Archive for Social Justice

“…Thy will be done on earth…”

“…Thy will be done on earth…”
Hayward United Methodist Church
July 17, 2022

Warning: I spent forty years as a college professor, so I expect you to take notes, have a short quiz, and be prepared to discuss these issues during coffee hour.

Preface: What follows was inspired by Sandy. She’s not to blame for what I say today, but she definitely inspired almost every idea and many of the words. You see, she has this crazy idea that the Bible and the Church ought to have something to say about how we should live in today’s world. Historical exegesis of sacred documents has it’s place, but not in this sermon.

Our text: Matthew 25:35-40 Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. You ask when did I do these things? As you helped the least of the children of God you helped me.”

Introduction: We’ve all heard the claim that America is a Christian nation. Inside and outside this building is the United Methodist motto: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open doors.” Let’s give the motto a try for the next twenty minutes or so. Well… let’s concentrate on open minds and open hearts for today. ‘Open doors’ often takes us to LGBTQ issues in the church, issues that are splitting –or, better, splintering—United Methodism. This is the issue that caused me to resign my 74+ year Methodist membership, counting from confirmation — and confirmation is the formation and foundation of the Christian Church. I’ll set those formidable issues aside; if you’re curious about my thoughts on LGBTQ issues and the Methodist Church, let me know and I’ll send you my three-page single-spaced letter to three Bishops, half-a-dozen District Superintendant’s, and over thirty-five Methodist preachers that I know personally (teaching at a Methodist university for over forty years has its price).

So, back to America as a Christian nation viewed with open hearts and open minds. In 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was the leading Christian minister in our country. In his most famous sermon, preached at Riverside Church in New York City one year to the day before his assassination, April 4, 1968, Dr. King identified the dominant values in America at that time. He called them the “giant triplets:” racism, greed, and violence. Not exactly Christian values. If King were around today I suspect he’d come up with the same three and say they have gotten worse. Let’s take up each dominant cultural value separately.

Part I: Racism. There’s no doubt that the Unites States of America was built with slave labor. Not only workers in cotton fields down south whose work made plantation owners very wealthy, but workers on government buildings too. Did you know that the US Capitol in Washington, DC, was built by slaves? Neither did I. That little detail was never mentioned in school when I was a kid. But, hey, I was a kid 65 years ago. Things are much better today, right? Well, I read in the New York Times this week that a committee of Texas educators who make recommendations for the state school curriculum of Texas have recommended that the word “slavery” be dropped from school textbooks and replaced with “forced relocation.” They’re serious! “Forced relocation” sounds nicer than “slavery,” but it conveniently neglects buying and selling people as property, forcing them to work without pay, breaking up nuclear families by selling off spouses and children so families wouldn’t become more loyal to one another than to their “master.” And they neglect the practice of outlawing teaching slaves to read so owners could perpetuate the lie that slaves were too stupid to read. Of course none of us owned slaves, and most of our ancestors didn’t own slaves, so why is this problem of historic exploitation any concern of ours? Because we have benefitted from it.

Remember the US Capitol built by slave labor? There are many more federal buildings, roads and bridges that were built by slaves. And we –by which I mean white folks– benefit, in many small ways: we get the benefit of the doubt when interacting with the police; we don’t get followed around stores by employees instructed to “keep an eye on us” for possible shop lifting; we don’t get suspicious looks if we’re standing on a street corner with a friend; we can watch a cab driver ignore a black person looking for a ride but will stop for us half-a-block away; people don’t assume we’re poor due to the color of our skin; we aren’t expected to explain and defend the behavior of every white person; no one assumes we are good at sports –or that we can’t swim or skate because of our color; we’re not expected to have rhythm because we’re white; we’re not black so people don’t assume we’re “shiftless and lazy,” poorly educated, a criminal, a drug dealer or unemployed. If we are recognized with an award, people don’t say it’s because of our race, or that we got a job or promotion because the employer was forced to hire us for our color. There are and many, many more of these “micro-oppressions.” They may seem small to us but they add up when you live with them every day.

Another form of American racism is how our ancestors treated Native Americans (some prefer to be called First Nation members, indigenous people, Indians, or by their own name for themselves in their own language, like Anishanabe, Lakota, Klinget, Haida and so on). Native Americans were pushed off their land to poorer and poorer land. Of course none of us stole Indian land nor did most of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Our ancestors homesteaded in government land rushes. Of course the land the government gave away wasn’t the government’s to give; it was taken from Native Americans. So, homesteaders received stolen property. Many of us, or our ancestors, inherited this land. It’s called “generational wealth” because subsequent generations get an economic head start, you did if you’ve ever inherited anything, and your kids will if you leave anything to them; that’s the point. The poor often stay poor generation after generation because they never have an economic base to start from. Many of us have benefitted from our government’s theft of native land.

What would a Christian value on racism look like? I think we know: Jesus elevated everyone to equal status with Jews — the chosen people — despite racial discrimination. That’s part of his point in the parable of the good Samaritan: a Samaritan, looked down upon by Jews, helps the robbed and beaten Jew left on the road half dead, even when other Jews walk by on the other side. Jesus instructs us to treat people equally, to reject and overcome the prejudices of society.

Speaking of equality, I read in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last week that a woman was denied her right to make a purchase at the Wallgreens drug store here in Hayward because the clerk’s Christian values wouldn’t allow him to cooperate with birth control. The woman wanted to buy condoms. The article reminded me of the cake decorator who appealed to his “Christian values” to refuse decorating a cake for a gay couple. Of course half a century ago some racists appealed to their “Christian values” to refuse service to black people at lunch counters, to deny black children to attend public schools and even to ban Blacks from using a “whites only” drinking fountain. Clearly “Christian values” can be perverted. We all know the Bible can be used to justify whatever we want. At the same time we know when Christian values are being perverted. Even segregationists knew racial segregation was wrong. Hate overwhelmed conscience.

