God Bless Our Troops?

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If soldiers were to begin to think, not one of them would remain in the army. ~
Frederick the Great

You
see it on bumper stickers, church signs, and the ubiquitous yellow ribbons —
God Bless Our Troops. You hear it prayed from the pulpit and the pew — God
Bless Our Troops. You hear it uttered by Evangelicals, Catholics, and nominal
Christians — God Bless Our Troops.

Why
should He?

Because
they are in harm’s way? Because they are brave? Because they are protecting our
freedoms? Because they are fighting for democracy? Because they are fighting terrorism?
Because they are righteous and the enemy is evil? Because “God is love”?
Because some of my relatives are in the military? Because a soldier is an honorable
profession? Because “the Lord is a man of war”?

American
Christians are either naïve or just plain stupid. Don’t they realize that
the citizens of other countries incorporate the same slogan into their signs,
prayers, and speeches? How is God supposed to bless the troops on both sides?
Oh, that is simple, says the typical American Christian: God is not supposed to
bless the troops on the other side. In fact, he will not bless them, not as long
as they are fighting against American troops.

So
the real answer to the “why should he” question is because they are
American troops. American troops must be especially dear to the heart of God.
They are made up for the most part of professing Christians (except for the Buddhists
in the military who now have their
own chaplain
, Lt. j.g. Jeanette Gracie Shin), and supported by professing
Christians. They defend this great “Christian” nation, they perform
humanitarian acts, they help spread democracy and American values, they fight
against terrorism and evil, they protect our freedoms, they keep us safe.

So
what could possibly be wrong with asking God to bless our troops?

Christians
will generally agree with you if you denounce some of the more outrageous abuses
of the government; most will concur if you condemn the welfare state; many will
go along with you if you disparage one of the presidents (excepting, of course,
Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and George WMD Bush); some will put up with you
if you criticize the U.S. global empire; a few will even tolerate you if you denigrate
the warfare state; but once you question the military in any way — its size,
its budget, its contractors, its bureaucracy, its efficiency, its purpose, and
especially its acts of death and destruction as the coercive arm of the state
— many Christians will brand you as a pacifist, a liberal, a communist, an
anti-war weenie, a traitor, a coward, an appeaser, or an America-hater.

How
about a sane, rational, individual?

Conservative
Christians that consider Bush to be a stupid biblical illiterate and a sorry excuse
for a Christian, that don’t support the United States engaging in foreign wars,
that rail against American troops being in Iraq, and acknowledge that we are in
an unconstitutional, undeclared war nevertheless win the prize for being the most
insane and irrational when they maintain that there is nothing wrong with a Christian
joining the military and going to Iraq to kill people as long as the government
says that is where he should go. What makes this so nonsensical is that it is
not a question of a Christian being drafted or in some way forced to go into the
military and then being told by his pastor that he should “obey the powers
that be,” it is purely voluntary.

The
Christian in the military is not exempt either. Christian soldiers who bomb, interrogate,
and kill for the state cannot hide behind the lame excuse that they are just following
orders. The Christian soldier in the U.S. military is there by choice. He was
not drafted. He was not forced to enlist at the point of a gun. If he can read
then he has no excuse for being ignorant of the folly of the hundred-plus years
of U.S. wars and interventions abroad. If he can see then he has no excuse for
joining a military that does everything but actually defend the country.

Why
do conservative Christians have such a love affair with the U.S. military? Andrew
Bacevich, in his fascinating new work, The
New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War
(Oxford, 2005),
has a whole chapter on the subject. This is a book that all conservative Christian
apologists for the military ought to read. Yet, most of them will never read it
even though the author is a conservative, religious, a West Point graduate, a
Vietnam veteran, and a former professional soldier. And sadly, many of them will
never even know the book existed, including the very people who claim to be so
well-read. How many Christian critics of my book, Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State
, have ever bothered
to read any of the books listed at the end under “For Further Reading”?
Some pastors who claim to be bookworms that are so well-read are in actuality
way behind the times.

