America went to bed one night believing it was a peace-loving democracy, and woke up the next morning imbued with militarism and waging war on the world. Citizens had covered themselves with the belief in freedom and slumbered, only to also awaken in a growing police state—designed not only to protect them from the world’s Other, but to protect those in power from them. And the tragic irony of it all is that they still believe they live in freedom—because that is what they are told, reinforced by establishment media repeatedly reminding them that their president is “the leader of the free world.” Besides, they are free to vote, worship as they choose or not, travel almost anywhere, and enjoy other freedoms like voicing their opinions in “Letters to the Editor” and on Facebook, even criticizing the president and joining in political protests.
We are witnessing the insidious transformation of our country into a militaristic regime. Bipartisan political leaders and their corporate backers and guardian media have seized especially on the 9/11 blowback attacks against American imperialism to declare an endless global war on terrorism. A war with endless profits and power for the military/industrial/energy/intelligence complex. Those who dare to resist American world domination are branded “terrorists,” i.e., The Other, and pursued and killed anywhere.—all in the name of protecting the freedom and security of Americans. And those, like Pvt. Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, who expose the nightmare of our government’s criminal wars and illegal surveillance, are called traitors and hunted down and persecuted. Tragically, a majority of Americans have bought into this criminal reinterpretation of reality hook, line and sinker.
And all of this militarization and war without a military draft. A draft, with its upheaval and forced sacrifice, would lead young Americans and their parents to begin questioning what America is doing to people around the world in their name– and with their lives. Better to keep enough young persons unemployed and underemployed, so that they can “be all you can be” in the military.” How ironic: the Navy bills itself as “A Global Force for Good,” but good is not about force, but rather empathy, diplomacy and justice, which the world desperately needs. How subtle to wrap domination in benevolence.
Chilling is the subtleness of the creeping militarism engulfing America. This spreading cancer is especially seen at sporting events that draw untold millions and millions of fans. Fighter jet and bomber flyovers provide the Invocation for the Super Bowl, the World Series, and other prominent sporting events a reported “hundreds of times a year . . . in sync with the last note of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’” (“How flyovers hit their exact marks at games, By Doug Williams, ESPN.com, July 23, 2012) The athletic field is used to reinforce the patriotic-war-footing of Americans, with service members grouped in the stands, recognized and revered.
On Veterans Day especially, teams express a Sunday-kind-of reverence for the military. There is the publicized “NBA Cares program,” with the league “advis[ing] teams to host a military-focused evening in their community or arena as a way to acknowledge Veterans Day.” Thus “from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11, players have been wearing apparel—from shirts to headbands, wrist bands, and socks—commemorating the holiday.” In addition, the NBA’s “Hoops for Troops” is a “year-round endeavor in which” the National Basketball Association “collaborates with the Department of Defense, United Service Organizations and various other organizations to honor active or retired service men and women.” (“Spurs’ Gregg Popovich says veterans not honored properly,” by Sam Amick, USA TODAY, Nov. 9, 2013)
Winning and warring are worshipfully intertwined. The first game of the recent World Series was dedicated to veterans and military families, with Bank of America, the reported “Official Bank of Major League Baseball,” distributing American flags to fans at Boston’s Fenway Park, and asking them to wave the flags during the seventh inning’s singing of “God Bless America” performed by Air Force Band vocalists. (“Medal of Honor recipients to be recognized prior to game one of the 2013 World Series,” By MLB.com, MLB.com, Oct. 22, 2013; “Vocalists from Air Force band sing ‘God Bless America’ at World Series game,” By Ryan Murphy, Daily Press, Oct. 30, 2013)
The fan-atical worship of sports– that serves to blur the reality of cause and effect—is seen after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. The team paraded before throngs of rejoicing believers to the altar on Boylston Street—the Boston Marathon finish line, where, depicted in a Boston Globe front page news story, “Sox left fielder Johnny Gomes climbed down from his duck boat with the World Series trophy, set it gently in the center of the finish line, and draped it in a ‘617 Boston Strong’ jersey,” with the huge crowd then “join[ing] Irish tenor Ronan Tynan in singing ‘God Bless America,’ as Gomes and catcher Jerod Saltalamacchia remained vigilantly close to the trophy.” The Boston Globe story declared that the Red Sox victory provided an “emotional resurrection” for “a city shaken by the bombings.” (‘MAKE WAY FOR THE CHAMPIONS: A day for remembering, a day to rejoice, as fans throng city for Sox parade,” By David Filipov, Nov. 3, 2013)
Here is seen the role of sporting events to distract and offer vicarious “resurrection” to citizens, taking them far afield from the reality of being victims of blowback violence, caused by the policies of their own political leaders that exploit and kill so many people in their name, creating enemies and tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings. This emphasis is not to minimize the tragic loss of lives and injuries suffered by victims and their families. The aim is to point out that there will be far less victims when our leaders begin relying on empathy, diplomacy and justice as their “force for good” rather than military power like the US Navy.
