OPINION – As a kid in grade school, I looked forward to going to class each Monday morning. But my enthusiasm had nothing to do with my schooling.
Instead, I was anxious to catch up with my friends and discuss what we had watched on ABC’s “The World At War” on Sunday night. We devoured every book about military weapons that we could find in our school library. At recess, we played army with an intensity that would put most of today’s politically correct educators into therapy.
In our spare time we played with our G.I. Joes and built models of our favorite military aircraft and armored vehicles. We eagerly recounted every scene of our favorite war movies.
War was our favorite obsession.
All we knew of war at the time was what we had seen on a TV or movie screen. But we understood that it was glorious and exciting.
As a young adult living in the Midwest, I regularly geeked out at the sight of war planes flying in and out of the nearby air bases.
When the first Gulf War kicked off in 1991, I was glued to my television watching it unfold in real-time. Outraged at the prospect of paying $1.50 for a gallon of gas, I cheered as Coalition forces destroyed Saddam’s military machine.
War was like a video game that played out in far away lands where evildoers were being obliterated. I still believed war was cool.
My thinking began to change after a conversation with a neighbor who had been in the Battle of the Bulge. When I congratulated him on having been a part of history, his outraged response surprised me. He was appalled at my childish enthusiasm for war.
That’s when the realization hit me that I was caught up in a form of modern idolatry.
A turning point came after reading President Eisenhower’s 1961 warning about how an immense military establishment and large arms industry might undermine America’s spiritual values. He warned:
The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
What Eisenhower warned against can be seen in the pseudo-religious transformation that took place in America following 9/11. It became rare to attend a sporting event or public gathering of any size that didn’t include a worship service of sorts.
This civic sacrament included anthems, honoring members of the armed forces, military fly-overs, patriotic hymns, and symbols of the state.
The fervor also spread to actual church pulpits where military service was glorified and celebrated as a type of missionary work.
Many of our holidays have become synonymous with ceremonies to honor our armed forces. No parade is complete without acknowledgement and praise for the military.
This mindset is taking hold at the local level as our police departments are transforming into military forces that are considered beyond criticism. Remember this next time you see a police Bearcat or MRAP – mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle – being cheered by parade spectators.
These celebrations of the state’s ability to make war are equated with American patriotism. The partnership of state and church has us worshiping a false idol.
The individuals with whom I’ve spoken who have experienced the reality of war do not feel virtuous pride for what they had to do. They do not brag or boast of killing others.
Many veterans return home with a deep, unseen burden that is not helped by society’s reflexive adulation and backslapping. The staggering suicide rate of our nation’s veterans should be a clear indicator that all is not well.
For the sake of those readers who are hearing their pulse roaring in their ears, I need to make something clear. I have no disrespect for honorable men and women who choose to serve in the armed forces.
But I no longer conflate respect with worship and this angers those who have forgotten the difference.
Individuals and nations have an absolute right to self defense. Sometimes war is a regrettable necessity. But I no longer labor under the misguided notion that slaughtering foreigners proves our love for America.
The fact that there is evil in our world doesn’t mean that every conflict into which the U.S. military is sent is just or righteous. Corrupt power-seekers feel little remorse for sending good men and women into harm’s way for questionable policy goals.
If there is a virtue that can protect and preserve the best of America, it will not be found in worshiping false idols.
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- Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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