Friday, May 19, 2006

Turn the other cheek

Yeah... Jesus said that. But who would guess that today?

I think that academic work is often a good opportunity to turn the lemons of life into lemonade by studying the hell out of something and making a better point. This is recently what I've done with the whole "Pappy" fiasco of earlier this year in February (check out Karl's original post, his follow-up post, and my post on this matter).

Below is an abridged and edited version of an essay I wrote for a class I am taking this quarter. If you want to skip ahead to my conclusion, just scroll to the text underneath the dotted lines.


On February 7, 2006, the Student Senate of the University of Washington, of which I am the Chair, voted to fail a resolution calling for a memorial to Col. Gregory Boyington. The vehement comments I received in response (many calling me ignorant, ungrateful, deserving of death or punishment) provided an unexpected firsthand education in America’s military idolatry – an idol worship rooted in American self-righteousness – a worship wherein we shirk greater duties to ourselves and our neighbors.

Andrew Bacevich defines American militarism as “a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsize expectations regarding the efficacy of force” (2). Over the course of his book, it becomes clear that our militarism requires a myth of “chosenness” in order to work. Myths, writes Bacevich, “enable us to sustain the belief that [soldiers]… are, in fact, bringing peace and light to troubled corners of the earth rather than pushing ever outward the perimeter of an American empire” (98).

America's special myth is a sense that our nation is specially favored to do God's will. Throughout U.S. history, leaders have constantly invoked America's special place in the world. William Stoughton, a 17th century settler, said, "God sifted a whole nation that he might send choice grain over into the wilderness." Senator Albert Beverige said in 1900, "[God] has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth… He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the redemption of the world!" Woodrow Wilson said, "These are American principles, American policies... they are the principles of mankind and must prevail." Explicitly Christian or not, the myth of "chosenness" is a constant thread in our history, and is obviously present in today's George W. Bush.

The problem is that a divine destiny requires a national commitment to this destiny. Bacevich writes, “For conservative Christians after Vietnam, the prerequisite for fulfilling America’s mandate as divine agent was the immediate reconstitution of U.S. military power” (135). Politicians turned military force into the means to fulfill our covenant obligations to God – and consequently, soldiers became the priests of this temple in Jerusalem, preparing sacrifices on behalf of the chosen nation (this is a reference to Second Temple Judaism - ask me if you want to learn more). Jerry Falwell called the American G-I “a champion for Christ”, and Billy Graham charged West Point graduates to “become the beacon lights to guide our nation…” (127, 141).

Robert Bellah wrote convincingly that America’s myth of chosenness, unaccompanied by a covenantal obligations to better the society, was leading the nation to disaster. But we see here that militarism is exactly how we see ourselves fulfilling the covenant after all. No surprise, then, that criticism of the military idol is taken as a polemic attack against these religious covenant duties – failure to immortalize a soldier is tantamount to desecration of a priest. Addressing educational inequality, environmental degradation, and criminal injustice become but leisurely tasks – the real work of republic is to fulfill this ordained, violent destiny. Heads turned to this false altar, what is it we ignore? Al Gore recently asked, “Is it possible that we should prepare against other threats besides terrorists?” Discourse must allow for reasoned dialogue about the use of force and the users of force without cries of heresy or treason. We owe much more to ourselves, our families, and our future - we owe much more to God.


I hereby call upon all people of faith to renounce the false religion of American militarism - the mindless veneration of soldiery, the justification of the sin of murder, the warping of the resources of God's Creation towards mutual destruction - it is all false, false, false. We have
real work to do - to proclaim the love of God in ways that do not also contradict it. Is this "too idealistic"? Of course - how else can Christians be?

How do you like
them apples?

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