Much more could be said about racism in America as contrasted with Christian values on racism, but let’s move on to greed.

Part II Greed. “The business of America is business.” We’ve all heard that statement. It seems true when we realize that most elected officials are more loyal to their financial supporters than to their constituents. We see greed everywhere: salaries for entertainers and professional sports players, compensation for CEOs of major corporations and so on. Ordinary people –even children— measure one another by their material status: Mr. Smith is “doing very well” means he has more than most: more money, a bigger house, better cars and clothes, etc. Those things are highly valued. Our culture teaches us to want more… and more. We learn to envy those “better off” than we are. Advertising works because of this envy: if we had that car, that outfit, that makeup or beer or whatever is advertised, then we would go up in status.; we would have more value. In America, often we are measured by what we have not who we are. Material things. Envy. Greed.

A few years ago Opera Winfrey sponsored a study relating happiness to income. The study found that people’s happiness grew as they left poverty and minimum wage jobs for higher paying work, but that happiness topped out at around $115,000 per year ($75,000 adjusted for inflation). People in households making more tended to be less happy; in fact, the larger their income above $115,000, the less happy they were. It turns out that being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Wealth comes with many headaches of various kinds. The main problem with greed is that greedy people never have enough. Happier — and wiser – people understand that the key to happiness is enjoying what we have rather than always wanting more.

What does Christianity say about valuing one another by the things we have, measuring one another by our net financial worth? Again, the answer is fairly obvious. Jesus tells the rich young man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor; then he will have treasure in heaven. And he says it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom. According to Jesus, it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to get into the Kingdom of heaven. Of course, this is usually dismissed by Christians. He didn’t really mean it; he was just emphasizing his point about the importance of moderating our wealth. Right.

Part III Now, what can we say about violence in America? There are two levels of violence: interpersonal and large scale. Concerning interpersonal violence we all know the heartbreaking levels of gun deaths in America. In our country we had 37,038 in 2019, the latest data available. Experts say it’s only gotten worse. Only 4% of US gun deaths are due to mass shootings; about 8% are accidental; nearly 20% are due to suicides; and roughly 70% –nearly 26,000 annually—result from homicide. To compare this with other countries we have to count deaths per 100,000 to be fair, since national populations vary widely. In the US, we have 12 gun deaths per 100,000 people. In Canada there are 2 per 100,000. Germany and New Zealand each have 1, and the United Kingdom has just .23 (one in 400,000). So, US gun deaths are six times that of Canada, 12 times Germany and NZ; and 48 times that of Great Britain. Part of this is explained by the fact that we have 120 guns per 100 citizens while Canada has 35 with most nations are under 2. So the US has 60 times the guns in the hands of citizens compared with most countries. Clearly, when it comes to gun deaths, we live in a violent society.

Regarding mass violence, the US military budget is $778 billion annually, $272 billion more than the next nine top military budgets combined and $526 billion more than our nearest competitor, China. And our military expenditures are $716 billion more than Russia (ranked 4th). Put another way, our military budget is more than twelve times that of Russia. When we count military bases abroad, the US has 51; the UK and France are next with 16; Russia has 8; and China and Canada, each have 4. Most of the nearly two hundred nations on earth have none. No wonder countries around the world think the US is out to dominate the world. In his farewell address in 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower – someone who knew something about military budgets — echoed Matthew 25 when he said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Ours is a violent country.

What have Christian values to say about violence? Again, I think we all know. Jesus was a pacifist. It is laughable to think of Jesus as a soldier much less of him holding an automatic weapon. Christianity was built on Jesus’ life, death, and teaching. Of course it would be a pacifist religion from the beginning. Regarding interpersonal violence, we all know Jesus counseled that if we are hit on one cheek, we should “turn the other cheek.” This has always been a well-known biblical reference, but in my Sunday school days, my confirmation classes, my 75 years of attending Christian worship services, my hearing dozens of Christian speakers, I almost never heard mention of “turn the other cheek.” It is as if Sunday school teachers, pastors and Christians in general deliberately avoid the subject…perhaps because they know quite well what it means and are afraid of its implications for their lives. A few years ago I was at a family celebration for Father’s day. At dinner I happened to be seated next to a very devout evangelical Christian. I asked him what he thought about Jesus as a pacifist and what it meant for Christianity. His reply? He said Jesus didn’t really mean it; he was just trying to emphasize the importance of kindness. I then asked whether that sort of kindness should be extended to enemies in war. He asked me to pass the salad. I asked again, this time about “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and he turned to talk to the person on his other side. I think he was surprised I could quote the Bible and too caught up in his own righteousness to give it much thought. So much for “Open Minds.”

To think about Christian values as they relate to large scale violence we need to know that Constantine, Emperor of Rome and its colonies in the fourth century, was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. At that point Christianity began leaving behind Jesus’ pacifism and the nonviolence central to the Christian Church for its first 300 years. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion, Christians could be soldiers and war could be accepted. Obviously, Constantine needed more troops, and he didn’t need opposition to his wars. In the subsequent history of Christianity, regarding mass violence the Church has been all over the place. The early Christian Church was pacifist for three centuries; the Medieval Christian Church fought holy wars trying to drive Muslims out of the Holy Land; and the contemporary Church accepts just war. Perhaps more accurately, the current Christian Church allows all three positions on the morality of war. The result is 1) a tiny minority of Christian pacifists, 2) a sizeable contingent of folks who accept holy war, extending it beyond Muslims and the Holy Land to most any enemy most anywhere, and 3) the majority of congregants embracing just war. This embrace of Christian Just War is why Billy Graham visited so many Presidents to pray with them on the brink of so many wars. It helped Presidents get approval from constituents in our Christian country. Clearly Presidents really didn’t want prayers or advice from Martin Luther King, Jr. on the brink of any of their wars; King was a Christian pacifist.

