Militarism – America’s State Religion

This has got the War Party in an uproar: Michelle Malkin‘s head is spinning practically off its axis, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, only faster, the boys over at Powerline are hotly demanding an "explanation," and, to top it off, Jonah Goldberg, of all people, is waxing skeptical over "Shock Troops," a piece in The New Republic by the pseudonymous "Scott Thomas."

So what’s the big deal?

Apparently – not much. "Thomas" – now revealed to be Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a private stationed in Iraq with the First Infantry Division – details two incidents that have the neocon blogosphere in a major tizzy, but which, examined by calmer heads, don’t appear to be that big of a deal. So what’s up with that?

Okay, let’s look at the first such incident: our soldier-author is sitting in the mess hall, and in comes a woman whose face is "half melted" – the victim of an IED, Thomas says. He’s seen her around, but no one has ever talked to her that he has witnessed. He continues eating, but one of his buddies can’t deal with it: suddenly, the buddy jams his spoon in his mashed potatoes and exclaims:

"’Man, I can’t eat like this …’

"’Like what?’ I said. ‘Chow hall food getting to you?’"

"’No – with that fucking freak behind us!’ he exclaimed, loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables. I looked over at the woman, and she was intently staring into each forkful of food before it entered her half-melted mouth."

Beauchamp then goes into a riff about how he thinks "she’s fucking hot," and how much it turns him on to see "melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses …" His friend responds: "You’re crazy, man!"

Yes, that’s it, of course. He’s crazy. So is everyone in Iraq, and on every battlefield since the beginning of time. War is madness, not the glorious adventure the War Party makes it out to be: it is always bad news, which is why our neocons are always complaining about the lack of "good news" about the Iraq war in the "biased" American media. That’s because there just isn’t any, although our chickenhawks and assorted laptop bombardiers are blissfully unaware of that: in their ignorance, they glorify war, and warriors, which is why Beauchamp’s writings make them so angry. The mythology of militarism cannot survive such realism – and Beauchamp’s naturalistic depiction is deadly to it in a way that the revelations about Abu Ghraib and other American atrocities committed in Iraq are not. The Malkins and the Hewitts were scrambling to discredit Beauchamp and his Youtube-ish account of casual cruelty because it reveals our troops in the field as human, and painfully ordinary, rather than the hyped-up demi-gods of neocon myth.

According to the neocon party line, if you don’t support the war, the "surge," and Our Glorious Leader, then you don’t support the troops – and yet, when one of these heroes writes a true account of what it’s like out in the field, the devotees of their cult on the home front are suddenly contemptuous of "the troops" – or, at least, this particular soldier, who is now being demonized as little short of a traitor – if not a Stephen Glass-in-fatigues – by all right-thinking neocon clones.

It’s pathetic, really, to see how quickly these strutting little militarists turn on the military, when one of them fails to live up to the mythic image so carefully nurtured by the War Party. Robert D. Kaplan, the Kagan clan, and Rummy’s hagiographer Midge Decter – to mention a few sources of the new militaristic mysticism – all depict American soldiers as an austere priesthood of exemplars, the Knights Templar of Bush’s "global democratic revolution." Would these icons mock a disfigured comrade, and a female at that? Of course not.

Any time reality intrudes on the war-fantasies of our world-conquering neocons, they rise up like the Furies, intent on revenge against the blasphemers. Yet their anger at Beauchamps was of a special quality, the hysteria rising in their voices as he revealed his true identity and his editors stood by his story. What accounts for the embittered disbelief of Beauchamp’s critics is that he commits the ultimate sacrilege: he shows that U.S. troops in Iraq are just plain ordinary Americans, circa 2007: vulgar, occasionally cruel, and incredibly childish. That fool who paraded around for an entire day wearing a human skull as a hat has seen too many Mad Max movies, has played too many video games, and has grown up in the warm fetid bath of American pop culture with its sex-saturated imagery of violence and death. The Americans have brought their culture with them to Iraq. Is it really all that unbelievable that male soldiers in a mess hall would crack crude jokes insulting to women and the disabled? C’mon, you neocons – are you really that divorced from reality?

The answer to the above question is undoubtedly yes. Because what we are dealing with, in the War Party, are the acolytes of a new religion, the semi-official state religion of the Cheney administration, and that is the worship of Ares. The ancient Greeks disdained the war god, whom they regarded as a cowardly opportunist rather than a heroic warrior, naturally inclined to cruelty and nothing honorable about him. On the other hand, the Romans gave Mars a special place of honor at the Olympian banquet of the gods, in part because they considered themselves his descendants. The great problem of the neocon myth-makers is that their brand of militarism is centered around the solemn worship of Mars, but mischievous Ares keeps popping up unexpectedly at these cultic rituals, making profane remarks and generally spoiling the air of mystic reverence.

Militarism really is a religion with these people, and they reacted to the debunking of their gods with all the vehemence and shocked outrage that the Islamists directed at Salman Rushdie – immediately declaring a holy war against the blasphemer and his editors. With one voice, the right-blogosphere rose up, declaring the whole thing to be a hoax before having evidence of any such thing.

You see, they don’t need evidence: after all, we’re talking about an ideology that has degenerated into a faith. They know it isn’t true: they know the "surge" is working; they know the "real" story of how we’re winning in Iraq is being blocked by the MSM, which is reporting only the bad news. In the overwhelming face of evidence to the contrary, all they have to do is slip into their alternate universe and deny everything. That’s the psychological mechanism that produces both suicide-bombers and our suicidal foreign policy: the ability to block out all but a carefully pre-selected slice of reality, one that rationalizes and even glamorizes the gritty, bloody, messy reality of war.

The cult of Ares has risen to become the semi-official state religion of this most war-like of all administrations, and its acolytes are a danger to the Republic and to the soldiers they profess to admire. They pose a threat to our republican form of government because an army can have only one commander, and a thoroughly militarized state can remain a democracy even as it morphs into a tyranny. The War Party, far from supporting our troops, is the biggest danger to the American military’s effectiveness and cohesiveness as a fighting force, which is why they have not the slightest compunctions as they grind it into the ground. Tasked with the impossible job of policing the world, the American GI is being set up for failure.

When a futile, unwinnable, and savage war turns our soldiers into skull-wearing juvenile delinquents on a rampage, our neocon cultists turn on … a soldier who dares to speak truth to their pompous platitudes of soldierly virtue. "Support our troops," the neocons constantly exhort us – but not when they shatter our sacred illusions.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Get thee over to Taki’s Top Drawer, where I’m writing about Bush’s historical legacy, Litvinenko revisionism, the tortured rationalizations of a recovering warmonger, and why whoever lifted Anne Applebaum’s wallet may have started a new cold war.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].