America’s Militarized Profession of Faith

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The Church of the Pentagon

W.J. Astore

I grew up in the Catholic Church, where I professed my faith weekly at every mass I attended.  I also grew up a fan of the U.S. military, even as I read many books critical of its performance in the Vietnam War.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to profess my faith in that military, but if I had, what would such a “profession” have looked like?  This is the subject of my latest article at TomDispatch.com, which you can read about here.

Here’s what I believe America’s profession of faith would look like at this moment in our militarized history:

* We believe in wars. We may no longer believe in formal declarations of war (not since December 1941 has Congress made one in our name), but that sure hasn’t stopped us from waging them. From Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan to Iraq, the Cold War to the War on Terror, and so many military interventions in between, including Grenada, Panama, and Somalia, Americans are always fighting somewhere as if we saw great utility in thumbing our noses at the Prince of Peace. (That’s Jesus Christ, if I remember my Catholic catechism correctly.)

* We believe in weaponry, the more expensive the better. The underperforming F-35 stealth fighter may cost $1.45 trillion over its lifetime. An updated nuclear triad (land-based missiles, nuclear submarines, and strategic bombers) may cost that already mentioned $1.7 trillion. New (and malfunctioning) aircraft carriers cost us more than $10 billion each. And all such weaponry requests get funded, with few questions asked, despite a history of their redundancy, ridiculously high price, regular cost overruns, and mediocre performance. Meanwhile, Americans squabble bitterly over a few hundred million dollars for the arts and humanities.

* We believe in weapons of mass destruction. We believe in them so strongly that we’re jealous of anyone nibbling at our near monopoly. As a result, we work overtime to ensure that infidels and atheists (that is, the Iranians and North Koreans, among others) don’t get them. In historical terms, no country has devoted more research or money to deadly nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry than the United States. In that sense, we’ve truly put our money where our mouths are (and where a devastating future might be).

* We believe with missionary zeal in our military and seek to establish our “faith” everywhere. Hence, our global network of perhaps 800 overseas military bases. We don’t hesitate to deploy our elite missionaries, our equivalent to the Jesuits, the Special Operations forces to more than 130 countries annually. Similarly, the foundation for what we like to call foreign assistance is often military training and foreign military sales. Our present supreme leader, Pope Trump I, boasts of military sales across the globe, most notably to the infidel Saudis. Even when Congress makes what, until recently, was the rarest of attempts to rein in this deadly trade in arms, Pope Trump vetoes it. His rationale: weapons and profits should rule all.

* We believe in our college of cardinals, otherwise known as America’s generals and admirals. We sometimes appoint them (or anoint them?) to the highest positions in the land. While Trump’s generals — Michael Flynn, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly — have fallen from grace at the White House, America’s generals and admirals continue to rule globally. They inhabit proconsul-like positions in sweeping geographical commands that (at least theoretically) cover the planet and similarly lead commands aimed at dominating the digital-computer realm and special operations. One of them will head a new force meant to dominate space through time eternal. A “strategic” command (the successor to the Strategic Air Command, or SAC, so memorably satirized in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) continues to ensure that, at some future moment, the U.S. will be able to commit mass genocide by quite literally destroying the world with nuclear weapons. Indeed, Pope Trump recently boasted that he could end America’s Afghan War in a week, apparently through the mass nuclear genocide of (his figure) 10 million Afghans. Even as he then blandly dismissed the idea of wiping that country “off the face of the earth,” he openly reflected the more private megalomania of those military professionals funded by the rest of us to think about “the unthinkable.” In sum, everything is — theoretically at least — under the thumbs of our unelected college of cardinals. Their overblown term for it is “full-spectrum dominance,” which, in translation, means they grant themselves god-like powers over our lives and that of our planet (though the largely undefeated enemies in their various wars don’t seem to have acknowledged this reality).

* We believe that freedom comes through obedience. Those who break ranks from our militarized church and protest, like Chelsea Manning, are treated as heretics and literally tortured.

* We believe military spending brings wealth and jobs galore, even when it measurably doesn’t. Military production is both increasingly automated and increasingly outsourced, leading to far fewer good-paying American jobs compared to spending on education, infrastructure repairs of and improvements in roads, bridges, levees, and the like, or just about anything else for that matter.

* We believe, and our most senior leaders profess to believe, that our military represents the very best of us, that we have the “finest” one in human history.

* We believe in planning for a future marked by endless wars, whether against terrorism or “godless” states like China and Russia, which means our military church must be forever strengthened in the cause of winning ultimate victory.

