The American Religion of War

moab
The Holy Mother of All Bombs?

A few thoughts on violence and military idolatry in America

W.J. Astore

If you believe the polls, America is a nation of believers.  A nation of faith.  But is our faith truly in a pacific god of love?  Or do we instead worship a god of war?  Current and past events suggest that too often Americans place their faith in war and the military.  We continue to believe despite the evidence our belief is both wrongheaded and destructive.

We have a cult-like affection for war and the military.  It drives what we see — what we perceive.  Believing is seeing.  The military confesses to believe in “progress” in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, so we invent metrics that show how we’re winning (which is exactly what we did fifty years ago in Vietnam).

We are not a rational society.  We are a faith-based society.  And our temples and crosses are military bases and weaponry, which we export globally.  The U.S. has 800 overseas bases, and America dominates the international trade in arms.  Meanwhile, our missionaries are our Special Ops troops, which we send to 130 countries, spreading the American gospel.  The gospel of war and the gun.

The icons of American militarism are our weapons. Our warplanes, our drones, big bombs (the MOAB), the list goes on. They have become the iconic symbols of an idolatry of destruction.

A xenophobic form of patriotism exacerbates a religion of violence.  Exclusive rather than inclusive, it sets the boundaries of “us” versus “them.”  Critics and dissenters are cast out and exiled.

Meanwhile, in far-off foreign lands, we reject the reality of ruins and rubble.  We couch it instead in terms of salvation: “we had to destroy the village to save it.”  It’s another aspect of our evangelical approach to war.  It’s like being born again.  You must tear yourself down before you’re born again in the spirit of Christ.  We seem to believe cities must be ruined before we can declare victory over the enemy.

Consider 9/11/2001.  An inward-looking people may have kept the ruins of 9/11 as a monument to the victims.  But not us.  That’s expensive real estate, and on those ruins we were born again, building Freedom Tower, exactly 1776 feet in height.  Thus our fall was reinterpreted as rebirth, our defeat as victory, tragedy as triumph.  Even 9/11 itself is now celebrated as a day of patriotism.

Yes, we can reconstruct our own rubble, as we did after 9/11.  But will foreign rubble ever be reconstructed?  Cities like Mosul?  Well, who cares?  They are not of the body.  They are not us.  They are outcasts.  Let them survive in what’s left of their blasted buildings and homes.

Our TV shows reinforce our belief in violence and militarism.  New ones include “The Brave” on NBC, which begins by focusing on a pretty White female doctor kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and “brave” efforts to rescue her; “Valor” on the CW channel, featuring lots of helicopters and flags and automatic weapons; and the rather obvious “SEAL Team” on CBS, with elite Navy SEALs standing in for the superheroes of the past.  If you get tired of watching military heroics on TV, there’s always military-themed “shooter” video games.  Indeed, the military experience is everywhere, even in Madden football, where in “story mode” you can play against quarterback Dan Marino on an Army base in Iraq.  (The field is surrounded by a fortified fence, rocky hills, and a helicopter pad, among other exotic military features.)

America is being consumed by a religion of violence and mayhem.  We’re trapped in a dark maelstrom of death and destruction.  Yet how can we repudiate our god of war when we are so busy feeding him?  When we talk of “thoughts and prayers” after each tragedy, do we truly know which god we’re calling upon?

14 thoughts on “The American Religion of War

      1. I look at it differently. The staggering cost of health care the victims will need WILL not be paid for by the govt…. the congress is too cowardly to pass sensible Health Care bill or pass strict Gun laws. One way fellow Americans can help the victims heal ( literally ) is by SHARING what they have. And yes, if our elected officials had acted responsibly, we would not need these funds. Sadly, it has been a long wait….too long imho.

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    1. One religion that people in power follow is HYPOCRISY imho.
      Their “Thoughts and Prayers” and their “Actions” are perfect example!

