Saturday, January 06, 2007


Jeff Sharlet posts an article “Ten Things I Learned From the Pentagon’s Prayer Team” on Alternet ( It’s ‘off’ (as the cops used to say on ‘NYPD Blue’) that Christian Embassy video.

Here’s a scene: It’s early Spring, 1945. In Berlin, the handwriting is on the wall. In his bunker, the Fuhrer is foaming as he arranges for no-longer-existent armies to sweep in and save the (and his) day. Over on the Bendlerstrasse and in Zossen, some generals are taking a page from Himmler’s channeling of the Nordic myths and their Fuhrer’s fascination with Wagnerian god-drama, trying to invoke Wotan and any of the other ancient heroes of Teutonic mythology. There is no longer any Plan for which the aid and favor of the national gods can be invoked – or even implored. They – perhaps assisted by the fresh legions of Valhalla itself – will have to pretty much pull a Hollywood save: direct otherworldly planning, coordination, and execution of the rescue of the Reich and the redemption – through military victory – of its Vision. That Wotan is invoked and not Satan is a sign that the boys in pink-stripes don’t quite grasp for just whose team they’ve been playing all these years, staking their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. And soon the entire German people will be held to account for this twelve-year binge that was supposed to have lasted a thousand.

Wipe and cut to our modern American reality: While their Unitary Leader is chirping gruffly about his resurgent push to victory through the assignment of new, fresh troops who aren’t actually ‘fresh’ and aren’t actually ‘new’, generals are pacing the halls of the Pentagon asserting with dewey-eyed brassiness “We are the aroma of Jesus Christ”.

You can’t make this stuff up. We can’t make stuff up much longer.

The Grand Illusion – the really Grand one – is first that a nation fails to perceive the true extent of its situation and indeed of its own nature and the nature of its actions. It is an insight as old as Scripture and older still. A lesser – but still vast – illusion is that persons who fancy themselves masters of Scripture have re-staged this violent folly in our own time. And on our own dime. And they now act out the further phase(s) of the Illusion: confronted with the increasingly unavoidable clarity of what they have done and what they have caused, and as the glossy surface coating of victory dissolves in the hard rain of events, they continue to delude themselves with even more zeal.

Then, the woefully wracked structural defects beneath obtrude into sight. But whether they see it or not is no longer the central core of the action. The consequences flowing from what they have set into motion have now taken on a life of their own. But “their hearts were hardened” and they persist in imposing their own poor power to define reality upon a far greater Reality, a reality now rendered irresistible and even implacable.

It cannot be clinically surprising. Having blooded themselves and made a whole world bloody – all in the confidence that they acted as agents of Reality, and even – in their cockier moments – as Reality itself, once “dressed in a little brief authority” they are now unable to confront their own bloodiness and their own smallness. What they have forced so many others to confront, has now turned round upon them. “Lord, who then can stand?” “Lord, who then can be saved?”

But they are not ready to ask those questions. Instead, they will – in best Fundamentalist fashion – try to save themselves. It is folly. But they can do no other.

Their symptoms are becoming florid. Stonewall Jackson – a god-haunted, brilliant, bloody-minded commander – is their current ‘saint’. That he was Confederate reveals the deeply Southron influence that after 30 years has reached a hardly-mature fullness in our national life. That he was in rebellion against the United States and caused the deaths of more United States troops than any Indian war-chief or most German or Japanese commanders – certainly more than Yamamoto and Nagumo caused at Pearl Harbor – reveals the profound non-rationality of this newly-minted American Shinto incensing our imperial-ish thrashings. Raising him up as the new Ur-American, the new Uber-American of the neocon-Fundamentalist axis, smacks viscerally of the Imperial Japanese invocation of its martial dead, said to dwell at the Yasukuni Shrine. And thus are also revealed the profoundly non-American roots of the neocon programme, whose real lineage lies in old Central European and Asian dreams of empire.

The Republic has had a hard time of it these past forty years. European “Theory” ungrounded the foundations of a reasonably (but still dynamically) ordered society; Central European and Asian imperial dreams seeped in to create a deforming pressure on the national brain and even its soul. And from within our own traditions, the perfervid, histrionic, cocksure, Bible-toting but so utterly this-worldly Fundamentalism, rooted not in our culture’s ideals but in its far more inferior and primitive depths, flowed up into the vacuum created by the privatizing not only of God but of any aspect of the Beyond.

And has sought to realize the dream of a theocratic nation-state, its own people policed for Vice and Virtue, and the world policed for conformity to our own ‘national interests’, defined so vaguely yet so largely as to constitute for all practical purposes a Terran Imperium. If, that is, God does not end it all real soon and give His faithful roadies their due, in a closing Act that will include legions of sword-wielding angels yet – inescapably – emcee’d by Elvis. Event Security provided by Stonewall Jackson and the Confederate dead.

