Friday, November 20, 2009
Don't Shoot! I'm Just The Messenger!
When I was a teenager living in Anaheim, I was watching the 5 o’clock news one day and considering whether or not I should go down the street to Disneyland and stab a hippie in the stomach.
It was August 1970, and a throng of long-haired hippie scum had declared a day of war on Disneyland, which as we all know is the living embodiment of all things American. It made my youthful blood boil. Disney Security had things under control until late in the afternoon when a couple of rafts full of riff-raff took over Tom Sawyer Island and reportedly tried to lower the American flag at Fort Wilderness.
Well, that was too much for me. I couldn't take any more. I imagined myself going down there with my scout knife and taking some of these guys out. Surely the police would support me because they shared my revulsion for the anti-American hippies and yippies. I would be a hero to decent folks everywhere.
What stopped me from carrying out my plan of vengeance was the announcement on the news that because of the ruckus, Disneyland was closing early for the first time in its history. And anyway, Disneyland’s admission fee would have used up all of my lawn-mowing money.
I've never told anyone about that insane juvenile revenge fantasy. I do so now to demonstrate that I, more than most people, understand misguided patriotic zeal.
My recent post declaring that no latter-day saint should enthusiastically participate in our military’s overseas adventures (or support those who do) has generated an avalanche of objections that spilled over onto at least two other Mormon-themed blogs. Although there were plenty who agreed with my position (which was essentially the official position of the church), many more were appalled at my refusal to bow down to Baal and acknowledge that America's military is a global force for good.
From the tone of those letters, you would have thought that I had committed some horrible crime, such as expressing an opinion.
Well, I was expressing an opinion, but it was not my own. I had borrowed that opinion from the scriptures and general authorities of the church. The gist of my thesis was that war should only be engaged in for reasons of national defense, and that soldiers, like anybody else, are accountable for their actions.
That last part is where I really caught hell. Apparently the holiness of the man in uniform is not to be questioned.
What particularly intrigued me about my attackers was how readily so many of these fellow saints were willing to misrepresent my position. I had said the soldier would be some day held accountable for all of his actions in war time, but you would have thought I had convicted him of murder and condemned him to hell.
To my critics I say: I understand your hero worship of the man in uniform, for I was once an idolater like you.
Growing up on Marine bases as a child, I attended church with servicemen who were also my teachers and scout leaders. This was the late fifties and early sixties, when it was pretty much a rite of passage for young men to do a stint in the service. It was that time represented in those flashbacks on the Dick Van Dyke Show when Rob Petrie met Laura working for the USO. It was the military culture affectionately portrayed by Gomer Pyle and Beetle Bailey and in Jerry Lewis Movies. It was the best time to be a soldier because we weren't in any fights.
It was also a great time and place to be the child of a soldier. Growing up on base was better than being in Norman Rockwell's America. I went to school with kids who were also the children of marines, and after school I had a paper route and spent my money at the PX on Sad Sack, BlackHawk, and Sgt. Fury comic books. We kids had the run of this miniature city on our bikes, and our parents never worried about where we were because it was always safe there.
The men in our lives were instilled with a sense of honor and discipline. Their sole motivation for being in the service was to be ready in the event of an attack against our country. This was before anyone had ever heard of Viet Nam, and the idea of a marine ever being the aggressor or occupier of a sovereign country that had done us no harm would have been inconceivable to any of us.
My father instilled in me a deep loyalty to God and country. But growing up with the military and Mormonism intertwined as it was did result in one big blind spot on my psyche. Somehow I was unable to tell who it was I actually owed my allegiance to. God, Church, and Government were all the same deity to me.
Thus my later distaste for anyone I deemed an enemy of the state, such as those treasonous long-hairs defiling my beloved Disneyland. They were the ones criticizing President Nixon over what I then believed was a just war, and this to me was high treason. As far as I was concerned, the president of the United States was as righteous and infallible as the president of the church. And of course I believed that the president of the church was as pure and perfect as God himself.
Speaking evil of the Lord's anointed was not permitted in my worldview, and the way I understood it, Richard Nixon was the Lord's anointed.
Yeah, I know. I told you I was insane.
Over the years as I came to my senses I learned that God expects us to question all authority. But today I find around me a contingent of fellow Saints who wouldn't think of questioning their government.
It's been my sad observation that some Latter-day Saints seem conditioned to be unquestioningly obedient to authority. Any authority.
They seem to hold the belief that because this land was ordained by God, its government is somehow incapable of being compromised or corrupted. As most of us know, this proposition is heavily refuted by scripture.
