Monthly Archives: December 2011

Haven’t We Been Down This Road Before?

Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats  
Will not debate the question of this straw:
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies.  –Hamlet, Act IV, Scene iv

Don’t look now, but it’s happening again, just when you thought the wars in the Middle East were winding down. No, war never takes a holiday, not for the USA. For in case you haven’t noticed, war is now a permanent calling card of our foreign policy. Now that al-Qaeda has been hamstrung, it’s time to find a new enemy and a new war. This time it’s Iran, the greatest threat to civilization–according to the spin–since Alaric the Goth.

We’re like the plumber who had only one tool, a hammer– and oh what a mess he made wherever he went!

Few would have any affection for the Iranian government, a brutally repressive regime. The problem, however, is that, unlike us, Iran hasn’t invaded anyone. They’ve not declared war on us. Their so-called nuclear weapons program is but a mirage. Only look how hard our government has worked in recent weeks to find something, anything incriminating against them. But as we’ve learned from the last war and the hunt for WMDs, facts don’t matter much. When the US wants to go to war, we’ll find a casus belli, even if we have to manufacture one (again). Now that Iraq and Afghanistan have been “made safe for democracy” (i.e., reduced to rubble), Iran is next on the list.

Don’t believe it? Just ask retired US Army General Wesley Clark. According to Clark, neo-cons at the Pentagon have long been at work implementing a plan “to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.” The plan has included destroying the governments of seven countries: Iraq (check), Afghanistan (check), Libya (check), Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, and Iran.

What I find fascinating is not that Iran is simply Iraq redux, nor that the corporate media, in their usual fawning subservience, are falling into line to do the government’s bidding. Rather, I feel like the philosopher Kierkegaard, who once attended service at the king’s chapel, where “the stately court preacher…advances before an elite circle of fashionable and cultivated people and preaches emotionally on the text of the Apostle, ‘God chose the lowly and despised.’” What amazed the philosopher most was that no one laughed.

The vast majority of Americans have no trust in government when it comes to taxes, but our faith becomes absolutely implicit when it comes to war powers (the biggest revenue waster on earth). We Yanks love a good fight– provided we win, and it does not last too long.  And for some reason drummed into us from the cradle, we are under the misapprehension that America goes to war only to export democracy– free speech, the right to vote, and a CVS on every corner. Who wouldn’t want that? We don’t understand that, in reality, what we export overseas is not democracy but economic domination, corporate exploitation. Or perhaps we just don’t care. If we were able to look at things squarely in the face, we might discover that our foreign policy is not an extension of American democratic institutions; it is responsible only to an A-list of multinational corporations. But we ordinary citizens don’t seem to mind, benefiting as we do from the fruits of empire: cheap gasoline, cheap electronics, cheap clothing and other commodities. It is a symbiotic relationship, like rhinos and oxpeckers.

As satirist Tom Lehrer used to sing in “Send the Marines”:

For might makes right, and till they’ve seen the light,
They’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected,
‘Till somebody we like can be elected.

That is, “somebody” favorable to doing business our way, which means handing over all their natural resources so that we can turn them into profitable commodities. We call it “economic development.” Those kill-joy countries who decline to be pushovers then become the villains in our national melodrammer.

“But Iran wants the bomb!” you cry. Well, can you blame them? Iran is a major player in the region and wants to be respected as such. They are tired of being isolated and fearful of being bombed by the US and Israel (which has been assassinating Iranian physicists with alarming frequency)–just as we are fearful of having a new power to contend with, one that will be a wedgie in our plans to dominate all the sources of oil in the region. “But they’ve threatened Israel; they want to wipe it off the map!” Granted, Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli rhetoric is insane and over the top, but it is designed for home consumption. The Iranian regime, like other totalitarian states, needs at least one bogeyman to give it legitimacy and to distract its populace from the harshness of its rule, just as the Israeli government needs to be surrounded by enemies so that it can justify the ongoing theft of Palestinian land. There is another oddly symbiotic relationship.

In reality, no country would be so foolish and suicidal as to attack Israel with a nuclear strike. Israel maintains the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the region and a swift capability to deliver them with accuracy by sea or air. So the security argument does not wash. Perhaps by security we really mean our desire to do what we want, to whom and when we want, arrogating to ourselves alone the right to be the biggest bully on the world stage. No, sadly, the biggest threats to world peace at the moment are the good ol’ USA and its enfant gâté (Israel)– and the American church is a chief enabler of both.

A few Sundays ago I was attending church with my family. The service was advertised as a Missions Sunday, an annual opportunity for the congregation to hear reports from its missionaries on the advancement of the gospel in various parts of the world. A traditional part of the service is a flag ceremony, in which the flags of the nations where these hard-working missionaries labor are carried down the aisle of the church. Unfortunately, one zealot, who had been entrusted with carrying the American flag, received permission from someone to don a US Army hat and fatigues and parade down the aisle to the wild cheers and applause of the congregation. How embarrassing! Not to mention sickening. It might have been forgivable if the person were a military hero. Instead, what was meant to be a harmless symbol of the unity of the church–one gospel, one people out of many nations– became a pivot point to hoist the flag of American militarism and exceptionalism. Well, I suppose we’re fortunate that in their excitement no one fired off a celebratory round– that’s always hard on stained glass. If someone had thought to ask the assembled missionaries what they thought of this display, they might have helped us gain some perspective by sharing how other peoples view us.

In Act IV of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet surveys the vast Norwegian forces about to invade his neighbor Poland, all for a scrap of land no farmer would bother to till, and he muses sardonically on the vanity of warfare. Like our own warmongering leaders, the Norwegian king,

Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d  
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw … 

To the American church all I can do is plead: please, please, don’t be manipulated again, don’t be a mascot for the military-industrial complex. We serve the Prince of peace–he is our Commander in Chief, first and foremost–and he commands us to be peacemakers, not warmongers. That means we don’t start locking and loading at the first sign of conflict; rather, in this case, we endeavor to be more objective, to understand the other side, to build bridges not bombs. It means we pray that war will not be necessary, that more death and destruction will be averted, that cooler heads will prevail, that the forces of arrogance and greed will not win out, that two great nations, two great civilizations can find a way to live in peace. It also means we love and pray for the other side as well as our own.

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