“War, What is it Good For?”

“War, What is it Good For?”


The famous antiwar refrain to the 1970 song entitled, “War,” used as a title above, provides its own answer: “Absolutely nothin’!” Edwin Starr, who recorded that version of the song, continued to sing it through the years because he wanted such conflict to cease.

War indeed represents one of the most controversial and complex moral issues of this age, and I wish that solution was as simple as the song’s declaration. Winning and losing military battles create extraordinary costs; namely, human loss of life, economic hardship during and for the years that follow hostilities, and the loss of security. Consider events in recent days.
A current example
The horrific scenes of the October 7 brutality spread like wildfire across social media when terrorists from Hamas poured into Southern Israel in an early morning surprise attack. Within hours, hundreds of innocent men, women, and children were tortured, raped, murdered, and in many cases, brutalized. Israel subsequently declared war and has been retaliating against Hamas strongholds within the Gaza Strip. Among the 1300 lives lost in the initial attack, only 276 were Israeli soldiers. This casualty number means that more than 80% of the losses in the assault were civilians.
There also were early reports that 1500 Hamas terrorists along with 2670 civilians were killed by the Israeli army. An estimated 1000 more were believed to be buried beneath rubble following the bombings of suspected terrorist targets. The longer and wider Israeli goal to eliminate Hamas will greatly increase the number of lives and property lost. Truly, wars also exact a costly toll in terms of lost human lives, badly shaken economies, and a lingering threat to security within weakened, war-ravaged nations.
Human costs in lives lost
Conservative estimates claim that 432,000 civilians have been killed in wars since the turn of this century, and another 3.6-3.8 million people have died indirectly in post 9/11 war zones. The total death toll is at least 4.5-4.7 million people.

By comparison, Atlanta, Georgia has 507,000-plus citizens living with its 137-square mile boundary. The wider Atlanta metro area has 6 million in population. The losses created by war are equivalent to the entire city of Atlanta and 1/2 of its metro area being killed in wars since the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Furthermore, deliberate violence against civilians by warring factions is a growing trend with its genocide, terrorism, and blatant human rights violations (90% of war deaths are non-combatants). There are further costs.
Economic costs of war
War is deeply embedded in the world’s economic systems. Global war and violence cost the world $17.5 trillion last year. Ukraine, for example, spent 63% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense against the Russian invasion. Global military budgets additionally topped $2.2 trillion in 2022 with the United States heading the list at $876.9 billion in military expenditures. China is second with $292 billion spent on its military. Russia is third with $86.4 billion.
The global arms trade in itself produces $212 billion in sales. Yet again, the United States is the largest arms dealer in the globe, having sold weapons to over 100 nations. In 2020 alone, American arms businesses made $111 billion from foreign military sales. Here is a key fact for consideration:
“Arms sales are a common foreign policy tool, giving the U.S. leverage over the countries it sells to, and, according to some, helping it to shape behavior, conflicts, and security all over the world.” [1] 
American President Joe Biden, soon after the attack on Israel, began seeking from the United States Congress $100 billion more in military aid to Israel and Ukraine.

By the way, the severe irony of our American government and businesses supplying foreign nations with arms for their defense is that those same arms are often turned against American soldiers stationed around the world. We need to consider one further cost.
Costs in terms of security
War is costly in terms of global national security. Nine nations are believed to presently possess nuclear weapons, and several others threaten immediate nuclear proliferation (cf. North Korea)! Israel is believed to have procured nuclear capabilities and the fear is that Iran, which backs Hamas, will soon, if not already, possess similar capabilities. The pernicious danger of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction further destabilizes global security. There is an immediate personal dimension to killing and mass destruction.

The advent and proliferation of military drones makes it possible for one terrorist to purchase a $500 drone that may be used to kill, maim, and destroy countless lives and property. Drone warfare has created a severe erosion in personal safety across the world. Other forms of security also are threatened by war.
The loss of housing and displacement also occur when war breaks out. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that, by the close of 2022, 108.4 million people were “forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of “persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations.” [2] Additionally, many citizens in Southern Israel have also suffered displacement following the recent terror attack. The subsequent loss of jobs, educational opportunity, and near access to medical care further compound the situation. Wars also create food insecurity, as the enormous humanitarian crisis demonstrates in the Gaza Strip. All these costs raise serious moral concerns that we should consider.
Multi-layered moral responsibility
Mass human destruction and individual atrocities in war raise serious sanctity of life concerns. War destroys lives made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28), often violates God’s Law against killing (Exodus 20:13), and disrupts relationships with God and fellow man (Mark 12:29-31; love God and your neighbor).

The classic Just War Theory (justice) aims to limit atrocities (e.g., Geneva conventions on prisoner treatment and International Court of Justice for war crimes, esp. “crimes against humanity”); however, cruelty and the threat of nuclear obliteration (e.g., Hiroshima & Nagasaki) raise concerns about its current effectiveness (cf. the recent development of “just peacemaking” as a necessary paradigm to reduce the threat of war).

Governments, businesses, and private citizens do well to acknowledge also their responsibilities to secure peace and peaceful coexistence (esp. for those who have been uprooted and displaced by wars) and to sustain basic human rights (e.g., life, health, and liberty). I have provided several important first steps to eliminating war that Christians may implement into their daily lives.

