Perspectives: War, other false idols

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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Twitter: @youcancallmebry

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  • Mike Parker January 5, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Hear, hear! Well said, Bryan.

    Since at least World War II, America’s wars have not been in defense of liberty or freedom, but in maintenance and expansion of empire.

    • Big Guy January 5, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Perhaps you’ve forgotten the Korean War. Or do you think independent, democratic South Korea is part of an American empire? If so, you must think Kuwait is another part of our empire. Both these countries were invaded by neighboring countries just as Hitler invaded Poland. In both cases we fought to restore their freedom as independent countries. Is fighting ISIS an expansion or maintenance of our empire? Are you so naïve as to think that any ally of the United States is part of our empire? Do you recommend unilateral disarmament since you believe we fight only unjust wars? If you believe we still need armed forces, how do you rationalize that position with your comments above? I do not glory in war and do not defend every military action this country has taken, but get real about the world around us.

    • Native born New Mexican January 5, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      I totally agree with Bryan and with your comment Mr. Parker about maintenance and expansion of empire but go back much earlier than WWII. History is one of my favorite subjects. Every war this country has been in since the Revolution and possibly the war of 1812 has involved dirty, corrupt people stirring up wars in order to get their own ends met. There is always some virtuous reason fronted for making bloody war; manifest destiny, slavery, weapons of mass destruction what ever. In every case there were either out right lies being told or there was at least a peaceful way to settle the problem. Here is a very true quote “war is politics but by another means.”
      Another true concept – sociopaths rule the world. They do so in many ways but one of the major ways is through bloody wars. They cleverly stir things up and then everyone else blindly walks into the war they started. LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball wrote an article -
      It gets right to the point about this topic.

      • Big Guy January 5, 2015 at 6:00 pm

        I’m very interested in your suggestions for settling the world’s dispute with ISIS in “at least a peaceful way.”

      • arts and letters January 5, 2015 at 6:17 pm

        Yes and everyone murdered in the Mountain Meadows massacre would agree. Oh, was that supposed to be a peaceful thing? I thought people were killed by a bunch of religious sociopaths.

        • Native born New Mexican January 5, 2015 at 7:44 pm

          Arts and letters the anger and intolerance you show towards your Utah neighbors is the very thing that leads to war in the first place. Mountain Meadows wasn’t right and it has been apologized for over and over again. The horrible things that happened to my Mormon pioneer ancestors wasn’t right either but I don’t hate every body in Missouri and Illinois because of it. What does Mountain Meadows and the LDS church have to do with this discussion any way? I gave a link to the article I did because there were some good comments about avoiding war in it, not because it was a Mormon article. However if it is alright with you (is it?) I will continue being a descendant of honorable Mormon pioneers and attending the LDS church. I promise not to be intolerant of you because of how you chose to live your life and I promise not to post unkind things about you or your friends and family members. I wish you all the best. Do you feel the same about me and mine?

  • Sgnative January 5, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Thank you for your article. I agree with everything you said. I worry my children and their children will grow up in an America that forgot why the founders of this great country fought in the first place and will see our own country torn by policies and a thirst for power and war instead of keeping this land a peaceful self reliant place to live.

    • ladybugavenger January 5, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      The founders of this “great country” genocide against the native Americans….don’t forget to teach your grandchildren about that. The native Americans were here first and they killed them but not all of them….teach them about the trail of tears also

      • ladybugavenger January 5, 2015 at 6:26 pm

        I don’t know why we celebrate Columbus day…the start of genocide of the native americans

  • Koolaid January 5, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Watch the Republicans start another war to fuel the coffers of their war contractor campaign contributors.

  • sagemoon January 5, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Amen, Bryan, amen.