Thanksgiving, which actually celebrates white America’s birth (on the bones of indigenous peoples and the backs of enslaved black persons), is a special time for blending football and fighting. On this national holiday, during a special National Football League game, the television camera cuts to Afghanistan or another country, to feature and pay tribute to assembled, smiling troops, enjoying a turkey dinner and cheering for their favorite team. The sports announcer then thanks them, and U.S. military personnel around the world, “for their service and sacrifice in protecting America’s freedom.” (One wonders what happens to this expression of gratitude when veterans return home in need of good paying jobs, or adequate health care, or decent housing.) The announcer is actually referring to some 1000 U.S. military bases around the world. Evidently “protecting America’s freedom” means keeping The Other in their places of subservience. Never mind that no other country surrounds other nations with such an array of military forces.
Like the National Football League, college football joins the gridiron and the battlefield at the hip. On November 16, Penn State hosted Purdue in a “military appreciation game,” with a section of the stadium reserved for soldiers. Such “Military Appreciation” games are now observed by many colleges across America.
Northwestern University has shown just how symbiotic football and fighting can become. In its game against Michigan on November 16, Northwestern players, as reported, will “wear red, white and blue uniforms . . . feature[ing] a design patterned after the U. S. flag and name plates that replace the names of players with the words Duty, Honor, Courage, Commitment, Integrity, Country and Service,” and also on their uniforms “what appears to be ‘blood spatter’” on “‘a flag . . . flown proudly.’” And these words are behind each player’s helmet: “Believe in heroes,” with “Northwestern” written across the front of the jerseys. The uniforms will be “later auctioned off to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization that offers a variety of programs, service and events for wounded veterans.” (“Northwestern to wear red, white & blue uniforms with pattern resembling ‘blood spatter’ to honor veterans (photos), By Matt Scalici, AL.com, Nov. 4, 2013)
Former president George W. Bush has made much of the Wounded Warrior Project, using Memorial Day weekend to sponsor “the third annual Wounded Warrior 100K ride” in Crawford, Texas. (“At the Wounded Warrior 100K, How George W. Bush Really Rolls,” By Mark McKinnon, The Daily Beast, May 26, 2013) Bush, mind you, launched an unnecessary, illegal pre-emptive war against Iraq, which resulted in the needless deaths of over 4500 American service persons and over 32,000 officially wounded. (“Casualties in Iraq, The Human Cost of Occupation,” edited by Margaret Griffis, Antiwar.com) Not to mention around one million Iraqi civilians killed, their country’s infrastructure devastated, an estimated 3.5 to 5 million or more displaced (See, “Iraq: The Human Cost,” web.mit.edu), with terrible sectarian strife in the wake of America’s military departure.
It was George W. Bush’s criminal warmongering that turned young Americans into wounded warriors in the first place. What better way to repair his legacy than to make the Wounded Warrior Project a special cause.
The conscience-numbing militarization of America is exemplified in George Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney, not only walking around free, but reaping the benefits of book contracts. And Bush himself even has a library and museum named after him at Southern Methodist University (SMU). All of which lead us back to the “red, white and blue” football uniforms at Northwestern University, also a United Methodist institution of “higher learning.” What Bush and Cheney have in common with Northwestern and SMU is that both are members of The United Methodist Church. The power of the status quo that leads national leaders to hide behind their Protestant denomination to prostitute themselves in the service of militarism. The power of the status quo that leads a prominent Protestant denomination to allow that to happen.
After the terrible 9/11 attacks against America, we woke up the next morning, and were told by an anti-introspective President Bush not to engage in national soul-searching. Rather, he declared, “These are evil doers. They have no justification for their actions. There’s no religious justification, there’s no political justification. The only motivation is evil.” (“International Campaign Against Terror Grows,” The White House, Sept. 25, 2001) Bush used “American exceptionalism” to throw self-examination out the window, in declaring, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world.” (Ibid) This was a lie. The motivation for the attacks was reported to be “revealed in the FBI’s statement to Congress and [Osama] bin Laden’s own words, “opposition to U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf area, most notably Saudi Arabia, U.S. support of corrupt Middle Eastern Countries, U.S. support for Israel’s brutal occupation and the ongoing assault on civilians in Iraq.” (“Bush Lied to the American People about 9/11 Terrorists’ Motives,” 9/11/09 New Video, Representative Press)
We woke up the next morning and discovered that President Bush used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for declaring war on the world, an endless global war on the “terrorist” Other. Bush repeatedly said, “You are either for us or against us,” which actually meant anyone who opposes U.S. hegemony—including bystanders.
