Rendering Too Much to Ceasar

Aaron B. O’Connell is an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer.  His op-ed in the November 5, 2012 New York Times, titled “The Permanent Militarization of America,” warns that America has not heeded the warnings of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his famous speech regarding the “military industrial complex.”  We have become a nation of perpetual warfare, and unquestioned support of the military has become the “third rail” of politics.  He writes of his students:

Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.

Regarding the spiritual impact of militarization, Mr. O’Connell writes:

But Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever. Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland” and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas. Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution — particularly one financed by the taxpayers — should be immune from thoughtful criticism.

I began including Lord’s Day prayers for loved ones in military service shortly after 9/11.  As a child of the Viet Nam era, I wanted to be sure that, in a time of national crisis, we did not demonize those who serve in uniform.  Then came the invasion of Iraq, which I felt was unjustified.  To me, it didn’t matter that I did not support that war.  I felt it was pastorally appropriate to pray for those in danger.

I have become increasingly uncomfortable with that long list of names of military personnel we print in the bulletin every Sunday.  What began as concern for those in harm’s way has become, I fear, an endorsement of perpetual war.  I still want to pray for those in danger, but I wonder if I have unwittingly undermined the Gospel’s message of peace.

I’m open to suggestions.  Is there a better way to pray for those we love without endorsing the increasing militarization of our nation?