A Way Forward

“He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Isaiah 2:4, ESV
First, Christians must reassess our personal beliefs about war based upon its actual horrors and generational costs. Friends, the glorification of everything from street violence to multi-national war must cease. The gut-wrenching media scenes of the Israeli and Palestinian dead, wounded, and maimed, along with the decades long healing required from those who suffer from post-traumatic stress, should shake us into reality. There is nothing glorifying about war. It must go!
Secondly, we must act now, not later. The ubiquitous expression is “Don’t just stand there, do something!” Most people want to do something about wars and killing, but have become politicized by militaristic rhetoric, desensitized to the daily dosage of violence on the nightly news and in social media, or have become paralyzed about where to begin. Consider the following truth as a challenge to end personal moral paralysis.
Obviously, trillions of dollars being spent on arms trade needs to be put into perspective for us to grasp the magnitude of the expenditure. If I were to fill standard 40” x 48” pallets with $100 bills, one trillion dollars would cover two football fields! As stated above, seventeen trillion dollars spent on war represents 34 football fields filled with $100 bills!
One single pallet contains 64,000 bills! In contrast, the Baptist Center for Global Concerns feeds a family of four with evening meals for 1 week by using one $100 bill! We, at the Center, focus on offering the peace of Christ to each person who steps through our doorway and help women to provide their families with food security.

Many other nonprofit organizations, churches, and individuals around the globe are seeking to do the same. The hope is that nations will take up the same cause. Tens of thousands of meals could be provided on what nations spend annually on wars. (See also the PeaceWeaver article from this month.)
Thirdly, pursue peace as a first option rather than a last result. Sincere Christians admittedly hold radically different perspectives on war and participation in war; however, all of us do well to ponder the systemic nature of war (monies, arms, and technologies) and our own contribution to it (hidden at times). [3] A holistic Christian ethic pursues peace and peacemaking even while noting, that as long as sin abounds, there will be wars and rumors of war (Mark 13:7). Here is a way to shape the coming generations with the message of peace.

The Center, for example, works with African partners who live with the daily threat of war and terrorist activity. We provide theological training to future leaders by using a peacemaking method found in the Sermon on the Mount. The current goal is to train 500 new pastors over the next ten years. We pray these pastors will make peacemaking a hallmark of their ministries. Others are doing something similar across the planet.
The Scriptures present a total picture of peace and its practice. The Old Testament proclaims Messiah’s peace, a mark of God’s kingdom (Isaiah 26:12; 52:7; 54:10; 60:17-18; Micah 4:3, “never again train for war”). God’s followers trust Him, actively do His will, follow His Spirit, and seek justice for the downtrodden (e.g., victims of war).
Fourthly, Christians should seek wider justice even while practicing personal righteousness. God’s Spirit is poured out on His people, justice ensues, then righteousness follows—thus leading to peace (Isaiah 32:15-18). The New Testament demonstrates holistic peace and peacemaking. [4] Christ’s holistic peace provides rich resources and healing for war’s costs.


Christians speak about peace, but our warring words and actions too often drown out the message. Interestingly, Edwin Starr, who recorded the anti-war song, "War," was a Vietnam veteran. His intent with the music was to do more than simply protest the war. The recording also carries with it a broader call for harmony and global peace.

Just peacemaking is within our immediate reach at home, in church, and throughout our communities (cf. Galatians 5:22-23, peace is a spiritual gift that all believers possess!). Mr. Starr used his musical talents to spread peace and not hate. We surely can use our talents and spiritual gifts to do the same.

1. Council on Foreign Relations, Why It Matters podcast, “The Cost of the U.S. Arms Trade,” October 26, 2022).
2. United Nations Refugee Agency (35.3 million were refugees and 62.5 million were internally displaced).
3. The world seeks ways to limit these costs of war. Religionists and secularists have historically sought peaceful alternatives to war in two categories—pacifism and just war. Just peacemaking has been offered more recently as a way forward.
Pacifism claims that participation in war is never justifiable and contains two basic facets. First, non-violence is an obligatory rule (e.g., never make war or even use violence against personal attack). Secondly, pacifistic non-participation precludes participating in war of any kind (e.g., inclusive of supporting a war effort or national defense in peacetime).
Just war theory (orig. 4th century) seeks to bring a war under the control of justice. Some hold that war is justifiable only when undertaken in self-defense (e.g., America’s WW II attack on Japan in response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor), while others would justify preventative strikes to ward off an imminent attack (e.g., Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War).
A third paradigm, just peacemaking, has been introduced in the aftermath of the advent and use of weapons of mass destruction. Just peacemaking theory, grounded in philosophical and Christian realism, designs an ethic of prevention and initiatives that governments are obliged to take to prevent war and make peace. Regardless of the view, war remains morally problematic for humankind and cries out for careful ethical examination and response. It begs the question of what nations and individuals may do to mitigate and ultimately eliminate wars.

4. See the following scripture passages that give insight and approaches to spreading peace. Luke 2:14, peace on earth; Romans 5:1, peace with God; Luke 8:48, healed and saved, go in peace; John 14:27, Christ leaves His peace with His followers; Galatians 5:22, fruit of Spirit; Romans 8:6, life controlled by Spirit is peace; Mark 9:50, be at peace with each other; Matthew 5:9, blessed are the peacemakers; Matthew 5:43-48, pray for enemies and go the second mile; Romans 1:7, peace to you; 2 Corinthians 13:11, live in peace; Ephesians 2:15-17, Christ brings peace to warring factions; Ephesians 4:3, bonds of peace; 1 Thessalonians 5:13, live in peace; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:14, pursue peace with all men; 1 Peter 3:11, seek peace and pursue it.