One of the most eschatological and hopeful prophetic oracles in the Hebrew Bible is found in the fourth chapter of Micah. It speaks of the world being transformed into an abode of divine will and justice and of a confluence of nations. One recent meeting point for nations, however, seems to be radically different from Micah’s vision.
The current development of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter aircraft, spearheaded by the United States, is co-sponsored by funding from the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway (after “forceful diplomacy”), and Turkey (with Security Cooperative Participation by Israel and Singapore and possible future investment by Japan).
The airplane, in the words of one senior U.S. defense official, will be “the most stealthy, sophisticated and lethal tactical fighter in the sky.” Andrea Shalal-Esa of Reuters reported on February 26, 2012 that the cost to the United States of developing and maintaining the planned fleet of 2,443 F-35s is now estimated to be $1 trillion (that’s a one with twelve zeroes, roughly 10% of the current U.S. national public debt).
The U.S. could spend one trillion dollars to replace the aging F-15s and F-16s (interestingly, the U.S. plans to sell about the same number of its old F-15s to Israel as it does to Saudi Arabia in order to maintain a power balance in the Middle East).
But my primary concern is not geopolitical but theological. It is true that I as a taxpayer strongly feel that my money could be better spent on constructive rather than destructive projects, but I as a Christian am alarmed at this aggressive military spending.
Perhaps my two concerns overlap. Somewhere between 20% and 56% of American taxpayer dollars go to military spending every year, so as a taxpayer I can wonder whether my money can be better spent. As a Christian, however, I wonder whether this funding contributes to or takes away from Micah’s dream. Yes, the F-35 is an international project. Yes, Micah 4 notes that the coming eschaton will feature the congregation of “many nations.” But what will those nations be doing together? Will they be NATO forces developing joint military superiority over the rest of the world? No, in fact, the most obscure and impotent of nations and peoples will be involved: “On that day, says the Lord, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted. The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation” (Micah 4:6f.).
What exactly will these nations be doing when they meet? Concocting new military technologies? Projecting potential or minor force so as to deter total war? No: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3b).
They will no longer learn war. No more “speak softly and carry a big stick.” No more “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” No more “the best defense is a good offense.” No more nuclear deterrence through having the bigger arsenal. No more standing armies. Nations will not learn war. They will not train soldiers. They will not participate in arms races. And they certainly won’t spend a trillion dollars on an airplane whose ultimate purpose is to vanquish human life.
A video retrieved from the U.S. Air Force’s website boasts that “the F-35 will be extremely lethal” and will be “hard to find, hard to hit, and hard to kill.” This leads me to wonder about the underlying anthropology. In one sense, the plane is a machine which can project enormous force against human targets. But in another, the plane itself is anthropomorphized – “hard to kill” is hardly the language that one would use with, say, a toaster. Is this a machine whose purpose is to kill humans? The dystopics might be more prescient than we might like…
From a geopolitical standpoint, the plan to distribute this advanced weapon around the world is rather shortsighted. It is a historical fact that today’s friends easily can become tomorrow’s enemies, as evidenced by American alliances with the USSR and China during WWII against countries like Germany, Italy, and Japan.
The 1988 tragic incident in which an American Navy cruiser accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 with 290 civilians onboard would not have unfolded if the U.S. had not sold 80 F-14 fighters to the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force in 1974. And national interests notwithstanding, the appeasement of Saudi Arabia (and Lebanon) mentioned above shows that the U.S. is willing to contribute to an arms race in a foreign region in exchange for financial and security compensation.
But the short-term economic gains of Lockheed Martin are not the only set of blinders on this project. After all, the debate within military budgetary circles is not about whether or not to spend this money, but whether to spend this money on the F-35 or on a bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons against the People’s Republic of China.
Still, my theological question has less to do with the pragmatic implications of an arms race and more to do with Micah’s hope for a world in which the nations will no longer even learn war. Joel’s bellicose “beat your plowshares into swords” becomes Isaiah’s “beat your swords into plowshares” in the realization of the beatific vision, the coming of the Kingdom of God, the unfolding of the ultimate divine will.
The idea (propagated during and before the Cold War by political theorists like Bernard Brodie, Philip Gold, and William Morrisey) that the best way to ensure world peace is to balance military powers is simply incommensurate with Micah’s vision. Furthermore, the development of the F-35 does not even comply with the “just war” principle of proportionality (insisted upon by St. Thomas Aquinas in his argument for jus in bellum).
The F-35 would have no equal, no rival, no neutralizer. It is simply a trillion dollar weapon which furthers American military global superiority and which therefore does not contribute in the least to the prophetic call to learn war no more. Some might argue weakly that it is a defensive weapon. Others might concede that it is an offensive weapon. But either way it is a weapon, and an expensive weapon as such.
To invert the most oft-cited passage from Micah, the F-35 demonstrates neither justice, nor kindness, nor humility.