* Finally, we believe our religion is the one true faith. (Just as I used to be taught that the Catholic Church was the one true church and that salvation outside it was unattainable.) More pacific “religions” are dismissed as weak, misguided, and exploitative. Consider, for example, the denunciation of NATO countries that refuse to spend more money on their militaries. Such a path to the future is heretical; therefore, they must be punished.

Please read the rest of my article here at TomDispatch.com.  And please comment.  Did I miss anything in my version of America’s militarized profession of faith?

16 thoughts on “America’s Militarized Profession of Faith

  1. Personally, I don’t think the bulk of the American public cares.
    The cries of outrage come from the same sectors, year after year, and are largely ignored. Yes, there is always some media coverage, but news cycles flash by and celebrities and athletes are much more interesting, certainly more entertaining. As are where they live, what they wear, and who they had lunch with yesterday.
    We love and believe in the military and the NFL, and in the ultimate infallibility of the rich and corporate leadership (they didn’t get rich by being stupid and making mistakes – present occupant of 1600 Pennsylania Avenue excepted) as a Jesuit believes in The One True Church.
    As far as the cost of such blind obedience in dollars & cents goes, I paraphrase Charles Portis’ character, Norwood Pratt: “I never even see that tax money.”

    Now, from one seriously lapsed Catholic to another, say ten “Hail, Marys,” a good “Act of Contrition” and go in peace.

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  2. Spot on! And the greatest test of faith imposed by the hawks is to believe government is the enemy of the people (Reagan: government is the problem) but yet the military is the answer to all our problems. Ironic too that conservatives took out the fiscal knives to virtually neuter and gut NASA a couple decades ago but now they’re moving fast to weaponize, privatize and fully fund the space program in a new race to … to… to what? To legitimize and validate Mike Pence for starters.

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  3. I believe that Fr. you speak of was none other than Father Daly– am I right? Who was Defrocked for child abuse and hiding it behind his clerical garb during that time period when you were a boy…. Serving quite a span of years in St. Pat’s. Parish! I still attend Mass regularly but espousing my own views of same in pvt. Being more or less a “Cafeteria Cath.” in the process. Good analogy to the M.I.C. My own experience as a Buck Sgt. for the Strategic Air Command an Acolyte at best…:/ :o)

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  4. Militant Monks are not new. I first heard this phrase in History Class back in College, when we were learning about the Medieval Period and the Crusades. The instructor laughed and smirked when he told us about the Clerics of that day, cleaving, slashing and cutting down the “others”. The others could be Muslims, Jews or Byzantines.

    No exact version of the speech by Pope Urban II who called the First Crusade is known. One version “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”

    I also found this: The First Crusade was an important episode in the history of martyrdom. While some of the crusaders were martyrs in the old style, giving up their lives rather than renounce Christ, the expedition established in the consciousness of Western Europeans the idea of a new route to the status of martyr, which could be earned by those who fell in battle against the unbeliever, fighting for Christ and for his people. From this time onwards crusading preachers regularly offered the stole of martyrdom to those who served in Palestine, Spain, and elsewhere, in the war against the Muslims.

    I hear from people I talk to, warn me about how the Muslims of today are willing to die because they believe they will go to their heaven. They seem to be unaware that the Medieval Christian Church promised the same thing.

    Today, we have a secular version of Crusades all over the world. The Stars and Stripes and the National Anthem have taken on a Secular Sacred symbol and a Hymn. Sadly IMHO, the National Anthem has come to mean America Über Alles.

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  5. You forgot the Holy Orders who (like the Jesuits, Christian Brothers, etc.) spread the Gospel of the War State by staffing the pro-war think-tanks, preaching as pundits on cable channels, and providing self-serving commentary as MSM columnists and op-ed writers who spew the propaganda that underpins the Militarized Profession of Faith. Also the merchants of war who enrich themselves selling the Pentagon its lethal weapons for which they must pay penitence in the form of donations (bribes) to member of Congress who in turn use their parishioners’ fund (US tax dollars) to fund the war merchants’ works of evil. This scheme of power and control of the masses is as old as organized religion.

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    1. Good point about the media, always eager to appear “patriotic,” meaning they never met a war they didn’t like.

      And yes — the merchants of death — I’ve written a lot about them at this site.

      Thanks for writing in.

