(Update I below)
Disclaimer: I would like to point out that the views expressed below are mine alone and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official views of LoonWatch or any of its writers aside from myself (Danios).
Salon’s indefatigable Glenn Greenwald recently wrote (emphasis added):
Worship of the American military and all that it does — and a corresponding taboo on speaking ill of it except for tactical critiques (it would be better if they purchased this other weapon system or fought this war a bit differently) — is the closest thing America has to a national religion.
If worship of the military is America’s national religion, then the U.S. soldier is this religion’s holy warrior. Greenwald noted that the Navy Seals are “a member of the most sacred and revered religious order.” Those who die in “the line of duty” are martyrs who must be remembered for all “they have done for this country.” Any criticism against the rank-and-file holy warrior is considered blasphemous.
There can be no possible profession that is more highly praiseworthy to the American than soldier in the military. Many U.S. airlines will let soldiers board the plane even before women with children and the disabled. Being part of the war machine is more respectable than being a doctor, a social worker, a teacher for the disabled, or a volunteer at the local orphanage. Saving people (what a physician does) can in no way, shape, or form be considered better than killing people (what a soldier does).
A person foolish enough to say that “a soldier kills people” will be beaten into submission and subservience by jingoist mantras such as “you should be thankful that you are able to express such views, because it is only due to the sacrifices of those in uniform–who protect your freedoms–that you are free to say what you want.” This, even though no rational mind could possibly believe this: how does bombing, invading, and occupying Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, or Yemen “protect my freedoms?” That is, unless one is naive enough to think that any of these Evil, Foreign Brown People were about to conquer the United States, topple its government, and take away my freedoms.
In any case, I have my own government to do that for me. Far from “fighting for my freedoms,” the military-industrial complex and those in authority who wage these wars are responsible for clamping down on my civil liberties. With the rise of the Orwellian-named Patriot Act and its like, there has been a sustained war waged not just against Al-Qaeda but against civil liberties, with dedicated assaults on the First and Fourth Amendments.
Worship of the military and the holy warrior runs so deep that even the most ardent critic of the war must never utter a single word against those who wage it. Such a common sense thing to do is completely off-limits and beyond the scope of decency and propriety. To do so would be to open oneself up to the criticisms of being “unpatriotic” and “disloyal.” Criticism of the war must be couched in “patriotic language:” war critics must ceremoniously acknowledge their support for U.S. troops, arguing that I support the troops which is why I want to bring them home. It is simply unacceptable to just clearly say: I don’t support the troops because they are shooting at, bombing, and killing people. To do such a thing would be to commit the highest of sins in the American national religion.
The fact that even war critics would hush you up for saying something against America’s cherished holy warriors says something of how deeply ingrained militarism is in our society. How can it be that opponents of America’s wars will criticize the war as unjust on the one hand but not be anything but absolutely reverent towards those who wage it? The United States, after all, uses an all-volunteer military; by joining the military is not one making an active choice to take part in these unjust wars? And certainly, one can choose not to fight, as many brave soldiers and ex-soldiers have done.
Noting with what absolute reverence Americans speak of their soldiers of war, one wonders how it is that they are simultaneously amazed at how unbelievably warlike those Foreign, Other People are for revering their own men of war. We are taken aback by how “primitive” the North Koreans are when they mindlessly revere their soldiers, yet somehow mystified when we do the same with our troops. The North Korean soldiers have certainly killed far fewer and waged far fewer wars than our own military. But alas, those North Koreans are so primitive, whereas we are so advanced, civilized, and peaceful.
I don’t malign or vilify soldiers in the military (as I partially do accept the idea that “they are just doing their job”), but must we continue to speak of our holy warriors with such absolute reverence, awe, and worship? Our mindless idolization of the military profession is what is to blame for so many of our impressionable youth choosing to join the military to kill people abroad instead of spending those years going to college to expand their minds. Placing the military and its soldiers on a pedestal is the only way a society can convince its young boys to risk their lives to go to war for the country–something so illogical, so contrary to the biological drive to save oneself from harm or death, that absent the most compelling of reasons one can hardly find it worthwhile to do so.
