Militarization Has Become Our National Religion

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Civilians dead after US bombingsAugust 13, 2019 / William Astore / The Nation - When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I looked to the heavens: to God and Christianity (as arbitrated by the Catholic Church) and to the soaring warbirds of the US military, which I believed kept us safe. To my mind then, they were classic manifestations of American technological superiority over the godless communists.

With all its scandals, especially when it came to priestly sexual abuse, I lost my faith in the Catholic Church. I would later learn that there had been a predatory priest in my parish when I was young, a grim man who made me uneasy at the time, though back then I couldn’t have told you why. As for those warbirds, like so many Americans, I thrilled to their roar at air shows but never gave any real thought to the bombs they were dropping in Vietnam and elsewhere, to the lives they were ending, to the destruction they were causing. Nor at that age did I ever consider their enormous cost in dollars or just how much Americans collectively sacrificed to have top cover, whether of the warplane or godly kind.

There were good and devoted priests in my Catholic diocese. There were good and devoted public servants in the US military. Admittedly, I never seriously considered the priesthood, but I did sign up for the Air Force, surprising myself by serving in it for 20 years. Still, both institutions were then—and remain—deeply flawed. Both seek, in a phrase the Air Force has long used, global reach, global power. Both remain hierarchies that regularly promote true believers to positions of authority. Both demand ultimate obedience. Both sweep their sins under the rug. Neither can pass an audit. Both are characterized by secrecy. Both seem remarkably immune to serious efforts at reform. And both, above all, know how to preserve their own power, even as they posture and proselytize about serving a higher one.

However, let me not focus here on the one “holy catholic and apostolic church,” words taken from the profession of faith I recited during mass each week in my youth. I’d prefer to focus instead on that other American holy church, the US military, with all its wars and weapons, its worshipers and wingmen, together with its vision of global dominance that just happens to include end-of-world scenarios as apocalyptic as those of any imaginable church of true believers. I’m referring, of course, to our country’s staggeringly large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, just now being updated—the term seems to be “modernized”—to the tune of something like $1.7 trillion over the decades to come.


A Profession of 21st Century All-American Faith

“Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value” is a telling phrase linked to Joe Biden. And in those terms, there’s no question what the US government values most: its military, to the tune of almost $1.5 trillion over the next two years (although the real number may well exceed $2 trillion). Republicans and Democrats agree on little these days, except support for spending on that military, its weaponry, its wars to come, and related national security state outlays.

In that context, I’ve been wondering what kind of profession of faith we might have to recite if there were the equivalent of mass for what has increasingly become our military church. What would it look like? Who and what would we say we believed in? As a lapsed Catholic with a lot of practice in my youth professing my faith in the church, as well as a retired military officer and historian, I have a few ideas about what such a profession might look like:



Blessed Are the Peacemakers

 

Keep in mind that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, or so I was taught as a boy, anyway. One might say that the beginning of US militarism is simply fear, whether of terrorists, immigrants, Muslims, communists, or other enemies of the moment. If Americans continue to be racked with such fears, they’ll undoubtedly continue to profess their faith in the military as our country’s noblest protectors, too.

Where does such a profession of faith in wars and weapons end? Is there even a terminus of any sort other than destruction?

Those of us who endured war games and hair-trigger nuclear alerts during the Cold War have long had apocalyptic fears of such endings in the back of our minds. Under Trump, they’ve come back with a vengeance. Unlike many Christians, I don’t envision Christ returning to pick up the irradiated elect after a nuclear version of Armageddon. But that, of course, is a true worst-case scenario. A more likely ending is a slow-motion collapse of America’s imperial empire and the church of the military that goes with it, the resulting chaos possibly leading to a Second Coming, not of Christ but of medieval levels of meanness and misery.

Or maybe, just maybe, we might start anew by questioning our militarized profession of faith. We might begin to realize that our warrior church isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We might begin to seek meaning and salvation not through wars and weaponry, not through generals and their admirers, not through impossible dreams of total dominance but through compassion and a desire for global justice.

I confess that I long ago turned my back on the Catholic Church of my youth, but I haven’t turned my back on Christianity and the wisdom it can offer. For what does it profit a country if it gains the whole world yet loses its soul? (In our case, of course, it might be more appropriate to say, For what does it profit a country if it gains nothing from its wars and military mindset yet loses its soul?) The more we Americans profess our faith in warriors, weapons, and wars, the more we endanger our nation’s collective soul. There’s a reason, after all, that Jesus placed the peacemakers, not the warriors, among the children of God.

Source: https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/militarization-national-religion/

 

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Gary Ghirardi
Gary Ghirardi

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