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  1. “The very beasts associate the ideas of things that are like each other or that have been found together in their experience; and they could hardly survive for a day if they ceased to do so. But who attributes to the animals a belief that the phenomena of nature are worked by a multitude of invisible animals or by one enormous and prodigiously strong animal behind the scenes? It is probably no injustice to the brutes to assume that the honour of devising a theory of this latter sort must be reserved for human reason.” — Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: a study in Magic and Religion

    “There is but one DOG, and President [Fill-in-the Blank] is its prophet” [2017 update]

    DOG’s Plan

    DOG shared Its plan with George last night
    Which gave him such an awful fright
    He stayed awake till dawn’s first light
    Too scared to run and hide

    DOG’s Plan concerned our land’s defense
    And naked, fierce belligerence
    And dreadful leaders proud and dense
    Who waltzed while others died

    He’d often heard barks just as dumb
    But this one left George cold and numb
    For by the sucking of his thumb
    He knew that DOG had lied

    For DOG had nothing planned at all
    It merely longed to see men crawl
    And women moan and babies bawl
    And peoples petrified

    The Book of DOG contained no clue
    That what appeared as Doggie-doo
    Would sicken not just me and you
    But others, too, beside

    Sometimes George thought he understood:
    DOG wanted him to do some good
    By bombing nature’s neighborhood
    With Power’s pesticide

    But George had garbled up the rhyme
    Which led him then to pantomime
    An offer of Medieval Time
    To those he’d terrified

    He claimed he lived to do DOG’s work
    Yet only seemed to play the jerk
    With curling lip and cynic’s smirk
    Upon his mouth so wide

    His reckless swagger left appalled
    A world aghast at one enthralled
    By perquisites and servants called
    And makeup reapplied

    But mom and DOG had always seen
    That newsmen wore their glasses green
    In Emerald City’s vapid sheen
    And they, of course, complied

    So few observed or told of ills
    As boy George, green around the gills,
    Downed fantasies like poison pills
    Which left whole countries fried

    But DOG said not to sweat the small
    That sycophants would dance on call
    At his inauguration ball
    And have him glorified

    Upon the stage he struts and frets
    A player poor without regrets
    As good as little ever gets
    Absorbed in pompous pride

    His monologue no rhyme consults
    His thought the human mind insults:
    A sound and fury that results
    In nothing signified

    His hour upon the stage unfilled
    The audience leaves hardly thrilled
    At having bought bad tickets billed
    As drama unsupplied

    Reviewers chose to see his clothes
    Where he wore none, which only shows
    How power blinds and money glows
    In circles rarified

    He chose to write his own critique
    Which papers printed: cowed and meek
    Too scared and bought to try and seek
    The truth unsanctified

    He thought himself both shrewd and deft
    Yet brain-wise he had little heft
    His flighty visions only left
    Our nation vilified

    But, anyway, the plagues will come
    They need no fife or beating drum
    To herald where they’re to or from
    This, DOG has certified

    So George was left alone to weep
    Betrayed by DOG, in doo-doo deep,
    As shadows cruel began to creep
    Up on him as he sighed

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005

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  2. Once again, a very poignant article. Any form of violence is shown on TV at any time, with military violence most exalted, thus imbibing children that there is nothing wrong with it, except perhaps in the case of mass shootings, but hey, that’s part of “normal” life.

    But ironically, female nudity (not pornography) is presented as something terrible that the youngsters need to be protected against, but then again, openly mentioning “pussy grabbing” at the highest level in the land has now become “normal”.

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  3. Once again it may be that time again to Play the Fun “Find the Gun” Game. This entails trying to go through all your Television Channels with your Remote Control Rapid Clicker without finding a Gun!. If perchance you make it through all your Cable Channels without seeing one in rapid succession mind you– You Win… B.T.W. You hardly ever Win!. Sad Commentary.

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  4. Quote from above – “We couch it instead in terms of salvation: “we had to destroy the village to save it.” It’s another aspect of our evangelical approach to war. It’s like being born again. You must tear yourself down before you’re born again in the spirit of Christ. We seem to believe cities must be ruined before we can declare victory over the enemy.”

    I recall from basic training, a D.I. telling us we were going to be broken mentally and built up physically. All those thoughts of individualism would be expunged and replaced by Army values, beginning with learning to march in cadence. Do not question orders, just obey. A higher authority knows best – they see the big picture. This attitude is probably universal to any military force across the ages.

    The difference is for decades now, this attitude has been drummed into the civilians. The perpetual wars cannot be debated. Now foreign policy and the warrior cult are one in the same. If you question policy, by default you are attacking our warriors and thus not patriotic.

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    1. “… foreign policy and the warrior cult are one in the same. If you question policy, by default you are attacking our warriors and thus not patriotic.”

