It begins soon after the Thanksgiving holiday. You hear them in stores. You listen to them on the radio. You sing them in church. You probably have some of them on a CD. I am referring, of course, to Christmas carols, like say: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Christmas Tree, O Come All Ye Faithful, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Angels from the Realms of Glory, O Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel. Although Christmas is the time when people celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), if some people were honest they would have to acknowledge that they also honor Mars, the Roman god of war. And if this wasn’t bad enough, they honor him every day of the year, not just on December 25. They honor Mars every time they claim to support the troops. Americans are in love with the U.S. military. As the fiasco that is the war in Iraq has shown, it doesn’t matter how senseless the war, it doesn’t matter how many lies the war is based on, it doesn’t matter how much the Bush administration manipulated intelligence, it doesn’t matter how much the war costs, it doesn’t matter how long the war lasts, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of American soldiers are killed or injured, and it certainly doesn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are killed or injured — too many Americans can be found who still mindlessly repeat the refrain of “support the troops.” Some American Christians chime in with their “obey the powers that be” mantra. Coupled with the melody of “we can’t just cut and run” and the chorus of “it is better to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” we have a four-part warmonger harmony. Because it is the Christmas season, and the sound of Christmas carols is everywhere, I have taken the liberty to rewrite the traditional carols that I have mentioned above. If Americans who are so enamored with the military were honest, this is what they should really be singing during this time of the year: God rest ye merry soldiers Let nothing you dismay, Remember, the U.S. military Still fights on Christmas day; To kill those darn Iraqis Because they have gone astray. O tidings of destruction and death, Destruction and death. O tidings of destruction and death. O Uniform! O Uniform! I can kill when I wear thee. O Uniform! O Uniform! I can kill when I wear thee. Not only when the summer’s here, But also when ’tis cold and drear. O Uniform! O Uniform! I can kill when I wear thee. O come all ye soldiers Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Baghdad. Come and behold them, Muslim worshippers of Allah. O come, let us bomb them, O come, let us maim them, O come, let us kill them, Ragheads galore. It came upon the midnight clear, That horrible sound of old, Of soldiers flying near the earth, With bombs to drop from their hold. “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men From America’s mighty military!” Iraq in solemn horror lay To hear the bombs zing. Soldiers from the U.S. military, Fire your weapons o’er all Baghdad. Ye who seek to kill for glory, Now have a chance to make your heart glad: Fire your weapon, Fire your weapon, Fire your weapon for Bush the king! O little town of Baghdad How still we see thee lie; Above all thy destruction The U.S. air force flies. And in thy dark streets shineth America’s military might. The bombs and bullets of all us here Will be unleashed on thee tonight. The first bullet, George Bush did say Was for certain poor Iraqis in deserts as they lay, In sand where they lay all night in a heap On a March ’03 night that was so deep. Oh well, Oh well, Oh well, Oh well; Now is the time for us to blow you to hell! How irreverent, says the supporter of the U.S. military. Sacrilegious, says the defender of the war in Iraq. Blasphemous, says the Christian warmonger. Is that so? Why is it not considered irreverent when people ask God to bless the troops? Why is it not considered sacrilegious when people pray that God would protect the troops? Why is it not considered blasphemous when Christians campaign for Bush and defend his war? For those who refuse to listen to anything I say about the military because I never “served” — and would in fact prefer that I shred all the copies of my book, Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State — I highly recommend the work of West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich. His recent book is called The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005). I have previously written about his book in the context of the conservative Christian love affair with the U.S. military. There is still time to get the book in time for Christmas. If there is one book to give to current and former members of the military, as well as their enthusiasts, this is the book. War brings out the worst in young men. What we tolerate from them, and what they tolerate from themselves, would normally be repugnant to any civilized person. It is tolerated because it is sanitized (in the minds of many) because a soldier wears a uniform, is surrounded by a great company of other soldiers, and kills by government decree. The folly of this idea can be seen in the story of the reply given to Alexander the Great (356—323 B.C.) by a captured pirate that was recounted by Augustine (354—430) sixteen hundred years ago in his famous work, The City of God:
Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor” (book IV, chapter 4).
Writing on the causes, consequences, and lawfulness of war, along with comments on the probable practical effects of adhering to the moral law in respect to war, Jonathan Dymond (1796—1828), one young in years but old in wisdom, stated:
Another cause of our complacency with war, and therefore another cause of war itself, consists in that callousness to human misery which the custom induces. They who are shocked at a single murder on the highway, hear with indifference of the slaughter of a thousand on the field. They whom the idea of a single corpse would thrill with terror, contemplate that of heaps of human carcasses mangled by human hands, with frigid indifference. If a murder is committed, the narrative is given in the public newspaper, with many adjectives of horror — with many expressions of commiseration, and many hopes that the perpetrator will be detected. In the next paragraph, the editor, perhaps, tells us that he has hurried in a second edition to the press, in order that he may be the first to glad the public with the intelligence, that in an engagement which has just taken place, eight hundred and fifty of the enemy were killed. Now, is not this latter intelligence eight hundred and fifty times as deplorable as the first? Yet the first is the subject of our sorrow, and this — of our joy! The inconsistency and disproportionateness which has been occasioned in our sentiments of benevolence, offers a curious moral phenomenon.
He also wrote about why wars are often so popular:
But perhaps the most operative cause of the popularity of war, and of the facility with which we engage in it, consists in this; that an idea of glory is attached to military exploits, and of honor to the military profession. The glories of battle, and of those who perish in it, or who return in triumph to their country, are favorite topics of declamation with the historian, the biographers, and the poet. They have told us a thousands times of dying heroes, who “resign their lives amidst the joys of conquest, and, filled with their country’s glory, smile in death;” and thus every excitement that eloquence and genius can command, is employed to arouse that ambition of fame which can be gratified only at the expense of blood.
It is indeed “a curious moral phenomenon” that many Americans, the vast majority of whom claim to be a Christian of one sort or another, can sing traditional Christmas carols one minute and — by defending Bush and his war, glorifying the military, and repeating their mindless mantras — sing warmonger Christmas carols the next.