As we have explored on this blog often, the american high holy days of Memorial Day and Veterans Day commemorate the “service” of u.s. soldiers by “defending” the borders and integrity of the nation-state, often doing so by “sacrificing” their lives. What is left unsaid is the necessity of the death of soldiers for the life of the nation. The united states thrives on the sacralized death of its soldiers, as Carolyn Marvin and David Ingel and others have argued. To borrow a tactic from the Catholic Right, the death of u.s. soldiers is literally a sacrament for most u.s. citizens.
But the u.s. kills its soldiers in more ways than on the battlefield. To even become soldiers, the u.s. government and military institutions must kill soldiers spiritually, literally attempting to dehumanize them such that it becomes possible and even necessary to kill other human beings, a willingness that, by nature, does not come easily for human beings. The literature on this process of the dehumanization of soldiers is vast, including such analysts as Lt. Dave Grossman (who is no pacifist), Gwynne Dyer, and Chris Hedges. Hedges, and to some extent Dyer, are the only ones to touch on the spiritual dimension of these processes. In an essay of mine currently under revision for publication, I explore further the spiritual dimension of this process as one of discipleship that kills the soldier spiritually and anthropologically in order that he or she becomes willing to kill others before he or she “sacrifices” him or herself by being killed in turn. Of course, the goal of soldiers is not to die but to kill. But as Marvin and Ingle argue, a war without u.s. casualties is often regarded on some level as an unsuccessful war.We see explicitly the effects of military training on the soldier in countless ways, and I have tried to blog here and there about instances that make it into the (usually alternative) media. Here is yet another: the assault of a Greek Orthodox priest in Tampa by a Marine reservist who mistook him for a Muslim. One of the most extreme recent examples is, of course, the case of the D.C. sniper, John Allen Muhammad, who was murdered by the state of Virginia the day before Veterans Day. It is well known that Muhammad was a veteran suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. So despite surface appearances, Muhammad was not merely executed by the state of Virginia, but was slowly murdered by the u.s. government and by u.s.american society over time and in multifaceted ways.
All of this considered, it seems clear that — whether in battle, in military spiritual formation, or in the death chamber — U.S.America, Holy Mother State as Dorothy Day often called it, kills its soldiers one way or another. On this high “holy” day of Veterans Day, let us subvert the dynamics of this and other state holidays by praying and recommitting ourselves to work for an end to war and an end to all preparation for war, including the many ways america murders its soliders.
UPDATE: A more complete report on the assault of the Orthodox priest is here. I’m surprised no one has commented on the story. Actually, no I’m not.