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In Theory: Does military spending betray America's religious ideals?

July 18, 2013

America spends more on its military than any other country. U.S. military spending in 2012 was $682 billion, which is $516 billion more than incurred by China, the next biggest spender. This means the U.S. has the most technologically advanced and best-equipped armed forces in the world.

Attempts to cut the military budget are usually met with protest. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently warned Congress not to cut spending by $52 billion for the 2014 budget, citing "severe and unacceptable effects on the U.S. military" if the cuts were imposed.

Q: With America being a mainly Christian country, is there a disconnect here between following the teachings of Jesus and at the same time spending huge amounts on armaments?

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As a rabbi, I can share the Jewish view on this important topic. The Torah, in several passages and using various phrases, commands us to "love our neighbor as ourselves," pursue peace and avoid belligerence. The ancient prophets as well as our sages throughout time emphasize the importance of peace and stress that it is a central tenet of a divine way of life. We are even taught that God himself is called peace.

Yet, this very same Bible also teaches us that: "If someone is coming to kill you, arise and kill him first." It is understood that although we are required to go to great lengths to uphold peace, ultimately, it cannot come at any cost. If the cost of peace would mean my demise and the triumph of evil, then I am required to don my battle gear and wage war, no matter how repellent that may be.

The United States is the only country in the world today that has the overpowering might to stand as a bulwark against all-out bloodshed and war in many parts of the world. The sad reality is that there is a dark and sinister shadow created by a host of ruthless dictators and repressive governments around the globe. If we disarmed, madmen such as Kim Jong Un of North Korea or Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, would pounce on us or our allies at the first opportunity. If we let our guard down for even a moment, strongmen like Vladimir Putin of Russia would inevitably find a way to launch aggression somewhere in the former Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

I'm certain that no person of good conscience is happy with the vast amount of money that we are forced to spend on armaments. But so long as our world is populated by unscrupulous people who would do us harm, this is a moral necessity which we need to maintain.

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