I have not shown how each of these “giant triplets” is connected to the others; I could, but we don’t have all day. One obvious example is the disproportionate rate at which police officers shoot unarmed black men compared with police officers shooting unarmed white men. Racism, greed and violence are inter-connected in many ways…but that topic is for another sermon.

Conclusion: Don’t you just hate it when you hear a depressing talk and you’re left with nothing to do to address the pressing issues? I do, so I’ll offer a few modest suggestions: I’d say read, listen, and think. Reclaim our history and become better informed on these topics. One way to do this is to consider joining, or at least sitting in on, a session of “Can We Talk About ______?” (fill in the blank), a zoom group Sandy started after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. We began as a discussion group but evolved into a social issues reading and discussion group. We read just a chapter a week. A dozen or so folks from HUMC have been meeting every week for two years, with Memorial Day to Labor Day off. If that’s not for you, read, listen and think on your own. I recommend reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, written “bottom up” with women, slaves, farmers, laborers, Native Americans, union organizers and others at the bottom of power structures telling their stories rather than the rich and powerful writing textbooks top down. We’ve spent our lives reading books authored by people at the top of most systems: the rich, the powerful, the advantaged, the connected. It’s time to hear other perspectives. Consider writing your government representative about any of these issues using what you’ve learned. Call out racist, sexist, homophobic comments –and any other cruel comments– when you hear them. Talk respectfully with your family and friends about these difficult issues, being careful to listen openly to their perspectives and not just lecture them with your views. But do share your views and your reasons and evidence for holding them, and ask for their views, their reasons and their evidence. We don’t and won’t all agree but we will all learn.

Oh, one more thing. I suspect some of you have been thinking, “Shouldn’t politics be left out of the church?” I agree. I only mentioned one political figure, President Eisenhauer, and othwise avoided mentioning office-holders, political parties or partisan politics. This is a Christian presentation based on Jesus’ own words. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, and generally follow the greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. If we do these things we will be doing God’s work as described in the Sermon on the Mount: we’ll be working to see God’s will done on earth. And we might move America a bit closer to being a Christian nation.

Duane Cady

Book Banning

Banning books is, once again, in the news. The current iteration, across many states, is likely a consequence of the public outcry over Critical Race Theory (CRT), even though most public enemies of CRT don’t understand what it is. In fact, calls to ban Critical Race Theory have become code for “disallow any and all school curricular materials that develop an accurate American history of slavery and treatment of people of color.” This means books must be banned.

The history of book banning is as long as the history of books. Advocates of banning this book or that typically have what they call reasons that would compel any thoughtful person to ban the book(s) in question. Having considered many such reasons, I have come to the conclusion that fear is the primary driver in book banning.

I suspect that those afraid are, for the most part, parents. For example, parents often fear that exposing their children to school studies that accurately explain slavery and the treatment of people of color in American history will lead their children to ideas on race different from their own. They wouldn’t want that.

Most parents objecting to teaching accurate information about the history of race in America would rather not think about these issues and they certainly don’t want their children raising questions about them. Such parents especially fear their children learning history that is at odds with what they, the parents, would rather believe. Teaching the history of race in America, and teaching it accurately, would make students uncomfortable. Even worse, it would make parents uncomfortable.

Why not pass laws that will not allow any school or teacher to teach anything that will make students uncomfortable? Why not ban books that explain the truth about slavery in America? Why not ban books that explain historical American treatment of people of color? Why not shelter our children from uncomfortable history? Why not teach that everyone in American is equal even though it’s not true?

If we don’t ban teaching students the truth about slavery and racism they might have compassion for victims of racial abuse. Students might think slaves and other people of color were treated badly. They might even think people of color are treated badly today. There are parents who wouldn’t want that.

Banning books that expose the truth about race in America is really about slowing or stopping students from learning the truth and thinking for themselves. Books are banned because they might challenge what we want to believe. They might open minds. They might even open hearts.

The biggest problem with banning books is that the next step is burning books. Taking the step after that means banning people. We know the step after that.

If we are to have democracy, if we are to have government of, by, and for its citizens, then ideas cannot be banned. Books cannot be banned. People cannot be banned. We cannot be led by fear. Democracy is about freedom. The truth shall set us free.

Henry Aaron…and Me

I was born and raised in Milwaukee. When I was almost 7 – in June of 1953— I went with mom, grandma and grandpa to my first professional baseball game. I think the Braves were playing the Phillies. Walking through the parking lot at Milwaukee County Stadium, on our way to the gate for our seats, grandpa asked me, “Who’s your favorite player?” My knee-jerk response: “Billy Bruton,” the speedster centerfielder. Grandpa turned to his daughter –my mom—and said, “twenty-five guys on the team and his hero has to be a N____r.” I asked mom, “what’s a N____r?” She said she’d tell me later. She never did.

I saw a couple of games the next year and still liked Bruton best. By then I was aware of “race,” probably because there were some black kids in my school and we played ball together during recess. I think the Braves had four black players in 1954: Bill Bruton, Wes Covington, Felix Mantilla and rookie Henry Aaron who joined the team after Bobby Thompson broke an ankle sliding. Aaron replaced Thompson in left field despite having been a shortstop with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro League and a utility infielder in the Major League Baseball minors.