Bacevich
wastes no time in his Preface, but gets right down to business: “This is
a book about the new American militarism — the misleading and dangerous conceptions
of war, soldiers, and military institutions that have come to pervade the American
consciousness and that have perverted present-day U.S. national security policy.”
Chapter 5, “Onward,” specifically addresses why the military is held
in such high esteem by too many Christians. In a word: Vietnam:

For
conservative Christians after Vietnam, the prerequisite for fulfilling America’s
mandate as divine agent was the immediate reconstitution of U.S. military power.

In
the aftermath of Vietnam, evangelicals came to see the military as an enclave
of virtue, a place of refuge where the sacred remnant of patriotic Americans gathered
and preserved American principles from extinction.

Because
of the cultural upheaval and moral crisis that was triggered by and coincided
with the war in Vietnam, “Militant evangelicals imparted religious sanction
to the militarization of U.S. policy and helped imbue the resulting military activism
with an aura of moral legitimacy.” “Moreover,” says Bacevich,

Some
evangelicals looked to the armed services to play a pivotal role in saving America
from internal collapse. In a decadent and morally confused time, they came to
celebrate the military itself as a bastion of the values required to stem the
nation’s slide toward perdition: respect for tradition, an appreciation for order
and discipline, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the common good. In short,
evangelicals looked to soldiers to model the personal qualities that citizens
at large needed to rediscover if America were to reverse the tide of godlessness
and social decay to which the 1960s had given impetus.

Evangelical
Christians could not have made a bigger mistake.

Bacevich
faults Billy Graham and other evangelical leaders for “courting politicians
and being romanced in return.” Graham supported U.S. policy in Vietnam, saying
that “Americans should back their President in his decision to make a stand
in Viet Nam.” At the same time, Jerry
Falwell
, one of the most loyal supporters of Bush’s war in Iraq, touted the
U.S. soldier in Vietnam as “a champion for Christ.”

There
soon developed an unholy alliance between evangelical Christians and the military.
Bacevich dates the ratification of this “entente” as May 1, 1972, when
Billy Graham was given the Sylvanus
Thayer Award
by the Association of Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy.
This is awarded annually at West Point to a citizen “whose outstanding character,
accomplishments, and stature in the civilian community draw wholesome comparison
to the qualities for which West Point strives, in keeping with its motto: u2018Duty,
Honor, Country.’”

So,
should an American Christian pray for God to bless our troops? Not when blessing
our troops means allowing them to injure, maim, kill, and destroy property while
they themselves come out unscathed. American Christians should pray for an end
to this foolish war. They should pray for the troops to be brought home. They
should pray for Congress to end funding for this war. They should pray for Bush
to leave office in disgrace for being a lying, bloody warmonger. They should pray
for Congress to follow the Constitution and reign in presidential war-making ability.
They should pray for the healing of the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have been
injured in this senseless war. They should pray for the end of military recruiters
preying on young, impressionable students. They should pray for the dissolution
of the alliance between the Religious Right and the Republican Party. They should
pray for the resignation of Christian “leaders” who defended this immoral
war. They should pray for pastors to have the guts to stand before their congregation
and denounce Bush and the war, specifically, not just in generalities. They should
pray for pastors to stop recommending military service to their young men. They
should pray for Christians to stop blindly following the state. They should pray
for Christian families to stop supplying cannon fodder to the military. Yes, there
are many things Christians can pray for, but certainly not “God Bless Our
Troops.”

Let
there be no mistake about the extent of my criticisms of Christian soldiers and
the U.S. military. I don’t want to see any American soldiers killed in Iraq or
anywhere else. And yes, if someone is going to die, I would rather see an Iraqi
soldier die than an American soldier die, but only for the same reason that I
would rather see a person die in someone else’s family than in my own family.
I don’t want to see any American soldiers die in Iraq for the same reason that
I don’t want to see anyone die in a car accident or because they slipped in the
bathtub.

It
is bad enough when Christian pastors moonlight as cheerleaders for Bush and his
war, but those pastors who oppose Bush’s pseudo-Christianity, his socialist domestic
policies, and his interventionist foreign policies are woefully inconsistent when
they encourage (or do nothing to discourage) the young men in their church to
join the military and then “obey the powers that be” when it comes to
bombing, interrogating, and killing for the state.

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