By William H. Privett

Douglas Turner’s Dec. 3 speculation that U.S. militarism began in 1964, with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, brings me to deep reflection. That resolution, authorizing wide-scale war against North Vietnam, as we know, was based upon a false claim that a U.S. ship in the gulf was targeted by torpedoes.

I remember listening to President Lyndon Johnson’s speech, from my Arlington, Va., living room, announcing our bombing of North Vietnam. I felt dread at that moment, which I still feel.

I had worked as a civilian for the U.S. Navy following my 1962 graduation from Niagara University, which required two years of military science. With no alternative thinking in my theology courses, I accepted that “sometimes you just gotta do it.” So, working for the military did not present any moral questions for me.

However, with a 1968 scholarship to study graduate-level economics, I began to think. I had been a supply systems command supervising budget analyst. But daily news about the Vietnam War, Scripture and my academic studies led me to see that our collective task was essentially to determine the cost of moving a piece of metal from one place on the planet to another in order to kill someone with it.

I could no longer continue that work. I left the Navy Department to work for the social good of our nation, in the War on Poverty.

Since then, I have thought, read and meditated about U.S. militarism, which precedes the 1964 resolution. lists most of our military conflicts from 1765 to 2003. As war is changing, I have come to believe that drones will inevitably lead to unending war. The perceived short-term costs have been reduced compared to the estimated benefits, making continuation more likely, i.e., for 25 cents for a large ice cream cone, I will keep buying them despite inevitable weight gains.

And at home, our violence is unabated. We have committed about 175,000 homicides in the past 11 years.

All of this war and violence happens in a nation in which many citizens claim to follow Jesus Christ, who taught, “Love your enemies,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Blessed are the meek,” “Bless those who curse you,” “Do good to those who harm you,” “Forgive 70 times 7.” His final instruction to his followers was, “Lay down your sword.”

I am now moved by this quote from Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche: “When we put anyone on the other side of the fence, we lose our foundation to see clearly and act for the welfare of self and others. Instead, we begin to experience a lot of anxiety and fear. We can see that the people who have the most aggression are the most paranoid of all. Fear and paranoia come with aggression because when we [separate] ourselves and others, we’ve … created enemies.” Amen.


William H. Privett is regional coordinator for Pax Christi WNY.