I’m no expert on the details of Henry Aaron’s baseball career, but I remember following him when I was in grade school. I played shortstop for the Pike, a Lane School recess-league team. We won the school championship in 1955 when I was in fourth grade. I collected baseball cards passionately then and had all the Topps Braves cards in 1956. Then in 1957 Henry Aaron was MVP in the National League and the Braves beat the Yankees to win the World Series. Life gets no better for an 11 year old Braves fan. I didn’t know Warren Spahn and Joe Adcock were using the N word in the Braves clubhouse when Henry was present.

I was in college in Minnesota when the Braves franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966. Henry Aaron wanted to stay in Milwaukee. He was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and while in the minors he did a stint in the Southern Atlantic League where he was subject to the worst treatment of his life –constant racist taunts, being spit upon and having things thrown at him while on the ball field, and racial harassment off the field. The best ballplayer in the league couldn’t have a meal or stay in a hotel with his teammates. No wonder he didn’t want to move to Atlanta. He had lived with Jim Crow and preferred living in the north. As it turned out, Aaron moved with the team and was part of changing Atlanta during “the city too busy to hate” campaign. He not only helped make Atlanta a big league city with his bat, but he also worked in the Civil Rights movement –with Dr. King and others—to help undo legal racial segregation across the Deep South.

The closer Henry Aaron got to Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record the greater the number of hate letters and death threats he received. His hate mail peaked around 3000 letters per day by the end of the ’73 season; the death threats were highest during the off-season when Aaron was one home run behind the record 714. Obviously, many Babe Ruth fans did not want their hero surpassed by a black man.

About a dozen years ago, paring down my dad’s things as I helped move him to assisted living, I ran across a letter to dad from Henry Aaron. He was thanking dad and said that support from fans like him kept him going. Dad never mentioned writing Aaron or getting a letter back, but he saved Aaron’s letter for over forty years. Dad and I talked about it after my discovery. By then near ninety, he enjoyed the reminder. I framed Aaron’s letter to dad and gave it to my son Ton a few years ago.

p.s. My baseball cards? My folks found them in the mid ‘70s while cleaning out the house, preparing to move. They didn’t toss them out (whew!) but gave them back to me. I have since passed them on to son Ton who, by the way, was eleven when the Twins won the ’87 World Series. Ton’s favorite player was Kirby Puckett, another black outfielder…with a bat.

Plato on US Politics

A 2,400 Year-old Lesson We Should Learn

Everybody knows philosophy is useless. Philosophers have their heads in the clouds having nothing to do with events on the ground. Parents of university students want their kids to earn MD, JD, or MBA degrees, not a philosophy degree.

I have been teaching philosophy to undergraduates for over forty years. Current events call me back to Plato, the preeminent philosopher of the Western tradition, who lived in the fourth century BCE in Greece. Near the end of his most famous work, his Republic –well beyond where my students (and most readers) stop reading– Plato offers insights that would serve us well were we to take them seriously.

I’m referring to Plato’s description of five types of government: 1) rule by the best, 2) rule by those reputed to be best, 3) rule by the wealthy, 4) rule by democracy, and 5) rule by tyranny. He tells us that each type of government ultimately degenerates into the next, with each failure due to the very characteristics that define the failing government.

The most desirable government, ‘rule by the best,’ requires the most competent leader available, one with a strong sense of fairness and the good judgment needed to implement it. The best are hard to find but clearly serve the advantage of the governed, not themselves.

Unfortunately every government decays with time, even the best. The best leader gets old and dies. Historically it is not uncommon for the leader’s son to inherit rule, though the right to rule sometimes falls to a daughter, an assistant or a friend of the deceased ‘best’ ruler.

Rule by the best degenerates into rule by reputation. The new leader’s authority comes not by competence, fairness and good judgment, but by having been related to or associated with the best.

Of course rule by reputation deteriorates as well, this time into rule by the wealthy. How? Someone with enough money comes along and creates a reputation by purchase, that is, by buying and gaining influence simply by using wealth.

Rule by wealth deteriorates as well. The rich neglect the poor, the wealth gap widens and common people finally rise up against the wealthy few in charge. Democracy –rule by the people— emerges.

Plato tells us that democracy is the most beautiful form of government. Anyone can rule if elected and those who want no part of rule can avoid it. Freedom is the hallmark of democracy, and freedom is its undoing as well. Demagogues talk their way into office by convincing enough voters. They become autocratic tyrants by abusing their power, helping their friends and hurting their enemies, and by abandoning anyone who dares to disagree with them, even former friends and allies.

Descending from the clouds to the ground, we can apply Plato’s insights to our current situation. Who would suggest that our leadership is the best we can get out of three hundred and thirty million people? Our leader isn’t even second best, having no relationship to a former leader who may have been better. Third best? Maybe, given our leader’s alleged wealth. But the freedom of using wealth to secure power in our democracy has led to its decline. Democracy and its freedoms have descended into autocratic rule, that is, into tyranny. We have completed the descent. We can sink no lower.

Maybe philosophy isn’t useless after all.

Why Environmentalists Must Be Pacifists

Concerned Philosophers for Peace session
American Philosophical Association, Savanna, GA
January 4, 2018

Warism is taking war for granted as morally justifiable. It is an attitude, an assumed value position, a perspective through which the world, including relations of nations are understood. Warism strikes me as the primary obstacle to building a more peaceful world. While token efforts to justify particular uses of violence are routinely offered by government leaders and others, rarely does it occur to anyone that the institution of war – the persistence of nations constantly preparing for, practicing, threatening, and engaging in mass violence – itself needs moral examination. War is simply what nations do, and they devote much of their energy and too much of their resources to doing war well. Moral justifications for particular acts of war are offered, but war itself is simply taken for granted as morally justified, even morally required. The vast majority of people see the world through warist lenses.

