This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Cost of War: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.
Cyneatha Millsaps is a co-pastor of Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana and executive director of Mennonite Women USA. She has previously served with Mennonite Central Committee as a Great Lakes program director for various social justice initiatives and is a community activist and advocate on the needs of women and children in the areas of violence, education and spiritual development. She and her husband Steven have seven children and 22 grandchildren.
My niece is re-enlisting in the United States Army for another six 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 provides 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 seven 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 people 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.
Mennonite Church USA invites you and your congregation to get involved in the Cost of War: Learn, Pray, Join initiative as one way to reinvigorate our collective voices against the destructive powers of militarism.
Join in prayer responding to the Cost of War, by Amy Yoder McGloughlin:
Spirit of Life,
you inspire and compel us towards creative peacemaking.
Move us beyond our confessions, into creativity.
Move us beyond our guilt, into inspiration.
Move us beyond our shame into a fuller vision of shalom for your world.
Move us into being
creators of peace in our communities,
co-conspirators of wholeness in our churches,
accompaniers of peacemaking efforts on the borders,
and in places of international conflict.
Find the full prayer, upcoming webinars and ways to get involved at www.mennoniteusa.org/ministry/peacebuilding/learn-pray-join/cost-of-war.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.