fields of US foreign policy and national security; racial, economic, and environmental justice; peacebuilding; migration; labor; human rights; feminism; and constitutional law. From our various perches, we explored the underlying reasons for such an aggressive, bullying approach to the world.
What we found may come as little surprise to many: there are deep-rooted economic, political, and ideological forces that are very difficult to dislodge and disentangle.
On the economic side, there are the millions of jobs—some in practically every congressional district—that depend on the Pentagon and its contractors. The arms industry and military installations not only provide employment that can be highly lucrative, often with union protection and good benefits, but also make investments that can be lifelines for local economies.
Corporate welfare through the Pentagon budget is further entrenched by political contributions and lobbying, which are subject to few limitations and minimal transparency. Given the vast racial wealth gap and the commanding role of money in US politics, it is extremely difficult for those who are most harmed by a bloated Pentagon budget and forever wars to challenge the overwhelmingly white power structure and its revolving door of influence-peddling.
The political forces are equally daunting. Institutions that have long been considered essential to the functioning of American democracy are, in fact, responsible for many of its failings. The Senate, which gives every state two votes regardless of population, privileges rural states with largely white populations over larger and more ethnically and racially diverse states.
To make matters worse, the filibuster allows a minority of these small states to dictate or impede nationwide legislative and policy decisions. The Electoral College, which was designed to boost the weight of slave-holding southern states, has twice in recent years resulted in the election of presidents who lost the popular vote. Through the mushrooming efforts in nearly every state to suppress Black, Latino/a, Native American, and other voters, our system prevents massive numbers of voices from being heard.
Finally, and in some ways most importantly, most white Americans and many others accept the notion that the United States has the right, the responsibility, and the power to set the rules for everyone else. They hold America to different standards than other countries, ascribing only good intentions to US nuclear threats, economic coercion, shows of force, and armed invasion, while assuming the worst motives in the actions of others.
This sense of American exceptionalism and national superiority is based on the poisonous belief, often subconscious, that American lives—and specifically white lives—are more valuable than others. And it relies on the militarist myth that violence is both necessary and effective as a tool of foreign policy.
Our group had little difficulty developing a vision for a human-centered US foreign policy rooted in peaceful cooperation, global solidarity, and adherence to international law. But we struggled with finding ways to break through the barriers that keep policymakers hooked on the status quo.
Ultimately, we agreed that the path forward starts with unmasking the false narratives about US conduct and acknowledging our country’s history of genocide, slavery, and imperialist expansion.
It requires showing that there are more ethical and more effective ways to address the real challenges that face our nation. It demands that we connect with campaigns and movements around the country and around the globe, using our combined power to seek positive change.
In the end, this kind of long-term, large-scale paradigm change will come not from political elites or Washington insiders, but from a higher power: a broad groundswell of ordinary people who take extraordinary action to shift our country to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable course.
Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current US foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.
How Can Quakers Dismantle the Racism-Militarism Paradigm?
“Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love
and truth in your hearts.”
— George Fox, 1656
(August 7, 2021) — For many of us who are Quakers, we have held the peace testimony as an article of faith. It is a basic tenet of our approach to the world—to shun violent conflict and war, to pursue peace, and to order our lives based on the promptings of love and truth in our hearts.
It’s not only Quakers or the historic peace churches that shun war. We are joined by millions of people who see the devastation of war and violence and the fallacies of the very foundation of militarism that perpetuates the myth of military might as security.
Quakers also practice a testimony of equality—to answer that of God in every person. We shun racism, antisemitism, sexism, and homophobia. Many of us who are European-Americans struggle to see how white supremacy is baked into our society—into policies that affect our health, education, housing, and public safety and the US approach to international policy.
As Quakers, as people of a faith, how do we regard the racism-militarism paradigm that undergirds our country’s foreign and domestic policies? Is this a spiritual concern or an activist concern? How have we adapted our lives in ways that accept militarism and tolerate racism?
Over the past year, as I participated in the discussion group on Dismantling the Racism-Militarism Paradigm project, the idea of prophetic witness was foremost in my mind. It was not a religious or spiritual discussion group—even though some of us are led by faith to confront these twin evils.
But the discussions opened up truths about our history, systems, and the stories we perpetuate about what makes us secure. Yet the reality of the pandemic, climate change, and violence, which wreak havoc among people, demonstrates a different reality of security.
We are in a time when each one of us is challenged with naming and confronting the broken social, political, and economic systems that deny basic humanity and that deny God’s love for every human being.
The paper Dismantling the Racism-Militarism Paradigm by Diana Ohlbaum and Salih Booker is a result of the dynamic discussions among the dozen people on the front lines of confronting militarism and racism.
It offers a prophetic call to confront the root causes of war, policing, immigration policies, and environmental policies. It questions the narrative of security and the trust and acceptance our society and political system has consented to.
These are not only policy or political problems looking for solutions, but they must also be considered and confronted as moral, ethical, spiritual questions for each of us and for us as Friends.
Many Friends are activists, compelled by injustice to act for justice, motivated by devastating climate change to act for carbon reduction and environmental protections. This is how FCNL was founded—Friends gathered to create an organization to have a voice with Congress.
Today, 78 years later, we consistently use our voice to call on Congress to take steps to end militarism and racism—both in our domestic and foreign policies.
It was in an April 1967 sermon that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called us to see the triple evils of racism, militarism, and materialism. He called for our country to be transformed “from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”
The call continues to be echoed today by the Poor People’s Campaign—led by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis. The campaign is engaging thousands of people across the country in public witness for a moral revival, a Third Reconstruction.
We consistently ask ourselves: what more can we do? How can we prompt a bigger conversation about dismantling the racism-militarism paradigm? We ask the FCNL community to join us and our colleagues who have renewed this prophetic call.
Consider the discussion paper, to be released in September, in your meeting or church. Engage in a discussion with community groups. Consider our own narrative for security and how we can change the narrative to dismantle the systems that do not put all of God’s humanity first.
Diane Randall is the General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Diane leads FCNL’s staff to effectively educate and lobby for the policies and legislative priorities established by FCNL’s General Committee.
Report: Dismantling Racism and Militarism in US Foreign Policy
In this report, authors Salih Booker and Diana Ohlbaum analyze the racism and militarism at the core of US foreign policy and offer a roadmap for progress toward a more sustainable, just, and peaceful world.Click here to download the full report.