  • Dick January 5, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Bryan – Your vitriolic diatribe impugning the patriotism of Americans, the pride that military members and police feel for their service and the sacrifices they make are quite frankly repulsive on every level. Have you ever done an “civic duty” that puts you in harms way defending the values of this country of the lives of its citizens? The military and police do that almost every day in ways that allow you to write you drivel attacking their motives. Would you be better off with no police force? Do you understand that genocide occurs because of people like Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin and not through your wildly accusatory “slaughtering of foreigners” by the U.S. The U.S. President and U.S. Congress, who you and the U.S. population elect, send the military to places around the world to prevent the “slaughter of foreigners”, not to expand it. War and police protection are not video games for the men and women in uniform, it is a serious profession that can have mortal consequences. Perhaps the reason that you judge them as such is because you have never encountered the terrible results of “doing nothing”. Apparently in your world “doing nothing” has better consequences than doing something to protect people – tell that to the millions of people exterminated during and after WWII.
    Stop watching TV or playing video games and please read history books on war and its origins and consequences. You will be surprised to find that there are conflicts in 26 countries around the world with 170 groups involved.

  • arts and letters January 5, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I’m much more concerned by the militaristic mindset of those who believe they have to have personal arsenals and dress in camo clothing, especially when most of them have never seen a battlefield or experienced a need to defend themselves. These wild cards have bought into the mythology you had when young, Bryan, but they haven’t outgrown it. Boys with lethal toys are frightening. But for anyone who wants to read a great book about the adoration you write about here – and you did a good job with that – I recommend the novel “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Benjamin Fountain. Young Iraq vets being honored at a Dallas Cowboys football game. It’s a terrific picture of the backslappers and their ilk.

  • Lonni Clarke January 5, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    All true, Bryan! J. Reuben Clark, Undersecretary of State, Ambassador to Mexico, and the member of the LDS First Presidency for whom the BYU Law School is named, said this about war: “I believe American manhood is too valuable to be sacrificed on foreign soil for foreign issues and causes. I believe that permanent peace will never come into the world from the muzzle of a gun. Guns and bayonets will, in the future as in the past, bring truces, long or short, but never peace that endures…. I believe that moral force is far more potent than physical force in international relations.”

    We’ve done a complete 180 from this sage advice, and sadly, most of those who proclaim belief in J. Reuben Clark’s calling and inspiration have no idea that they have departed from his path. What cause ISN’T worthy of American lives these days? We’ve got over 800 military bases the world over to facilitate the sacrifice of American manhood, and most of us convinced of its necessity and rectitude.

    J. Reuben Clark also warned about WWII well in advance of its coming: “We may expect that every means, both fair and foul, which can be devised by hating, desperate men, fighting for their lives, will be used to drag us into this war. We must not accept anything at its face value; we must question every statement, carefully examine every incident. Such is war” But today anyone who questions the veracity of events used to justify and promulgate wars are considered by enthusiastic war worshipers to be part of a looney fringe. I’ll happily share my tin foil hat with President Clark. It’s an honor.

    • Morgan D January 5, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      I’d be very cautious about using J Reuben Clark quotes. He flip flopped on his beliefs early in life, he suppressed knowledge of Nazi behavior before the war, and then advocated a negotiated peace that would have left Germany in control of much of Europe. He was so pro German during the war that members called his words seditious, members also labelled him the “Buthcer’s Apostle,” and the FBI investigated him. After the war he ignored the war crimes of Germany to complain of American actions. (While both committed mistakes, its strange how he never once mentioned the holocaust but found time to attack American soldiers.) He was repeatedly overruled by his colleagues in the first presidency and demoted in leadership positions. I write about it in greater detail here:

      But you admitted this is a tin foil hat position, so I’m not sure it will matter that much.

    • arts and letters January 5, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      Did he also support the idea that serving a mission is as good as serving in the military? I can see the possibility of exempting young men from the military as conscientious objectors and assigning them to work in other ways for the country, but exempting them so they can help bolster the Mormon church is ludicrous. Mr. Clarke may have been right about war, but the Mormon church is wrong about exempting young men and letting other young men die in their places.

  • Don Gilman January 5, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    very well written.

