Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Whole Armor of God

[T]he Pentagon specified that American troops may evangelize but not proselytize. “I’m talking,” said a rear admiral, “about gently whispering the Gospel.”
                                                                         - Harper's Weekly Review, May 7, 2013

I was walking home from my little neighborhood grocery one soggy April day a couple of weeks ago, keeping to the middle of the street so as to avoid the need to accost any fellow pedestrians, when I spied a youthful duo approaching along a sidewalk, navy blue nylon parkas zipped against the spring dampness over white nylon dress shirts and dreary polyester neckties. A pair of young Mormons if ever I saw a pair, I thought. One of them smiled and nodded in passing, then the gleam of opportunity quickened his eye. He turned and said, "Oh - we're Mormon missionaries . . . " (his very words). "Congratulations," I answered. "Have a nice day," he said, and walked on past. (So far so good, I thought to myself.)

The thing about Mormons is that you can pretty much expect this sort of behavior, so constant and so predictable are the cultural impulses of the Mormon faith. The same is true of invading armies, let's say. When the Russian army swept across Eastern Europe and into Germany in 1944, you could pretty much figure that your village was about to be pillaged, that you were about to be either raped or shot or both, depending on the tastes and general mood of your assailants, and that your extended family was about to be translated into historical memory. These were all givens, the working out of an historico-cultural mandate, perhaps even a necessity of genetic determinism.

It's just Mormons being Mormons, Russians being Russians. Armies being armies. Were we entirely honest, we'd all admit to knowing enough about what went on in Vietnam to know that what our troops were dishing out to the locals wasn't American chocolate and silk stockings. We weren't doing "hearts and minds" back in the 1970s.

But everyone needs a myth (or "narrative" if you prefer), so 21st century American warfare is really about carrying democracy and (inasmuch as we think these may differ) American culture into places hungering for the universal franchise, the empowerment of their wives and daughters, access to the works of Schopenhauer and Stephen King, stuff in aluminum cans which can dot the landscape in perpetuity, the opportunity to trade in highly leveraged financial instruments - and now, as it seems, Holy Writ. The Good News, the Gospel, the Good Book as interpreted by some gaggle of scrub-headed, heavily armed, sanctimonious amateur theologians who just climbed out of a tank and stormed over your mud compound.

If I were living in Afghanistan, just to pick a place, and were faced with the choice of that or drone strikes, I'd be hard put to know which to choose. No wonder they hate us.

The point, I suppose, is that if we're going to do these unilateral military interventions throughout the rest of the world, then we should be single-minded in our pursuits. Just rape and pillage - don't rape and pillage first and then hold open air Bible classes in the ruins of their recent village and explain why your version of the world and eternity is so much better, kinder and democratic than their version. Do the job, if do the job you must, pack up and leave.

The whole armor of God

Apparently there's been enough of this unvetted moral improvement going on that the Pentagon has attempted to set some guidelines. Any attempt to limit cultural chauvinism among its troops leads predictably to the delicious sense of grievance upon which the Christian faith relies for its vigor: "Christian conservatives have grown increasingly alarmed in recent weeks over reports and rumors that the Pentagon is considering new policies aimed at discriminating against Christians and disciplining or even court martialing those who share their faith."

The entire razzmatazz got its leverage from one of the resident geniuses on Fox News and has taken on its own life in spite of the Pentagon's (apparently genuine) protestations that it attempts to maintain credal neutrality. (Although maybe that's a case of 'better late than never.') There is also no mention of the Jewish or Muslim members of the U.S. military indulging a similar penchant to improve the spiritually blighted, quasi-subdued populations of our ill-managed military holdings around the globe.

Were the choice mine to make (a devil's choice in this instance) I'd skip the sermon and elect to be bombed back to the stone age. You wouldn't get this guy to lead any Bible classes in a land forsaken by the march of capital, Christianity and democratic ideals. He knew what his job was, even if someone was smart enough, or just humane enough, not to let him finish it.

Curtis "Back to the Stone Age" LeMay

No comments:

Post a Comment