Since I’ve become an adult, I’ve tended to give more weight to the tenets of my religion than I have to the lies of politicians, and I just assumed most latter-day saints felt pretty much the same way. In a proclamation of the First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith, the church reminded the membership that “dogmatic assertions do not take the place of revelation.”
Such a declaration seems to me to be self-evident. So imagine my surprise to hear from so many saints who have never thought to question the propaganda of their government, particularly in regard to that government's habitual misuse of its military. Rather than decry this misuse, they ignore it, preferring instead to idealize the soldier caught within it.
A friend has provided a cogent description of what’s wrong with such illusions. He has the gift of expressing my own thoughts better than I ever could, so I offer here an abbreviated version of his comments:
“Vets certainly deserve respect, but there are some frightening unintended consequences of such fervent vet worship. This is especially true when you consider that our military has largely been used as an instrument for sustaining and compounding inequality in the world since WWII.
“It is laughable to think that any potential force is capable of threatening our sovereignty... All those lives sacrificed in Vietnam proved to be of little geopolitical consequence. Our greatest risk is to piss off people around the world so badly that they are compelled to carry out suicide missions.
“Consider our actions in the Middle East since WWII, supporting (even installing, in the case of Iran) vicious regimes in exchange for favorable access to crude oil resources. Not to mention our role in forcing Palestinians into overcrowded and unproductive patches of land to ensure a dominant Jewish state in the region (and to prevent an uncomfortably large inflow of Jewish refugees into the U.S.). Our actions have led to the oppression and starvation of perhaps millions. The hatred we engender has compelled us to deploy our military in order to keep the order.
“With all the damage that we created in the Muslim world even before the War on Terror, it is no wonder that radical movements have materialized. It is also no wonder that "fanatical" nations have felt a need to have nukes of their own. Would I feel better if only the U.S. possessed them? Of course. But what moral justification can we impose upon other nations? Was it not us that opened Pandora's box? Do we not remain the only nation to deploy against living targets?
“In Iraq, the nuke argument proved to be falsified, but here we are, almost 7 years later. Obama is not pulling out because it will be a political nightmare when the nation falls apart shortly upon our departure. Saddam was a villain, but hundreds of thousands have now been killed as part of collateral damage and an inevitable civil war. We probably wish we could resurrect Saddam Hussein and push the reset button.
"Maybe if the west had not been interfering with Iraqi affairs since WWI, we would have enjoyed a much more stable and "soft" authoritarian regime, a la Jordan, or even Syria for that matter. Not exactly a threat to our borders.
"Afghanistan - we crippled Al Q'aida long ago, and there is no hope of stabilizing the country in our lifetime outside of turning it back over to the Taliban.
“Vets absolutely deserve our respect and attention. We should show empathy for their plight, especially those that are repeatedly shuffled back and forth, to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps more importantly, they deserve our advocacy. If they are wrongfully being subjected to harm's way due to unvirtuous leadership, then we should raise a fuss.
"But it seems that by glorifying those who are serving in current wars as though our involvement in these conflicts is the thing that separates us from living carefree to living under Sharia Law, only serves as propaganda that raises just enough war-mongering support to keep the war machine rolling onward.
"I would revere our military just as much if they bravely elected to serve as the first and last line of defense, manning bases throughout our country, venturing out into the Atlantic and Pacific around our own shores. I wouldn't feel as bad for them as I do right now.
“Let's put respect in its proper perspective. No living vet (WWI/II being questionable in this regard) has had to shed blood to preserve our sovereignty and freedom. Our military has been shamelessly misused as a veritable mercenary army to carry out political agendas and economic imperatives by paranoid administrations (I probably would not use such strong condemnation for WWI/II, since it is still a matter of debate how crucial our involvement was).
“Soldiers have often exhibited incredible courage, and suffered unimaginable trauma, and for that, I believe they deserve respect and sympathy.
"If China inexplicably crossed the Pacific to invade our shores, I would probably break down into fervent celebration of those that stepped up to risk and sacrifice their lives to protect our nation. But then, China dares not even cross the Strait of Taiwan to reclaim their traditional island territory of Taiwan, due to a few U.S. battleships.
"I don't believe it is reasonable to expect the military to defy orders. It is incumbent upon the constituency and leadership at home to painstakingly ensure they are not misused and abused.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
Those of you at home cheering on the military establishment in its unconstitutional wars are not doing your sons and daughters any favors. You’re helping to keep them in harm’s way and increasing the likelihood that they could lose their lives for nothing.
That's what I said... Nothing.