  • Morgan D January 5, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    This was interesting. I think a large part of this worship and not respect, comes from few people serving the military, and then the concept of honoring them. Because so few people serve in the military or even know anybody that does, these armed forces salutes act as a way for them to feel like they are actually honoring the soldiers.

    But ironically this leaves them detached and unaware of the effects of foreign policy on the military. So we salute them, and then we don’t think about the military much at all as we cut their budgets while leaving them in a long war. I happen to think respecting them means we take more time to become informed about dangers around the world, and more carefully consider the use of the military. For more on false idols see my blog and the links therein. Thanks for the thought provoking comments:

  • ROGUE 06 January 5, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    This article gives me hope that people are beginning to eschew the chest-thumping false patriotism of the American war machine. It took me two combat deployments to realize this. Thank you and good luck. Get ready for the butt-hurt outrage in 3…2…1…

  • Hippononymous January 5, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    And yet you do worship the idol that created a world that enables corrupt power-seekers.

  • Red Rocker January 5, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Bryan- We have found common ground here. Our countries thirst for power has left us a dried husk, both morally and economically.
    -“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag, and carrying a bible”

  • James January 5, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for clearly articulating Rand Paul’s foreign policy, hopefully the next President of the United States. When Hillary Clinton is indistinguishable as a “War Hawk” right next to every other establishment RINO Republican, you know the endless foreign wars we have been engaged in have very little to do with protecting our freedoms (especially with so many personal freedoms and privacy destroyed since 9/11) and everything about the BIG BUSINESS that is WAR! How convenient to label the critics of perpetual wars “isolationist” or “naive.” The only naivete comes from the war mongering fools who don’t connect the dots between the billions in profits from war and the corporations that lobby their paid-for puppets in Congress.

  • V.Tracey/combat veteran January 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    It appears you were the one growing up worshiping false idols.
    Personally I would have been thrilled to have a parade honoring soldiers when I returned from Viet Nam instead of being spit on and called a baby killer.
    We didn’t fight and kill because it was cool. And to contradict Mr. Parkers comment, we were there because the people of South Viet Nam asked for and needed our help to defend their freedom.
    Nobody wins in a war and lots of innocent people die, but I would volunteer again in a minute.
    It’s easy to say it’s not our problem and it’s wrong while sipping your latte and writing about war and it’s effects….unless of course you personally have been on the battlefield watching children and friends die.
    But of course you know that………….

  • Big Guy January 5, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Bryan, can you be more specific about which “corrupt power-seekers feel little remorse for sending good men and women into harm’s way for questionable policy goals?” Every president since Herbert Hoover has sent “good men and women into harm’s way.” I choose to believe that each of them has agonized about their decision, knowing some likely would be killed. And I believe none of them did it with the intent to “slaughter foreigners.”

    You make the important point that war is not glorious or glamorous. But you compromise your point when you wander off opining about “questionable policy goals.” Remember that a majority of Americans were opposed to our entry into World War II. They might well have stayed that way as Hitler conquered Europe but for Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack. The Japanese felt justified since we had cut off their oil supply in response to their invasion of China. Oh, I forgot, China in the 1930’s was part of the “American empire” MIKE PARKER rails about above.

  • Evil twins mommy January 5, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    War is an extension of politics by other means

  • Combat Carl January 6, 2015 at 12:48 am

    American patriotism… Well the problem here is that you’ve define patriotism from the noise that you hear in the media and elsewhere. Patriotism is defined by what we do not what we say or glorify. Fact is every American Service Member went overseas to keep this Country safe so if you really want to be a patriot how about you make report on veteran suicide or something useful dude. Last time I check there’s genocide going on in Afghanistan since i left… How about you report that? War and False idols… …* i tell someone im a veteran and they think im pyscho you know when the last time someone said thank you last year… so dude i know you intended well but your report was based of opinion and not much in reality
    Ed. ellipsis: …*

    • Koolaid January 6, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      Some interesting details about military veterans include high unemployment rate, homeless, high dependency on alcohol and drugs, high divorce rate, violence… Remember that former marine, a St George hometown boy, gun advocate who shot his girlfriend and her kid before shooting himself? Everyone want to pretend all military veterans are all red, white, blue, mom’s apple pie and religious icons, whereas that is far from the truth.

