As I’ve written about a few times, I live across the street from a very nice family. You really couldn’t have better neighbors, and I like them all as people. But I’ve always found it curious that they are Christian, yet the two boys who have left home have both gone into the military. What’s with that? I mean, when I think of Jesus, I just don’t think of the military — and for a lot of reasons beyond the standard “Prince of Peace” nonsense. For example, I understand that Judaism goes along with the command and control of the military. But Christianity is all about doing the right thing because the holy ghost is inside of you. It’s really a very liberating theology.
Of course, in America, it largely isn’t practiced that way. Christianity is more or less a cultural signifier. People use it as a shorthand for “patriotic American.” This is why we see states trying to make the Bible the official book. The level of theology in the Bible for most Christians is something less than what is taught to five-year-olds in Sunday school. And the one thing other than Christianity that is most tied to this form of “patriotism” is the military. Taxes for public libraries are tyranny, but taxes for almost half of the world’s military spending is somewhere there in the middle of the Ten Commandments.
But there is a great rhetorical ploy when such things are brought up. The Christian will claim that our military is not aggressive. This, of course, is the standard American line, discussed so well in, War Made Easy. Supposedly, the last thing that any president ever wants to do is go to war. To see how absurd that claim is, note that George W Bush said exactly that before the Iraq War — a war that he was most clearly determined to wage. But there is more.
The Christian military apologist will then mention “nation building” and all the great humanitarian work that the military does. Setting aside the fact that this is just ridiculous, it certainly isn’t the way that those in and around the military see it. Earlier this week, Sam Knight at The Intercept wrote a great article that relates to this, Navy Drops Humanitarian Ad Campaign, Looks for Something More Appropriate. It seems that for about five years from 2009 through 2014, the Navy has been pursuing an ad campaign, “America’s Navy: a global force for good.” They killed it last year and have now hired a firm to create ads that look more like something out of Call of Duty.
These earlier ads were about all the good things that the Navy does to help people all over the world. But check it out in the video below. It is filled with all the badass equipment anyone would want. What it doesn’t include is the usual bellicosity. In a word, it is: mature. It puts the best face possible on the dirty business of war. Thus, it isn’t at all surprising that it didn’t play well with the 17-year-olds it was supposed to attract. Sadly (but not surprisingly), it also didn’t appeal to veterans.
The point is that people can talk all they want about the need for the military and all the good work that the military does. But it means nothing. These are not the reasons people go into the military. These are the reasons people come up with to make joining the military seem noble. I’m with Father James in Calvary, “People join the army to find out what it’s like to kill someone.” And that’s okay, I suppose. I’ve made my peace with the need for a military (although ours is about ten times as large as it needs to be). But it is outrageous that people are allowed to go around claiming others join the army out of some sense of altruism. I’m not sure there is such an army that we could say that for. But certainly we can’t for our imperial army.