Interestingly, even that religious and ethnic minority that is the target of America’s wars is itself affected by this national religion. Muslim-Americans will often bend over backwards to point out that they too “proudly serve this country” by being a part of the military. (Even the phrase “serve this country” can only mean one thing: soldiering.) In order to be accepted as Full Citizens, Muslim-Americans must prove their dedication to America’s war machine.
And so, Muslim-Americans–many of them immigrants or children of immigrants–beg to be included in the same institution that wages endless wars in their ancestral homelands. It is that same institution that is rife with racism and bigotry against Arabs and Muslims, yet so desperately do Muslim-Americans want to be included in it.
* * * * *
In this national religion, 9/11 is America’s Karbala. The Battle of Karbala involved the slaughter of the Prophet Muhammad’s descendants by a tyrannical government–an event that is religiously commemorated each year by Shia Muslims, who will often make a religious pilgrimage (ziyarat) to the site of the battle or to the graves of the victims. With vigor just short of this, Americans commemorate Patriot Day, the holy day of the American national religion.
Ground Zero, meanwhile, is the “hallowed ground”–a trip here is the ziyarat (religious pilgrimage) of the American religion. The American flag becomes a symbol not to be disrespected, our nation’s holy book, waved high by people chanting “USA! USA! USA!”, which can only mean one thing: war! The flag has become a raised symbol of war.
The military is our national religion, its soldiers are our holy warriors, the Navy Seals are our highest religious order, those soldiers who died in war are our martyrs, 9/11 was our Karbala, Patriot Day is our annual holy day, the flag is our holy book and symbol, Osama bin Laden is Lucifer, Terrorism is the greatest Evil, supporting the troops is our greatest religious obligation, and failure to do so is the greatest blasphemy and the highest of sins.
* * * * *
The problem I have with the cult-like remembrance of 9/11 is that it was the devotion to this day that was used to launch wars of vengeance that killed ten times as many people. This date, 9/11, has been militarized. It is a memory we are told that we must never forget lest we slacken in our resolve to wage war against the Forces of Evil, the Satan of our religion: radical Islam and Terrorism. It is a memory that is invoked to remind the American people why they need to spend more of their taxpayer money to sustain their country’s illegal occupations and immoral wars.
Furthermore, the singling out of this day above all others (including days on which worse acts of violence were perpetrated by the United States), exudes the tribalistic mentality that infects people with strong feelings of national or religious identity–wherein only blood shed against one’s own national or religious group is remembered (and in fact, it is obsessed over), whereas that shed by one’s own national or religious group against others is ignored, denied, or justified.
Lastly, one cannot help but feel that 9/11 would hardly have been considered as important to the national religion had it not been Muslims who were implicated in the attack. They attacked us. The deaths of the victims of 9/11 are less relevant than the fact that they–those Foreign, Dark-Complexioned Moozlums–are the ones who caused these deaths. The horrendous attacks of 9/11 have special significance due to the fact that the perpetrators were radical Muslims, an Existential Threat to our Safety and Freedoms.
The victims of 9/11 certainly ought to be remembered, as should all the victims of war and terrorism (whether the culprit be our enemies or our own country and whether the victims be American or not), but should their memory really be exploited to feed the national religion of warmongering? Is it not deeply disturbing that an act of violence and the deaths of three-thousand innocents are being used to justify even greater acts of violence and even more civilian deaths?
Disclaimer: I would like to point out that the views expressed above are mine alone and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official views of LoonWatch or any of its writers aside from myself (Danios).
Update I: An interesting Facebook status that is making the rounds:
On 9/11, I’ll mourn the nearly 3,000 lives lost, over 6,000 injuries, the infrastructural carnage and devastation in NYC, and the humiliation of my country, all perpetrated ignorantly in the name of my religion
On 9/12, I’ll mourn the nearly 1,000,000 lives, the 10’s of millions of injuries, the infrastructural decimation in 3 countries, and the humiliation of my religion, all perpetrated ignorantly in the name of my country.
Update II: Many readers and fellow LoonWatch writers have pointed out that many young people join the military due to financial reasons. Additionally, many of them are “trying to serve their country” and “are just following orders.” I do not completely disagree with these statements. As I said, I do not malign or vilify soldiers, nor encourage that. What I am opposed to is the glorification of what they do.