Thus was intensified, in broad daylight, the subtle and insidious nightmare of the militarization of America—with President Barack Obama taking the “ba-ttle-ton” from George Bush and carrying on. The illegal pre-emptive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq continued. Criminal drone warfare increased, violating the national sovereignty of other nations, and killing innocent civilians, who are dutifully reported to be “militants” by guardian mainstream media. The Obama administration has “redefined ‘militant’ to mean ‘all military age males in a strike zone’ . . . to avoid counting civilian deaths.” (“’Militants’: media propaganda,” Glenn Greenwald, Salon, May 29, 2012) And with the drone warfare came the Obama administration’s sanctifying of a “kill list” of “enemy combatants,” including Americans, who are denied due process, summarily judged by our Priest-in-Chief, and assassinated.
We also woke up the next morning to discover, thanks to Edward Snowden, a surveillance dome over our heads. A gluttonous-funded National Security Agency (NSA) is violating our Fourth Amendment right of privacy, illegally spying on everyone’s emails, telephone calls and social media activity, allegedly to protect us from today’s “Fifth Column” Other. It is also a convenient excuse for detecting, monitoring, intimidating and squashing the dissent of informed Americans protesting the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of the ruling elite—and their corporate supporters and wealthy profiteers. Even other countries are filled with The Other, as the NSA has been spying on the citizens of allied nations and their leaders as well. (See, for example, Kent Kleins Guardian article, “US Spied on 35 World Leaders,” Voice of America, Oct. 24, 2013)
Close to home is Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, with the alleged “terrorist” Other from various countries scooped up, denied due process and caged for years. And now, over 100 detainees are enduring “inhumane forced-feeding because they have been on a hunger strike to protest their criminal confinement and treatment. What a tragic violation of American democracy, and carried out by presidents, regardless of party affiliation.
And at home there is also a war being waged on The Other: the over 47 million poor Americans who receive food stamps, 45% of whom are children. The latest salvo against these Other is a $5 billion November cut in their food stamps. The ammunition for this war is the attitude of legislators like Republican House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, who has said, “The safety net is becoming ‘a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.’” (“A War on the Poor,” Paul Krugman, The New York Times, Nov. 1, 2013) Never mind the historic economic, educational and political structural inequalities that are maintained by and serve the wealthiest politically-connected Americans, in a society with an alarming, and growing, divide between the rich and the poor. A nun, who works in a soup kitchen, responds to the savage, food-stamp cutting disregard for America’s own Other: “’People at this level of need are already going hungry,’ said Sister Noreen Buttimer . . . It is frightening how we think about the poor,” (“Cut in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor, By Kim Severson and Winnie Hu, The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2013)
Where are the clergy in response to the cancerous militarization of America’s soul? Many people of faith are doing good work, feeding the poor with their soup kitchens and food pantries, advocating for a minimum wage, and pushing local political leaders to give greater priority to low income housing, more adequate health care and other needed services for old and young alike in their communities.
But much of the good work of people of faith is circumscribed. They are more ready to help the poor than to challenge power structures that keep people poor. Many specialize in caring for troubled and ill persons, but their specialization can become a hiding place, leading some to avoid dealing with the economic and political realities that trouble people and make them sick. It is much easier—and safer—to be a shepherd rather than a prophet—and to see people as sheep rather than individuals with human rights. The two roles are intertwined, as both involve caring for the well-being and rights of the people.
People of faith readily pray for the troops, but do not confront political and corporate leaders whose policies prey on other countries, and who then put the troops in harm’s way to war against those who resist. They are laudable in their caring of the victims of blowback violence, like the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. But they do not raise their voices against their own government’s state sponsored terrorism which creates countless victims, and enemies and blowback violence. It is much easier—and safer—to be chaplains of the status quo than to rock the ship of state and risk losing their own privileged status. With Republican and Democrats occupying their pews and hierarchies, it is the politics of religion that often keeps religion out of politics—out of risky political issues.
America is plunging deeper and deeper into a militaristic plutocratic abyss. It desperately needs prophetic people of faith, whose empathy enables them to transcend “American exceptionalism” and humanize people, rather than criminalize them as The Other.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling. It is available on Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.