Environmentalism is a perspective, outlook, or attitude as well. Environmentalists take nature to be of the highest value and are committed to minimizing human impact on nature, to maximizing sustainable and environment-friendly policies and practices, and to preserving the gifts of nature for future generations, human and non-human species. Just as with warism, there are varieties and degrees of environmentalism, but always environmentalists work to save nature from human degradation.

Warism and environmentalism are inextricably related. Taking war for granted is at odds with maximizing sustainable and environmentally friendly policies and practices. A generation ago, while offering a typology of positions on morality and war, I followed the lead of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and identified “ecological pacifism,” where moral concern goes beyond human immorality to fellow humans and considers wrong done to nature. Grounding moral opposition to war on likely consequences, the ecological pacifist shifts the focus from impact on humanity to impact on the environment. It’s bad enough that humans should kill one another; it’s worse that they should risk the extinction of the human species along with culture, other animal and plant species, and even life itself. This is what Jonathan Schell calls the “second death,” the extinction of a type of being beyond the death of a particular being. Aldo Leopold expresses the environmentalist value in terms of his land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.” The concern is not merely that humans suffer when the environment is abused, but that the environment itself has value beyond its usefulness to humans. Increasing awareness of our environment, its fragility, complexity, interdependency, and the likely irreversible environmental damage of war, all contribute to the case for ecological pacifism.

Conceptually, what have warism and environmentalism to do with one another? As it turns out, it is not possible to be anti-warist without being environmentalist, and one can’t be an environmentalist without becoming anti-warist. How so? For one thing, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) is the world’s single largest consumer of energy. Ninety-three percent of US Government energy consumption is military (Air Force 52%; Navy 33%; Army 7%). Energy consumption includes 30,000 gigawatt hours of electricity valued at $2.2 billion, enough to power 2.6 million average American homes. The DoD uses four billion six hundred million (4,600,000,000) US gallons (1.7 x 10 to the tenth liters) of fossil fuel annually, 12,600,000 US gallons per day. This data is from 2014; no doubt the numbers have increased since then. If the US Military were a country, fuel consumption would rank 34th, just behind Sweden.

To put this data in perspective, General Patton’s army in World War II consisted of 400,000 GIs and consumed 400,000 gallons of gasoline per day. In Iraq in 2005 we had one-third as many troops but consumed four times the fuel. Today’s B52 bombers each consume 3,300 US gallons per hour and a single F16 fighter uses 800 US gallons per hour. War and the tools of war consume more fuel than ever before, and consumption continues to increase. What’s more, according to Christopher Helman in Forbes magazine, “For the US military, more oil means more death.” And it is very expensive. While ordinary Americans pay $2.00-$4.00 per gallon for gasoline, US taxpayers pay $45.00 per gallon to purchase, deliver, and protect fossil fuels supplied to our military in war zones. This data, the most recent I could find, is more than eight years old. I fear that matters are now worse; although the relatively cheap fossil fuel of late has reduced expense, I suspect fuel consumption is up compared with eight years ago. And certainly the environmental cost is more significant than the financial cost.

The environmental impact of fossil fuel consumption is immense. While former Vice President Gore’s book and film, Inconvienent Truth, rightly call attention to the environmental crisis provoked by US fossil fuel consumption and ask all of us to reduce our carbon footprints (ironically, even peace and nature-minded philosophers fly or drive to conferences, even those focusing on the environment), yet the considerably more inconvenient truth – namely the role of our government and military in exacerbating the fuel crisis and resulting in serious environmental crisis – is downplayed while individuals are called to cut back on personal fuel consumption. The US is definitely a culture of individualism, but this problem is systemic.

Over twenty years ago I attended an environmentally-focused COPRED conference at the University of Denver. At a plenary session with a panel of experts and five-hundred attendees, an elderly gentleman chided the panelists from the back of the audience saying “Look at you hypocrites! You talk about protecting the environment but you sit here drinking water from Styrofoam cups!” The Director of the Colorado Environmental Protection Agency happened to be on the panel. His response: “You are misdirecting your criticism. We panelists are guests of the University. Whether any or all of us refuse to drink from Styrofoam cups would have a negligible impact on the environment. If you are serious in your criticism, you should direct your attention the University and ask policy makers to quit using Styrofoam, or lobby for Styrofoam restrictions with the city of Denver or the state of Colorado. The problem is systemic, but your objection is individual” (emphasis belongs to the speaker). I take some comfort in remembering this experience when my carbon-footprint-obsessed friends give me a hard time for flying to conferences or to visit my grandkids. My response to such criticism is to remind critics that the planes will fly whether I’m on them or not, that I favor high-speed trains to replace flight for domestic travel, and that I’ll be concerned about my personal carbon footprint when the US military reduces its carbon footprint since mine is nearly insignificant in comparison to theirs (which is exponentially bigger than mine).

The inextricable connection between the military and the environment doesn’t stop with fossil fuel consumption. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest producer of toxic waste and of toxic waste sites in need of clean-up as well. According to Bob Feldman in War on Earth, the US military generates 750,000 tons of toxic waste annually, more than the five largest US chemical companies combined, making the US military the world’s largest polluter. And this provides another inextricable link, this one between warism, environmentalism, and racism, since most toxic waste sites are on native American reservations or in major metropolitan areas typically among the urban poor who, in our country, tend to be people of color. What has come to be called “environmental racism” is, in fact, typically warist-based: by this I mean that environmental racism tends to be driven by warism. As long as the majority of Americans and the overwhelming majority of corporate and government leaders are warists, that is, take war for granted as morally justifiable and even morally required, so long will environmental degradation and with it environmental racism continue apace. This is because once war is considered justifiable, even required, then there is no price too high, financially or environmentally, to assure the security of national interests whatever and wherever they may be. How did JFK put it more than fifty years ago? “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” While these are cherished and inspiring words, surely they are dangerous encouragements to warism with disastrous consequences for human life and the environment.