  • LJ January 6, 2015 at 2:59 am

    I understand both sides of the argument. War, itself, is evil, but the defense of others and upholding justice, although, distasteful and costly in human lives and material, is admirable and obligatory. I believe the wars that the United States have engaged in were not caused by Americans with evil intent, but rather, were decided by representatives of the citizens, to defend our nation and other nations with whom we had made treaties against attack. Those who believe it has been America’s goals to war in order to gain territory or to commit genocide or for economical reasons or to build empires have not studied history enough or correct history. There were always evil and crafty individuals and groups with wrong intent in the mix, in the government and outside of it, but these were not the main powers that constitutionally made the decisions to enter into defensive action.

    I don’t believe all wars have been waged with complete correctness. Unwise decisions, in the guise of stopping or decreasing the violence, have instead prolonged and endangered the lives of both sides of the opposing forces, and not completing the job of eradicating aggressive elements has allowed the terror to continue and grow and multiply as bacteria does, which, if not destroyed, will end up destroying the guest organism.

    I believe that our best defense is to strive to aid and get along with all nations, but acknowledging what wise leaders have counseled ,that a strong military is the greatest impetus against aggression, and when aggression occurs, we must be responsible and have the courage to stop it immediately, with all the force available, and as we successfully achieved a lasting peace after WWII, stay until all chances of breaking the peace is nonexistent.

  • Sgnative January 6, 2015 at 10:20 am

    @ladybugavenger may I venture to guess that you might be enjoying the comforts of your home if the founding fathers did not “find” America? Yes the native American people were wronged and are still suffering the consequences of that era, but there are two sides to every story and sometimes life isn’t fair and each individual has the right to make choices. Some of which may bring about new countries and oppress others but also free others in the process. Is it better for a few to suffer rather than a whole nation be opressed? This applies to many things in our past and today. There are always better ways to do things and I agree with your point but sometimes the better cause comes about the hard way.

  • Sgnative January 6, 2015 at 10:28 am

    I want to be more clear- I’m not advocating for war. I think it it a vile unnecessary evil. But when defending AGAINST evil it may sometimes be the only way .

  • Rob January 6, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    And yet, we idolize Cinderella, and every little girl has fantasies involving a handsome prince….. Not likely to happen, but popular.

  • Roy J January 10, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I really dislike the current confusion regarding the term ‘conflate’. It doesn’t mean what they think it means, as the great Mandy Patinkin might have said. From the bettereditor:

    “My personal exposure to this word led me to believe that it was of recent origin – a term with a history similar to normalcy or propaganda, both of which date to the 19th century but gained popularity only in the 20th (normalcy was used in Warren G. Harding’s 1920 campaign, and has lingered in American political speech ever since – Kennedy in 1960, for example, or G.H.W. Bush in 1989). It turns out my belief was wrong.

    Conflate (which I will conflate here with two other forms, conflated and conflation) actually goes back much further: OED has an example from 1583. Back then, the meaning was straightforward, from the Latin, and meant simply “blown together” (by the wind) or “melted or fused together.” In colloquial use, conflation indicates that two (or more) things have been blended or mixed together.

    In contemporary usage, however, the definition has started to shift. While neither OED nor AHD show confuse as one of conflate‘s definitions, Merriam-Webster does. It’s an interesting potential misinterpretation (for dictionary users): because “melt or fuse together” is one of the definitions of conflate, confuse in this case could simply be taken as the literal Latin (“to fuse with”). But that’s not what confuse means in contemporary English. It means to baffle, to confound, to muddle. Which seems to be exactly what’s going on with this word.

    You won’t encounter conflate outside of political contexts much these days. That’s either the reason, or a side effect of, why common usage has taken a negative turn: the word is seldom used in a positive or neutral sense, but instead highlights a negative or careless blending of two otherwise disconnected ideas.”

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