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  6. I keep this link around on my own website for ready reference, since it seems timeless in its recurring applicability, especially in the “Christian” West: In Praise of the New Knighthood. Otherwise, with the “knighthood” grown rather long-in-the-tooth and increasingly diseased after eight centuries of pitiless slaughter, I see in my own country’s “leadership” little more than a tacky parade of Tricky Dick Nixons and Henry Kissingers promising:

    Peace With Horror

    A leper knight rode into view
    Astride his mangy steed
    A harbinger of violence
    A plague without a need
    An apparition of discord
    Upon which fear would feed

    His unannounced arrival meant
    He’d lost his leper’s bell
    And yet his ugly innocence
    Could not conceal the smell
    His good intentions only paved
    Another road to Hell

    With mace and lance and sword deployed
    He vowed in peace to live
    Through rotting lips he promised not
    To take, but only give
    He swore to only kill the ones
    Whom he said shouldn’t live

    He did not speak the language and
    He did not know the land
    So why the healthy shrank from him
    He could not understand
    Why did they want the water when
    He’d offered them the sand?

    Committing to commitments he
    Committed crimes galore
    As steadfast in his loyalties
    As any purchased whore
    A mercenary madman like
    His slogan: “Peace through War”

    His slaying for salvation masked
    An inner, grasping greed
    A lust for living good and well
    While looking past his deed
    A dead man walking wakefully;
    A graveyard gone to seed

    He planned to leave in “phases,” so
    He said to those back home
    Who’d heard some nasty rumors rife
    From Babylon to Rome
    Of murders in their name meant to
    Exalt their sacred tome

    But still he needed to “protect”
    Some pilgrims on the road
    Who for “protection” glumly paid
    A portion of their load:
    For this decaying derelict,
    An object episode

    When asked to give a summary
    Of what he had achieved
    He shifted to the future tense
    The gains that he perceived
    And spoke in the subjunctive mood
    To those he had aggrieved

    “The future life to come portends
    More suffering than now.
    Through me alone can you avoid
    What I will disavow:
    The promises I never made
    While making, anyhow.”

    “I unsay things that I have said
    And say I never did;
    Then say them once again to pound
    The meaning deeply hid,
    Down where the lizard lives between
    The ego and the id.”

    “I’ve given you catastrophe
    And called it a success;
    If you want other outcomes then
    Step forward and confess
    That you believed a pack of lies
    With no strain, sweat, or stress.”

    “You know the meaning of my words
    Lasts only just as long
    As sound takes to decay in air
    So that you take them wrong
    If you assign significance
    To my sly siren song.”

    “A ‘propaganda catapult’
    I’ve called myself, in fact;
    A damning human document
    Which I myself redact
    At every opportunity
    With no concern for tact.”

    “If you think what I’ve done before
    Has caused me to repent
    Or dream that I, in any way,
    Might let up or relent
    Then I’ve got wars for you to buy,
    Or maybe just to rent.”

    “I’ve little time to live on earth,
    So why should I reflect
    Upon the dead and dying souls
    Whose lives I’ve robbed and wrecked?
    I care not if they hate, just that
    They know to genuflect.”

    Thus did the ruin of a world
    Continue in its curse;
    The great man on his horse relieved
    The faithful of their purse
    And gave them bad to save them from
    What they feared even worse

    So onward to Jerusalem
    He staggered as he slew
    In train with sack and booty that
    He only thought his due
    For spreading freedom’s germs among
    The last surviving few

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2008

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  7. I can appreciate expatriate curmudgeon Fred Reed’s term for the Pentagram. He calls it “the five-sided black hole on the Potomac.” Speaking of expatriate curmudgeons contemplating the voracious vacuum at the eroding epicenter of the “New Versailles,” I’d call the bloated building a …

    “Spitting Image”

    Expatriate ex-patriots expectorate
    When REMFs proceed to hide behind the troops
    Extolling tales of better men who met their fate
    In service to a penis pride that droops
    Each time a petty presidential potentate
    Ignites a war — and in his panties poops.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019

    Getting stuck inside the house during the daily downpour of the last few weeks hasn’t helped my miserable mood much. I think that Global Warming means that places usually receiving little rain now don’t get any, while those places that usually get a fair amount get excessively much. Or something like that. Anyway, stir crazy confinement does have its psycho-therapeutic (or psychiatric) side effects. Like:

    Sovereign Eunuchs

    Useful Idiot

    Star Chamber, Incorporated

    and

    A Parody of Product-Placement Propaganda

    Oh, shit. Now it has begun to rain even harder. Perhaps it doesn’t pay to piss off the Atmosphere Angels …

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  8. Great article and I agree with everything with one exception – I don’t think any of Trump’s generals will ever fight Russia. Or Iran for that matter. It’s just saber rattling to confuse the masses.

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