Nine hundred of the Environmental Protection Agency’s thirteen-hundred Superfund sites are abandoned military bases or sites of military industrial manufacturing or testing. In 2008-09 the President’s Cancer Panel reported that half-a-million people may have consumed perchlorate-solvent-contaminated drinking water around US Marine Corps Camp Le Jeune in North Carolina between the late 1950s and the mid 1980s, perhaps helping to account for higher than usual rates of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects in the area. Twelve thousand US military live-explosive training sites release perchlorate into ground water. It is highly mobile and persists for decades. All types of baby formula are contaminated and perchlorate is not unusual in breast milk and urine throughout the US. Over half of all foods tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contain perchlorate.

The US Navy had a major explosives training facility on Vieques island in Puerto Rico for fifty-five years, withdrawing in 2003 under pressure from peace and environmental Non Government Organizations (NGOs) with the Fellowship of Reconciliation playing a leadership role. Those living on Vieques have a 27% higher rate of cancer and twice the risk of their children dying of cancer when compared with other Puerto Ricans. The abandoned training facility became a wildlife refuge, perhaps for political reasons and to spare the Navy the trouble and expense of cleaning up the site. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard recent television commercials encouraging travel to Vieques; their pitch is, irony upon irony, “environmental tourism.” Vieques became a wildlife refuge after its more than five decades as an explosives training facility – i.e., target practice firing range – largely because the task of environmental cleanup required to redevelop the island for housing or commercial use was staggering both financially and physically.

In the US there are 27,000 toxic hot spots on 8,500 military properties. Setting aside the exposure to military veterans and turning to people living within two miles of US toxic waste sites, the majority are people of color. According to the Commission for Racial Justice, African Americans are 79% more likely than whites to live near industrial pollution, and half of all native Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites, many of them military-related. Children of color living in poor areas are nine times more likely than economically privileged children to be exposed to lead levels high enough to cause learning disabilities and neurologic disorders. Ninety-six per cent of African American children living in innercities have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood.

I probably should apologize for including so much data in this paper; after all, facts are not often used in philosophical argumentation. I include these startling numbers because such data are so rarely cited and not part of general awareness nor involved in our cultural understandings of and discussions about protecting our natural environment. It may well be naïve on my part, but it seems that if such data were more widely known, conversations about the natural environment would more often include criticisms of war, weapons production, fuel consumption, and the inevitable toxic waste sites generated.

Somehow we separate moral considerations of the natural environment from moral considerations of war and preparation for war. My point is that these two sets of moral concerns cannot be teased apart; no matter how hard we try, they are inextricably entangled. We can address our environmental concerns only by engaging concerns about war and preparation for war, and we can address our concerns about war only by considering the inevitable environmental implications.

The argument here is simple and the conclusion unavoidable: if we care for the health and sustainability of Earth, then we have no choice but to oppose war and preparation for war, that is, we must become ecological pacifists. I understand that this is a very big, very bold “if.” I understand the logic of counterfactual conditionals. Were a public opinion poll to be taken pitting environmental values against military values (euphemistically called “national security” by mainstream media and consequently influencing public opinion), I suspect the military would gain more support than our natural environment. But, were pollsters to avoid emotively loaded euphemisms, poll results might be closer. I believe the gap has been closing on such comparisons over the past couple of generations; I only hope our planet can recover the damage already done when the scales finally tip in its favor.

It’s a pity that more of us don’t seem to care sufficiently about the health and sustainability of our natural environment –our home— so as to make the connections between our persistent preparations for and execution of war and their implications for our natural surroundings. We (i.e., the US) constantly prepare for and execute war as a matter of course and with greater frequency, intensity, and excess than any other nation on Earth does or ever has done. This is all the more reason for me to attempt directing attention to the above data and their implications. At this point I can only reiterate: if we care about the future and sustainability of our planet, then we must become pacifists, ecological pacifists at the very least. It will not solve all environmental concerns nor will it eliminate warism and war, but it is a step in the right direction.

Duane L. Cady
Hamline University
St. Paul, MN, USA

“Reality” Show Bully as US CEO

Americans are trying to figure out how to have a Happy New Year as the White House is about to be vacated by Michelle and Barack Obama. According to media reports, the new President and First Lady, Donald and Melania Trump, are not likely to live there. Rather, they’ll continue living in their penthouse apartment atop the Manhattan Trump Tower, keeping their son in his school in New York City. Dad will use the White House for ceremonial events, and the Secret Service will scramble to secure the new first family, in any of the Trump Towers they may occupy. So much for cost containment.

Many Americans are also trying to figure out what a Trump presidency will bring, especially since so much of the Donald’s campaign rhetoric turns out to be “inoperative,” as Nixon might say. Trump’s dismissive ridicule of women, physically impaired people, immigrants, even the Purple Heart and a Gold Star family, along with his reckless suggestions of expanding rather than contracting the number of nations with nuclear weapons, dishonest five-year “birther” campaign trying to discredit President Obama, bogus charitable foundation, and plan to put Secretary Clinton in jail, all fade with little accountability, rather like his campaign promise to force Mexico to pay for an impenetrable security wall along our shared southern border. Apparently there’s a gap between saying and doing.

A friend of mine has asked me how serious I am about considering a move to Canada, questioning my own election-season rhetoric. I jokingly reply that the Canadians may wall-off our shared border to the north, making my threat “inoperative” as well. Yet I was serious in considering a move to Vancouver: milder than the Twin Cities of Minnesota, closer to the Seattle branch of our family (including our grandchildren), and an opportunity to live where Prime Minister Trudeau is taking Canada in the opposite direction promised (or threatened) by Mr. Trump, a direction I can support with enthusiasm.

