Immediately, I think of the much-ballyhooed platitude to all challenges to military action: “It’s a dangerous world out there.” And, to be sure, the world is dangerous, as I’m sure the Egyptian protesters will attest. But the fact that we live in a world wrought with danger does not justify our seemingly unquenchable thirst for a larger and larger military. And I do not make these statements because I harbor moral objections to military action. I recognize that violence, or the threat of violence, can sometimes stop worse crimes against justice from happening. What I am asserting is much more practical. The use of military violence does not move the world closer to achieving justice—either moral or economic. More seriously, it also diverts much needed attention and resources away from the pursuit of justice. One need only look at recent American history to see this effect.
Republicans and Democrats continue to argue about the size of government and the cost. The bottomline is this, however: the end of the Clinton era demonstrated that a government that operates within its budget is a good thing; a government that does not continue to rob from social security is a good thing. Another simple historical truth is this: after 9/11 this country lost all sense of perspective. We have let a group of Islamic radicals dictate government policy, getting us involved in two wars and spurring us to create a huge National Security apparatus with massive increases in defense spending and the formation of Homeland Security.
We are in a budget crisis. We are also, however, in a psychological crisis. Even as we created a budgetary nightmare, we want to pretend that our ideologies can not change. We pretend that we can continue to spend on everything, cut taxes for everyone, and shop.
It’s time for our leaders to get real. It’s time for our leaders to cast off the magical thinking that has gripped this country for the last decade and beyond. Yes, we need to cut spending. Yes, cutting spending will cost jobs. Yes, there are alternatives. We need leaders who are willing to redefine America. A Global Empire is unsustainable. In other words, it costs more than in creates.
People everywhere want their freedom. They do not want to live under the shackles of empire, no matter how wonderful that empire is or thinks itself to be. It’s time for a change we can believe in, but that change must begin with the assertion of a different belief in ourselves. It must begin with a redefining of ourselves, our purpose in the world, our mission in the world. If non-violence is the truth for the Egyptians, then—by God—it’s the truth for Americans as well.
Robert Michael Oliver