President Trump delivered a speech on Monday night that broadly unveiled his Afghan war strategy. The war has lasted almost 16 years, the longest war in U.S. history.
In his speech, Trump stated that, “We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.”
This statement caught my attention because it’s partly true, but its partial truth makes it dangerously false. As my colleague at the Raven Foundation Lindsey Paris-Lopez recently stated, “There have been times when President Trump has said true things, things that I believe need to be said, in service to a larger point that is the complete opposite of the point I wish to make.”
Trump’s comment is true because peace in the United States is connected to peace in the world. Peace is always interconnected. But the statement is dangerously false because the United States does not “remain a force for peace in the world.” It’s time for us to admit that we remain a force of violence. And because of that, we will not have peace with each other; we will only have more violence.
You may not have heard, because the mainstream media actually doesn’t cover this, but the U.S. led coalition in the War on Terror has terrorized countless civilians. As a candidate, Trump delivered a speech about ISIS and promised that he would “bomb the sh*t out of them.” Tragically, President Trump has bombed the sh*t out of innocent civilians. The Daily Beast reports that,
As of July 13, more than 2,200 … civilians appear to have been killed by Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration.
During the last few days, and while Trump delivered his speech about the U.S. being a force for peace in the world, U.S. airstrikes killed dozens of civilians in Raqqa, Syria. Tragically, in many instances ISIS fighters are using civilians as human shields. Civilians told Amnesty International that they feel like they are caught in a “deadly labyrinth” of violence from all sides. Amnesty also reports that despite ISIS using civilians as shields, “most of [the] civilian casualties from the U.S.-led coalition were because the ammunition being used was not precise enough and had wide-impact radii.”
The reason Trump’s logic about peace fails is because you can’t bring peace by bombing the sh*t out of anyone. Bombs don’t lead to peace. As René Girard, the great commentator on violence, explained in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World that “all violence has a mimetic character” (pg 198). The word mimetic essentially means non-consciously imitative. Violence begs for violence in return. In other words, violence can never be contained because it spreads like a contagious disease.
Like all the presidents before him, Trump believes that American violence is a force for peace. Yet the U.S. has been involved in wars for roughly 93% of its history. It’s time we realize that violent wars don’t bring peace. Since violence is mimetic, all they do is sow the seeds for revenge. The more we kill, the more we create the next generation of terrorists.
Our violence abroad is connected to our violence at home. President Trump also said in his speech on Monday that, “When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate.” But for Trump, American patriotism is connected with American militarism and a passion for war in order to protect the United States. War dehumanizes the “other.” That passion infects our nation with prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. And so it ignites the world with violence and inflames violence at home.
But with this logic, in order to “protect America” we need to have an enemy to protect ourselves against. It doesn’t matter who the enemy is. It could be Muslims or Mexicans or North Korea or China or ISIS or the media or transgender soldiers or Republicans or Democrats or the 99%. It doesn’t really matter who the enemy is, as long as we have an enemy to protect ourselves from and unite ourselves against.
Trump’s list of enemies that threaten the United States is always in flux, moving from one enemy to the next. This creates a sense of paranoia and leads to scapegoating minority groups. Like violence is mimetic, paranoia is also mimetic. The claim that there are foreign enemies out to get us cannot be contained. It drives paranoia here at home. It creates divisions and makes it more difficult to build trust and compassion.
The point is that American faith in violent wars to bring peace in the world models faith in violence among our citizens. Violent means will never bring a peaceful end. Only peaceful means will bring a peaceful end.
To truly be a force for peace begins with being honest about our violence. We should no longer hide the disastrous consequences of our violence abroad under the banner of being a “force for peace.” The United States needs to be up front about the fact that we are killing innocent civilians and fomenting paranoia.
Despite the fact that countless Muslims do denounce terrorism, President Trump demands that Muslims denounce “Islamic terrorism.” But Trump should be honest about our violence. Instead of claiming to be a “force for peace in the world,” he should denounce American militarism and terrorism that kills innocent civilians. He should repent of that violence. In doing so, he would model a path to true peace in the world and at home.
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