I came close to migrating to Canada once before, in 1968. I had applied to my local draft board for Conscientious Objector Status while in college, but my anti-war argument was dismissed. What I needed –and couldn’t provide– was a paper trail documenting active membership with the Society of Friends (“Quakers”), Mennonites, or the Church of the Bretheran, i.e., participation with a historic “peace church.” As a vague Methodist, my appeal didn’t stand a chance (even a serious Methodist wouldn’t qualify for CO status with my local draft board). A scar from leg surgery while in high school caught the eye of the military doc, so I was reclassified from 1-A to 4-Y, draftable to serve behind compat lines as a typist or clerk only under a declaration of war. Our country has fought many a war since WW II but never under a declaration of war. Now I could go to graduate school in the US rather than Canada. My somewhat arbitrary escape from the Vietnam war pushed me further into anti-war activism.

We need to remember that no one need renounce citizenship to become an expat, and many Americans feel a need to take a stand against the nastiness of the recent campaign and the throwback policies Trump seems to call for. Surely we can’t accept any and all political nonsense; we have to draw a line somewhere.

I don’t know whether I’ll be driven to find my way to Canada –or New Zealand, or Jamaica– to try daily living beyond Trump’s America, but I hope Americans won’t simply accept the shift from serious government to Bully-in-Chief or federal leadership as a reality TV show, with the ratings king at the top. With luck, Mr. Trump will be satisfied with having proven he’s “a winner” and bored with doing the hard work of governing. I’m sure he will not enjoy the pay cut and the required distance from his financial holdings, nor will his cabinet employees. I will not be surprised if
he doesn’t run for reelection; actually, he may be disgusted enough with DC gridlock to resign and leave us with Pence. Happy New Year?

Making Football Safe to Play

“Football is not a contact sport; it is a collision sport.” –Vince Lombardi

According to the NFL coach after whom the Super Bowl trophy was named, the essence of football, the heart, soul, and main attraction, is the collision. Every play of every game includes collisions, the pain involved, and the possible injuries caused. Some fans wonder if we are supporting an unacceptably dangerous form of entertainment, like boxing.

The NFL brings in $11 billion per year (yes, Billion) operating as a monopoly (it is exempt from anti-trust legislation). Commissioner Roger Goodell is reportedly paid over $35 million annually. Most NFL revenue comes from television contracts. College football also generates huge sums of money via television. Like prominent pop musicians, movie stars and others in the entertainment industry, top NFL players are paid millions of dollars annually and team owners operate with hundreds of millions each year. Much is at stake when considering the safety of the game. We might want to believe that the league would choose player safety over profits, but looking into the matter shows such wishful thinking to be naive.

I consulted “The Collision Sport of Trial” by David Maraniss in the February, 2016 issue of “The New York Review of Books.” Maraniss, a serious football fan, reviews four books and two films on the subject. I highly recommend not only his essay but a closer look at his sources for a sobering account of the dangers of playing football. Below you’ll find a brief overview.

“Concussion,” the Hollywood film, is based on a true story and stars Will Smith as the Pittsburgh pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu, working at the county coroner’s office, discovered a neurodegenerative disease in the brain tissue of deceased football players. It is known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). The film depicts the NFL response to Dr. Omalu’s findings: the league considers him a quack and his work to be bad science. The NFL formed its own study group (stacked with doctors affilliated with the league) with a goal of obfuscating the problem. One NFL report stated, “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.” In fact players endure thousands of such blows, some tens of thousands in long careers.

Chris Borland played one brilliant season as an inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. One newspaper labled him “the most dangerous man in football.” He retired in March, 2015, at age 24, after studying the long-term effects playing football could have on his brain. “I want to be seventy-five and healthy if possible” he told a documentarian. Borland suffered a concussion at training camp during his first season and from then on thought about retiring. He made his decision after reading LEAGUE OF DENIAL and consulting with a brain trauma expert at Boston University. By then there was no debate about CTE.

As it turns out, the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit filed by thousands of former players charging the league with a long-standing cover-up of what it knew about connections between traumatic brain injuries and football. The players settled for nearly $1 billion spread over twenty years but observers considered the award a win for the owners because in order to collect any money players had to waive their right of further legislation.

CTE cannot be diagnosed; only autopsies confirm the disease. Symptoms vary widely: depression, bursts of anger, varying degrees of dementia, loss of concentration, even suicide, and so on. Unfortunately, no helmet has been designed that can “effectively reduce the rotational acceleration, that sloshing within the head that’s happening in the brain itself.”

A few days ago I learned that my grandson’s soccer league had outlawed the header during practice and play in his league of 9 year olds. No doubt that “sloshing” of the brain within the skull can be provoked any number of ways even in non-contact sports. One can only hope such changes become increasingly common as responsible officials move to make sports safer for everyone. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the NFL. As with politics, money rules.

Hilary & Bernie

The national news media named Hillary Clinton the “presumptive nominee” of the Democratic Party for US President on the eve of the California primary, amid questions of journalistic ethics violations. Did the announcement affect the outcome with some Sanders’ supporters not voting because they were told the race was over? We’ll never know.

The national media’s decision to “call” the race for the nomination before the single largest delegation was chosen by voters surprised only the most rabid Sanders supporters. After all, HRC was anointed “presumptive nominee” by the media years ago. Few expected a serious challenge, and the press, TV news, radio, and internet journalists all repeated frequently that Sanders had no real chance. Did this affect the outcome? Certainly. Why vote for a symbolic candidate interested in raising economic and moral concerns only to push the inevitable nominee to address such issues?