      In former times, we called this war-boosting “warrior-cult” thing by other names: like, “hiding behind the troops” or “waving the bloody shirt.” I prefer the terms “sacred symbol soldier,” “taboo troops,” “our vaunted Visigoths,” or just …

      Dead Metaphors

      We serve as a symbol to shield those who screw us
      The clueless, crass cretins who crap on our creed
      We perform the foul deeds they can only do through us
      Then lay ourselves down in the dark while we bleed

      Through cheap Sunday slogans they sought to imbue us
      With lust for limp legacy laughably lean
      Yet the Pyrrhic parade only served to undo us
      We die now for duty, not “honor” obscene

      We carried out plans that the lunatics drew us
      Their oil-spotted, fly paper, domino dream
      Then we fought for the leftover bones that they threw us
      While carpetbag contractors cleaned up the cream

      We stood at attention so they could review us
      Like bugs on display in a cage made of glass
      We hurried, then waited, so they could subdue us
      Yet somewhere inside something said: “kiss my ass.”

      We did the George Custer scene Rumsfeld gave to us
      We took ourselves targets to arrows and bows
      While the brass punched their tickets, the Indians slew us
      A “strategy” ranking with History’s lows

      When veterans balked they contrived to pooh-pooh us
      With sneers at our “syndrome” of Vietnam sick
      When that didn’t work they set out to voodoo us
      With sewer boat slanderers paid to be slick

      The wad-shooting gambler comes once more to woo us
      His PR team planning precise photo ops
      For to sell his used war he’ll have need to construe us
      As witless weak wallpaper campaign-ad props

      The nuts and the dolts in their suits really blew us
      They made our life’s meaning a dead metaphor
      Still, no matter how Furies and Fate may pursue us
      The Fig Leaf Contingent has been here before

      The years pass in darkness and graveyards accrue us
      As early returns on investments gone wrong
      So the next time “supporters” of troops ballyhoo us
      Remember to vomit in tune to this song.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005

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    2. Perceptive points, ML. Not only is the citizen-soldier ideal dead, but even the idea of the citizen — and citizenship. So too are civics courses; far better to teach apolitical courses in STEM. The goal is not citizenship; the goal is getting a high-paying job and consuming as much as possible — and more.

      Meanwhile, as you said, you are supposed to cheer “our” troops and genuflect to “our” leaders.

      But sadly the troops are no longer ours in the citizen-soldier sense, and the leaders are bought and paid for, and thus owned.

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  5. A must read article in Counterpunch – October 5, 2017
    Mass Shootings: the Military-Entertainment Complex’s Culture of Violence Turns Deadly – https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/05/96400/

    Just some teasers from the article:
    Ask yourself: Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?
    In almost every instance, you can connect the dots back to the military.
    We are a military culture.
    We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.
    We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.

    As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon,
    “Collusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts – is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs….major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.”

    This is how you sell war to a populace that may have grown weary of endless wars: sanitize the war coverage of anything graphic or discomfiting (present a clean war), gloss over the actual numbers of soldiers and civilians killed (human cost), cast the business of killing humans in a more abstract, palatable fashion (such as a hunt), demonize one’s opponents, and make the weapons of war a source of wonder and delight.
    =============================================================
    The author of the article connects all the dots, including the NFL.

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  6. From the perspective of this Native American; the USA has never been anything but a nation of war mongers. Their national anthem is a ‘war song’, with ‘the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air’. They have had a war for at least each generation (3 gens per century) and have only won two of those. The first one was their civil war where they shed more of their own blood than any of their other wars COMBINED; and the slaves that were freed in their bloodiest war, did not receive any enforceable civil rights for another 99 years. They won their second war by being the first nation to use nuclear weapons; twice; and both times against known civilian targets. They are in illegal possession of more than 60% of their geographic territory as a result of disobeying their own Constitution’s Art. 6; and they still have not complied with the details of the Paris Peace Accords they signed in 1973 with the North Vietnamese who defeated them in yet one more of their illegal wars of aggression.
    They began their entire venture from the beginning by making war.
    The fact that they are such losers in all of those wars can only be viewed from the observation as a fatal flaw and the only service that the USA can provide to this date is one of a negative example, to be avoided by humanity in the future; if there is a future for humanity.
    “If the USA were any other criminal nation the ‘Americans’ would invade the USA to keep the world safe”.

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