When War Becomes A Way of Life (2 Samuel 11:1-15)
By Raj Nadella
It has been intriguing to watch the mixed reaction to the nuclear accord with Iran that can help the United States avoid another major war. The last major war the U.S. fought-the 2003 Iraq war-cost the taxpayers nearly two trillion dollars and about half a trillion in benefits still owed to veterans. More than 4,500 Americans died fighting that war and tens of thousands of veterans and their families continue to live with its consequences. It is, however, unclear what the nation as a whole has gained from those sacrifices. On the other end, the war resulted in deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displacement of millions simply because they happened to be living in a country where the war was waged.
Given the costs and lessons of prior wars, one might expect that politicians of all stripes would welcome the accord with Iran that potentially eliminates the need for conflict without compromising on national security. If contentious issues can be resolved through constructive alternatives to conflict, it would seem counterintuitive to prefer the path of war and attempt to rationalize it. It is worth considering whether, and to what extent, the politicians calling for a confrontational approach would be directly affected if the U.S. gets involved in another conflict. It might be a fair guess to say that, as with previous wars, ordinary people would mostly end up paying for such a war.
This week's text-2 Samuel 11:1-15-suggests that the phenomenon of ordinary people being asked to fight unnecessary wars initiated by people in power is not entirely modern. The narrator suggests that David sent Joab and others to fight the war but stayed back within the comforts of his palace. While "all Israel"-the armed forces, Joab and the ark of God-made significant sacrifices on account of the war, David took advantage of it. The portion of the story that focuses on Uriah highlights the king's double standards and utter disregard for his subjects. "The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord's men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife?" Uriah's words effectively expose how David was acting as though things were normal while forcing others to fight a war that may or may not have been necessary in the first place. Within that context, Uriah's words should be read thus: "How could you, the king, stay home, eat, drink and sleep with someone else's spouse while the ark is in tents and all those who are fighting your war are camped in the open country?" Apparently, Uriah was too much of a critic, too outspoken, for David's personal and political comfort. David swiftly eliminates this soldier who spoke like a prophet to ensure that there is no further critique of his misdeeds.
War making is not merely about who fights wars and makes sacrifices for them. It is also about the elites' incentive for championing wars, and it raises the question of whose interests are ultimately served by such wars. In suggesting that "the kings go off to war in the spring" the narrator implies that war making was primarily a way of life the kings adopted to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary people.
The United States has a legacy of inaugurating and perpetuating the war industrial complex in the modern world. According to a Washington Post article, in 2011 the U.S. spent $711 billion dollars on defense, an amount more than the next thirteen nations combined. The U.S. still spends about 20% of its federal budget on defense. The war industrial complex that often relies on manufactured wars to maintain its economic health continues to employ legislators to lobby on behalf of corporations that produce and trade in arms. War then becomes a habit, an integral mechanism that keeps the industry alive and ensures that sympathetic legislators stay in power by funding their campaigns. The very wars that take the lives of tens of thousands-at home and abroad-and disrupt the lives of people, who join armed forces to fight those wars, become means of sustenance for the war industrial complex. As Pope Francis observed accurately in a recent conversation with 7,000 children, "many powerful people do not want peace because they live off of war."
It is deeply problematic when those in power seek their welfare in conflicts that have nothing to do with the security of people in whose name the wars might be waged. It is detrimental to national interests when the elite convince themselves that their prosperity is dependent on manufacturing and perpetuating conflict with other nations. As is evident from the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah, those making sacrifices in times of war, and to make the war possible, often gain little from it. Furthermore, during times of war, people's attention is diverted from key domestic issues like the economy. In her provocative book, The Shock Docrtine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein has called attention to how those in power use war-like situations as a charade to divert the public's attention from their exploitative economic practices and policies that perpetuate unjust structures.
This week's text highlights how the elite use those at the margins for their own benefit. Fortunately, for every David there is an Uriah. In this narrative, Uriah functions as a literary figure who challenged the notion that ordinary people should make sacrifices so that those in power can expand their empires. Uriah continues to participate in the war, to his own demise, but he nonetheless names David's duplicity. He attenuates the royal ideology that suggested that what was good for the king, and other elite, should be good for everyone in the nation. That is what makes him a model of resistance in our contexts.
_ Victor is one veteran struggling to support his family. _
Bible Study Questions:
1) What are some concrete steps faith communities can undertake to attenuate the power of war industrial complex?
2) Within our contexts, how might ordinary people expose the duplicity of people in power while continuing to carry on their responsibilities within structures of power, as Uriah did?
3) What are some tools and tactics the elite employ in the United States to divert attention from their exploitative economic policies and practices? How might faith communities help expose them?
For Further Reading:
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador, 2008)
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