Hillary ran as the candidate who could “get things done” and painted Bernie Sanders as a naive idealist. But Bernie appealed to four out of five millennials who are, after all, the future of the party and the nation. So HRC stressed her experience and her practicality while Bernie stressed Hilary’s connections to big money from Wall Street banks and to establishment politicians like Henry Kissinger.

Of course Hillary Clinton’s now official run for the White House is historic; few women have been candidates for the presidency, and none has been a major party nominee until now. Lost amid gender politics is the historic significance of Sander’s achievement: an aging Socialist jew winning twenty-two states and 12,000,000 votes in primaries, and running very near to Clinton (except for Super Delegates), despite her longstanding hold on this opportunity to represent her party and, perhaps, become the first woman president of the US.

It was the polling of Super Delegates that generated the early call of the nomination, since Super Delegates don’t participate in the process until the party convention. By design, Super Delegates protect the party from being hijacked by an outsider. And Sanders, a socialist-independent, certainly is an outsider to the Democratic Party’s system of nomination despite caucusing with Democrats in the Senate. No doubt some in the GOP will be thinking about reforming their nomination process given the outsider, Donald Trump, beating a dozen establishment Republicans to take that party nomination.
Many dedicated Clinton supporters are clammoring for Bernie to concede the race and go away. But Hillary herself took four days to concede to Obama in 2008, hoping to broker a deal for influence going forward. Sanders has earned his right to take his time in an effort to push the political pendulum to the left. After all, it was Hillary’s husband Bill who stole the Republican agenda from Newt Gingrich and swung the Democratic Party to the right of Richard Nixon (who ran on a negative income tax in 1968, something no candidate could do today).

We do live in interesting and historic times. When the dust settles, most Sanders supporters will vote for Hillary, and Bernie will not run as an independent, his most rabid enthusiasts notwithstanding. I expect millennials to vote — for Clinton — though not with the same enthusiasm Sanders inspired. And I expect Trump to dig as much dirt as he can — even invent some if necessary — and present a “scandal” in mid-to-late October, too late for effective fact-checking and thoughtful consideration. Let’s hope the system, while badly bent out of shape, is not sufficiently broken to prompt an exodus for Canada in the face of President Trump.

Eyes on a Different Prize?

Among the most engaging and disturbing articles I’ve read lately is “The Anger of Ta-Nehisi Coates” in the February 11, 2016 issue of The New York Review of Books. Darryl Pinckney, novelist and longtime contributor to the NYRB, reviews Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and compares his work to that of Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, mentioning W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. along the way.

Pinckney offers a disturbing analysis of the black struggle in the US as dualistic, expressing “opposing visions of the social destiny of black people. Up, down, all or nothing, in or out, acceptance or repudiation.”(p. 28) Sadly, Coates, reflecting on his father’s “prodding sense that he was seen as less,” seems to be landing on the side of expecting little, certainly not expecting the transformation in race relations that was the prize eyed by SCLC, SNCC, and the ‘60s civil rights legislation, namely, to be judged not on skin color but on character. To Coates father, Gandhi was absurd because “America was not a victim of great rot but the rot itself.”(p. 29) So much for nonviolent social change in the US.

Coates was born in 1975 and grew up forced to study works of black history. But it was rap music that moved him to consciousness at twelve. He tried writing rap and found himself. What mattered to Coates in high school: “girls, clothes, the mall, territory, styling, fights, gangs, homies, reputation, staying alive in West Baltimore, and the music. Black male adolescence had its soundtrack.”(p. 29) When he got in trouble in school, his dad came to school and knocked him down. Better than leaving it to the police, his dad told his mom.

Coates says he hadn’t noticed how different his family was. He was surrounded by fatherless friends, many getting locked up, shot, or on crack. He admits being haunted by his father’s generation. He knows his son is growing up in a different world, yet “there is no difference between him and Trayvon Martin as a youth at risk because he is black in America. His body is not his own; it is not secure. He can be destroyed by American society and no one will be held responsible.” (p.30)

Coates is convinced that progress for whites was at the expense of blacks. With DuBois he sees race as “the child of racism, not its father.” Noting that the Irish were once socially black in America –that is, at the bottom – becoming “white” changed class conflict for them. Anyone allowed to join “white” people could conveniently forget the slavery system on which the country was founded, with its suffering, theft, and death. The American Dream rests on centuries of rule by fear, black families not included in government by the people.

Coates imagined the American Dream to be “out there” in suburbia with its “unworried boys” and somehow connected to his fear. And Coates tells us those who believe in the American Dream must believe that it is just, and that those who achieve it do so as “the natural result of grit, honor, and good works…and must “look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, not forged overnight.”(p 30) Coates wants his son’s life to be different from his, wants him to live without the fear Coates has known, but is hurt by his son’s reaction to the news that no charges will be brought against Michael Brown’s killer in Furgeson.

Yes, race is a social construction; still the damage of racism runs deep. Critics of Between the World and Me have said that Coates offers no hope, that he is resigned to history. While Baldwin calls on free people to celebrate the constancy of birth, struggle, death, and love, Coates seems to see all of us at the mercy of historical forces unable to shape the future. And now American Dreamers are exploiting “not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.”(p. 30)

Is it too late to expect a better future? Is social hope foolishness? Is escape the best we can do, escape into resignation, our writing, the internet, or cynicism? I suppose if we expect the worst we’ll not be disappointed. Still, I’m grateful for Hughes, Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, Gandhi, Malcolm X, King, and Coates. Shining a light on racism gives me a glimmer of hope even if Coates finds none, but that may only reflect my “race” privilege.