Question: Military Creates Peace

My niece is reenlisting in the United States Army for another 6 years. Why? Her number one reason is peace. Peace of mind and security. 

My niece tells me there is nothing in the civilian space that can provide the lifestyle she has as an officer in the army. She has a job, housing, financial resources, and travel perks. The army doesn’t afford her a lavish lifestyle, but it provide a safe, peaceful, and interesting one. Because her basic needs have been met, my niece no longer worries about food, clothing, or shelter. She is required only to do her job and stay physically fit. Beyond that, her life is her own.

During her first 7-years with the military, she has traveled to more than 10 different counties. She told me that the opportunity to travel is alone worth enlisting. Outside of the military, young people growing up in poverty rarely get to see the world beyond their immediate communities. The army opens the world to them and provides a new and expanded worldview.

My niece has never set foot in a war zone. While she can be called to any location at any time, being sent to war has not been a major concern of hers. Part of that might be because her hometown in the U.S. is more violent than anywhere she has been stationed.

The United States loses more people to homicide on our own soil than soldiers to violence abroad. In 2018 alone, the United States recorded more than 18,000 homicides. In the years 2006–2020, approximately 17,650 active-duty soldiers died while serving in the armed forces. Of those, only 26% died while serving overseas in military operations.

So how do we Mennonites—traditionally anti-military—address the fact that, for many recruits, the military is their only option for peace? If we seek to direct young people away from enlisting, we need to provide them with viable options for achieving economic and physical security at home.

Though the military has worked for her, my niece says that she would prefer civilian life. While it is changing, the military is still very much a white man’s world. It has a long way to go before people of color, women, and LGBTQ persons feel seen and valued as equals.  She would not advise them to enlist.

At the same time, the military provides stepping stones for those lacking resources to succeed otherwise. The first stepping stone is economic. To hook recruits, the military offers bonuses ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Such a financial boost is a big benefit to people living in poverty. The second stepping stone the military offers is education. Soldiers are able to receive college or other education while serving, enabling them to return home more qualified for jobs with a living wage.

The third stepping stone the military provides is discipline. When she enlisted, my niece was an angry young woman whose life wasn’t going anywhere. Largely because a Black, female officer took her under her wing, she endured the demands of the military and learned the discipline she needs to succeed.

My niece believes that the military will be many young people’s most logical road to peace until civil society offers those three stepping stones: economic security, good education, and healthy discipline. We Anabaptist Christians who oppose military service in the name of peace must consider what peace means and how to offer young adults different means of attaining it. Until we offer another way of peace for those fleeing the violence of poverty, the military will continue to attract them.

8 thoughts on “Question: Military Creates Peace

  1. Patricia Hershberger on said:

    Your niece is correct. these are the benefits for a young person who does not have other good and reasonably easy options. if we in this historic peace church want to provide any opportunity for our youth in less privileged places, it mean MONEY! How can we provide the education and housing needs on our college campuses? are there other programs that can do this, or what can we imagine what can do this.

  2. Basic security, a job that challenges but rewards, respect, and a living wage. These things must exist in the pipeline of our kids’ lives if they can consider options other than the military. But it breaks my heart that so many youth need the discipline of the military. Schools and jobs cannot offer that kind of discipline that leads to self discipline. It’s frustrating. Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. Edith Shenk Kuhns on said:

    Thank you for laying this out so succinctly for us basically uninformed Mennos. A way out of poverty, a way toward education, discipline and peace. How can we build bridges that lead to another way of peace?

  4. Marian S Hostetler on said:

    Cynthia, your well-stated point shows again that being “against” something does often not bring about the desired end result. It’s easy to quickly condemn something, but providing an alternative answer takes more of us than we are willing to give. Thanks!

  5. Dave Hockman-Wert on said:

    This is an excellent, challenging article, Cyneatha. This phenomenon (the fact that the military provides the best option for many young people to gain resources and training and find fulfillment) has been a thorn in my pacifist side for at least 30 years now, ever since a close friend made basically the same argument your niece made here. AmeriCorps and Peace Corps offer non-military national service options, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t provide as much financial or logistical support as the military. Given the difference in resources between the US military and MC USA, it’s unlikely the playing field will ever change entirely. However, if we are serious about wanting to be people of peace, it seems to me we should at least commit as many resources as we feasibly can to provide substantial, viable alternatives to military service, at least for youth in Mennonite churches. If/when we are able to do that successfully, maybe we can consider expanding this to those outside of our churches, but we could at least start with those in our midst. That alone will be a huge challenge. Thanks for reminding us of this reality.

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