Our Greatest Enemy

No hate can hurt, no foe can harm, as hurts and harms a mind ill-disciplined.  -Buddha

No nation in the history of the world spends more on defending itself than the United States.  According to the Defense Department, the U.S. will expend $687 billion in 2013 on the military, with an additional $54 billion for intelligence agencies.  Without exaggeration, and without counting the specific costs of war (which are not part of the defense budget), we can say that the United States will pay out nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars in ne year on efforts to protect ourselves from enemies, real and perceived.

Do Americans feel safer?  Indications are that we do not.  58% of Americans expect another world war within the next forty years, and 53% expect a nuclear attack by terrorists.  Even though the U.S. budgets 33% more on national security than the next nine nations combined, Americans obviously still feel insecure.

The same is true on a personal level.  According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, even though Americans are only 5% of the earth’s population, we possess one-half of the planet’s available guns.  As of 2009, there were 310 million privately-owned firearms in the U.S., enough to provide one for every man, woman, and child.  To keep up with demand, we have 5,400 licensed gun manufacturers

Do Americans feel safer?  It doesn’t appear so.  54% of Americans think that every school in the nation should have an armed guard to protect their children.  South Dakota just joined the eighteen states that allow teachers to carry handguns in classrooms.  As far as I know, no other nation on earth has expressed a need to arm teachers or post armed guards in every public school.  But that is apparently a description of the American psyche.

Despite our bluster, Americans are a fearful bunch.  We don’t trust each other any more than we trust outsiders.  Gun ownership increases as the number of hunters decreases.  We aren’t buying guns to bring home a deer for the freezer; we’re buying guns because we’re afraid someone will steal the freezer and kill us in the process.  The NRA slogan, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” could easily be made the national motto, replacing “In God We Trust” on our currency. Americans seem to think Smith and Wesson is more reliable than God.

At the same time, what a price we pay.  Actions based in fear are rarely wise.  They tend to be hasty, reactionary, and bring consequences that cannot be undone.  The national response to 9/11 is an example.  We embarked on two wars, causing the deaths of tens of thousands, spending trillions of dollars, sending our debt through the roof, cutting programs that help our own citizens, while achieving negligible results.  Nearly twelve years later, we are still fighting in Afghanistan, and supporting a corrupt government, whose national economy is driven by war spending and heroin production.  The Taliban still exist; Iraq is a murderous mess; and national anxiety has not appreciably diminished.

On a more personal level, our fear-driven obsession with guns results in one of the highest homicide rates among modern societies.  Japan, which bans private ownership of handguns, had a total of seven gun murders in 2011.  In the U.S., there were 8,583.  The son of nationally-known pastor Rick Warren was able to commit suicide last week, with a gun purchased online, no questions asked, replicating a pattern found throughout our society. 

Americans like to say they have a constitutional right to own and use guns.  That also means we have a constitutional right to suffer the consequences of poorly disciplined minds.  Our society is a living example of Buddha’s maxim.  People controlled by anxiety and fear have themselves to fear most of all, because peace and contentment will always be out of reach.  As Pogo once famously declared, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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