All of which goes to show that you can’t simply remove the Vertical and the Meta from human affairs, from a culture, without creating a vacuum that lays you open for visitations from darker and lesser regions (and I’m not talking simple geography here). We cannot escape our souls, nor can we allow our national options to be shrunk to an either-or of ‘godlessness’ or Fundamentalism. This is what happens when the many dimensions of existence are flattened into the flatness of surfaces and appearances.

But back to the legions. The generals would be in trouble enough simply on the basis of the situation on the Eastern Front. But they are also starting to exemplify – in a way they never expected, in a way their erstwhile spiritual guides can’t even conceive – a conundrum that beset Christianity from its outset. What is the relationship between ‘maturity’ and ‘sanctity’? Does God’s grace work within us naturally, calling us to an ever-increasing refinement of our human abilities (created, after all, by God) or does God’s grace demand of us an extraordinary and robust and vigorous responsiveness to its promptings that overrides any commonly-accepted sense of ‘normalcy’?

Now them Kathliks been wrasslin’ with this one for two thousand years. Some of the saints were decidedly odd, and not a whole lot of them appeared to be as fully ‘mature’ as might be wished. None of them, surely, were perfect in a maturity sense. The Kathliks never solved the problem – not in the sense that they decided on one or the other possibilities. Instead, they created a ‘tent’ big enough to cover both possibilities: there were special communities for those who sought to more enthusiastically respond to grace – on their better days, and then there was the more numerous community of the faithful who – in their better moments – were seeking to lead a ‘normal’ life and yet still grow toward God.

This seeming indecisiveness was not the result of a Kathlik inability to achieve a certain ‘clarity’. It was the result of the sorta profound Kathlik realization that nobody (at least on this side of the Veil) can know for certain just how God’s grace will work with an individual. So, within certain bounds, room had to be made to respect all of God’s options.

This required a certain patience, a tolerance for ambiguity, a postponement of the abiding human gratification of ‘utter certainty’, and a demanding sympathy for any human being trying – in season and out of season, on good days and on bad days – to sustain a response to the mysterious invitation of God’s grace.

It could not be surprising that the Reformation cracked open this consensus as it did many others. Consequently, ‘options’ resurfaced that had been subsumed by the consensus; paths that were individually incapable of bearing the whole of the great traffic of humanity were now adopted as the-one-path by this or that group, gathered around this or that leader, according to their or his or her ‘illuminations’. Many had a grasp on some real piece of the elephant, but the whole elephant, the truly Big Picture, the big-tent approach, that was given actual shape in the great Medieval cathedrals, was gone.

God was up for grabs. No longer the overarching ‘field’ and ‘ground’ of humans’ being, God became the concept ‘God’, to be grasped with greater or lesser comprehensiveness by individuals, groups, princes, and even the nascent nation-states. And to be wielded as a cudgel in now-ultimate battles where ‘our’ group had ‘God’ on our side and theirs didn’t, thus proving by its ungodliness its utter forfeiture of the right to exist.

War became divine. For a brief and modestly shining moment, it had been considered a troublesome addiction, to be controlled by the authority of the Church, which sought to hem it in with numerous feast-day regulations that effectively reduced ‘authorized fighting days’ to a fraction of days within the calendar year.

And in a shrewd grasp of the effects of combat on the soul of an individual, soldiers returning from combat were required to undergo a period of sacramental restriction, on the assumption that even if they hadn’t killed inappropriately, the simple fact of their exposure to the awefull violence unleashed in battle must have some unavoidable spiritual effects that must be recognized, individually and communally, and dealt with in order to restore wholesome ‘order’ in the community and in the individual himself.

And even then there were those who felt that ‘violence’ could not ever be resorted to by a Christian – and room was made for them as well.

We certainly have come a long way since then.

That this Christian Embassy bunch can classify its most conformist members as ‘mature’ Christians and its neophytes (who haven’t memorized the full script yet) as ‘immature’ is a stunningly blatant example of the homage vice pays to virtue. For ‘maturity’ to be defined as conformity to a set of views and an agenda, for a political action group to claim it is a ministry, for a gambit such as Fundamentalism to claim not only the mantle of ‘religion’, but of ‘certainty’ and of ‘maturity’ – here certainly is the confluence of many streams of dishonesty and calculation.

Hearts are being hardened in Washington City. Modern psychology can describe it as symptomatic of the need to deny the looming failure – if not also the basic flawedness – of one’s enterprise and one’s identity. A modestly insightful clinician might also realize that this is not a static but rather a dynamic and progressive, syndromal phenomenon: the more one seeks to escape the knowledge by plastering it over with un-truths, the more powerful the pressure generated by its containment, and thus the more violent the knowledge’s next outbreak, and thus the more violent the next effort to tamp it down or wall it in. But long ago it was seen as a ‘hardening of heart’, and a dynamic so implacable in its relentless self-consuming and self-deforming engorgement that it appeared to be the very will of God that the individual was to be doomed.

