U.S. arms makers and the Pentagon officials who market their weapons overseas have blood on their hands, Pope Francis told a joint session of Congress Thursday.
“Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he said. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money, money that is drenched in blood — often innocent blood. In the face of the shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”
The U.S. is the world’s largest arms exporter; last year, the Pentagon set up $34.2 billion in global arms sales. Such efforts have only accelerated in recent years as America’s overseas wars have wound down and its military budget tightened up. Arms makers have been wooing Middle Eastern countries — particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that have been increasing and even quadrupling their purchases of fighter jets, interceptor missiles, and other weapons to ward off Iran.
Welcomed with cheering crowds and beaming officials in his first visit to the U.S. this week, Pope Francis nevertheless admonished America to do more for peace. His address to Congress followed a Wednesday speech that appealed to the international community to fight climate change — which the Pentagon has dubbed an “immediate threat to national security” — and to help people displaced by war.
“We the people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” the Argentinean said, pushing the U.S. and other countries to do more to welcome migrants and refugees. “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”
As the U.S. deepens its role in the war against the Islamic State, Pope Francis said, “Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion.” But he added — striking a blow against anti-Muslim sentiment — “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.”
The pope did not directly criticize the lawmakers he addressed, but he did allude to the partisanship that many view as itself a threat to national security.
“The contemporary world with its open wounds,” he said, “demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it.”
He also promoted dialogue before force in resolving global conflict, just ahead of his own visit to New York amid the United Nations General Assembly, where President Obama will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to discuss the continued war in Ukraine and Moscow’s buildup in Syria.
“A good political leader is one who, with the interest of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism,” the pope said. “A good political leader always opts to initiate processes, rather than possessing space. Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize in the long term to end the many armed conflict that harm our world.”
“If we want security,” he said, “let us give security.”