In a frightful irony, the Fundamentalists who pretend to such knowledge of scripture demonstrate that they have little understanding of it. And in a vividly exemplary way, those who see no need to read the Greeks or Shakespeare (are they really defenders of Western civilization?) re-enact the bloodiest and maddest tragedy.

But this is a Republic, and We are The People. This isn’t ‘school’ or televison; this is real, adult, high-stakes life. Our responsibility is, to use a term far too easily bandied about these days, ‘existential’: existence is at stake. Our moral and spiritual existence as a Republic, as the Republic that was entrusted to us by a History the death of which is a rumor greatly exaggerated.

If there are any ‘shrines’ to be visited, let it be the Lincoln Memorial. Surely the spirit hovering there will be of far more assistance in our present need than that of its former enemy, the late General Jackson (shot, in God’s mysterious wisdom, by his own men in the fog of war).

Meanwhile, as Linton Weeks reports in an article in the “Washington Post” ( the Army is starting to show its hand in the Watada court-martial. A PR flack is trying to spin this not as a case of disobedience to a quite probably illegal order, but rather as simply a case of disobedience to an order to deploy. “You don’t get to pick and choose” what orders you will follow, quoth the flack. How true. A pity that such is not the philosophy of the Commander-and-Chief, who has chosen what treaties and international agreements and Conventions he will not follow; that he has been indulged in this by Congress is a stain on our national honor and integrity which We must now bear.

But of course this isn’t just ‘any’ order. This is an order to engage in an illegal war, so Captain Watada contends. And if the war is illegal, then the order to fight it is illegal, and he would be acting illegally if he obeyed it.

He is also charged with ‘Conduct Unbecoming An Officer’, Linton notes, “for subsequent statements he made”. Verrrry foxy. Watada will be charged not because of the content of his statements, but simply because he made ‘statements’ at all. Will a military judge sit there with a straight face and let this pass? Depends on his orders.

And, quoth further the flack: Watada “signed on for military service in 2003 with full knowledge that he might have to fight an unpopular war”. With ‘truth’ like this we are once again faced with the question of whether the military is capable of running a justice system at all. In 2003 there was no sense that this war was going to be ‘unpopular’; Captain Watada fully believed then the (since-exposed) claims that Saddam had WMD that were imminently deployable and that 9-11 was his doing; and ultimately this is a matter not of an ‘unpopular’ war but an illegal one – a far more profound issue indeed.

Profundities are anathema to the military mind. Ditto abstractions. They may be good for fig-leafs, for helping to generate enough ‘fog’ to wage your war, but they should never be engaged on their own terms, on their own ground. There be dragons. Or angels – neither of which the military cares to encounter.

And yet if the angels hold the initiative – and we know this because the military’s Fundamentalist roadies tell us so – then the angels, notoriously competent tactically, will encounter the military. Ah’m heah ta tell ya. Don’t the generals and the JAGs listen at those prayer breakfasts?

And lastly, it is reported today that the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, himself a big supporter of the JAGs with his Opinion in “Solorio” (see Part 2 of “Military Justice Is No Music” on this site), was addicted to and overdosing on Placydil for a decade. When finally detoxed, he tried to escape in his pajamas. The “Capitol Hill physician” who prescribed the drug for his sleeping problem was, according to a hospital doctor, “practicing bad medicine, bordering on malpractice”. The names of both physicians are deleted from the FBI file that was obtained under FOIA. The FBI said that of its seven files on Rehquist, one could not be found. (They had seven? They lost any of them?)

Limbaugh, Rehnquist … and who can forget Agnew and John Mitchell? It looks like Fundamentalists aren’t the only folks who cozy up to cops. And just how much of Washington City is on drugs there in the Federal Triangle? Kool-aid, well we sorta figured that. But drugs? And if we use the same sort of statistical science that has helped fuel – oh say – the sex-offender rage, and apply it to the community of high-level members of the national conservative media and governmental elite, then we can maybe come up with a number of ‘hidden’ and ‘unreported’ drug-users, all of whom are great supporters of the police and the military and are anti-crime and … so on. Wow. It wouldn’t include the Pentagon, though, where – with the exception of those honchos who have to drink Kool-aid at the President’s house – they just drink the grapejuice at those prayer breakfasts. And smoke the drapes.

Let us pray.

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Davidco said...

Am reading Paul Elie's 'The life you save may be your own' - his study of mid-century Katlick writers (Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy and Merton).

Am at the juncture (mid-Sixties) where Merton and Day are trying to call the street fightin', self-immolating Catholic Left (Berrigan boys, Katlick Fellowship of Reconcilation et al.) back to unconditional love for ones' enemies while getting cut-off at the knees by Cardinal Spellman and the hierarchy who howl for unconditional 'victory' in Vietnam.

Do we have to do this all over again? Tet Offensive and then a couple more years of staying the course so Bush can pawn his defeat off on the next administration while committed Katlicks disregard the Cones and then waste time arguing about whose motives are more pure, whose tactics more effective?

Let's read some history and cut to the chase. Bring 'em home! Bring 'em home!

8:19 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home