This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.
Back in 2007, in his first piece for TomDispatch, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore focused on the proliferation of self-congratulatory ribbons and medals on the chests of America's generals. Here, for instance, was General David Petraeus at that time and keep in mind that, before he commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he had never even been to war. As Astore put it then, "I counted nine rows [of ribbons] on Petraeus' left breast during his Congressional hearings. If they were a valid metric across time, he would be roughly thrice as capable and valorous as George C. Marshall, perhaps America's greatest soldier-statesman, who somehow ran and won a world war while wearing only three rows of ribbons." And, by the way, those nine rows weren't even the sum total of the decorations on that uniform.
In other words, only six years into Washington's disastrous post-9/11 wars, our losing generals were already treating themselves like minor deities from Olympus. In the ensuing years, much was written about evangelical Christianity and its role in supporting a twice-divorced, pussy-grabbing, religion-dismissing, profane salesman and bankruptee in the Oval Office, but remarkably little about the fervor of those who might be considered the truest evangelicals of our moment: America's military high command and the Pentagon officials who were part and parcel of their world.
They were, of course, evangelists for a religion that Congress has subscribed to as well with remarkable unanimity, not to say staggering fervor. No matter that its god (about whom Astore will tell you momentarily) continues to suck up trillions of dollars in tithes from the American people as if there were no end to such funds. And mind you, despite all that dough and all those medals on all those chests, the Pentagon couldn't keep a single promise it made globally when it came to its supposedly singular "skill": making war. Think of those bemedaled generals then as evangelicals for a faith that couldn't deliver, big-time evangelists, in short, for an empire going down, down, down. Now, check out TomDispatch regular Astore, who also runs the Bracing Views blog, on this country's true god. Tom
The Pentagon as Pentagod
America's Abyss of Weapons and Warmaking
Who is America's god? The Christian god of the beatitudes, the one who healed the sick, helped the poor, and preached love of neighbor? Not in these (dis)United States. In the Pledge of Allegiance, we speak proudly of One Nation under God, but in the aggregate, this country doesn't serve or worship Jesus Christ, or Allah, or any other god of justice and mercy. In truth, the deity America believes in is the five-sided one headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.
In God We Trust is on all our coins. But, again, which god? The one of "turn the other cheek"? The one who found his disciples among society's outcasts? The one who wanted nothing to do with moneychangers or swords? As Joe Biden might say, give me a break.
America's true god is a deity of wrath, whose keenest followers profit mightily from war and see such gains as virtuous, while its most militant disciples, a crew of losing generals and failed Washington officials, routinely employ murderous violence across the globe. It contains multitudes, its name is legion, but if this deity must have one name, citing a need for some restraint, let it be known as the Pentagod.
Yes, the Pentagon is America's true god. Consider that the Biden administration requested a whopping $753 billion for military spending in fiscal year 2022 even as the Afghan War was cratering. Consider that the House Armed Services Committee then boosted that blockbuster budget to $778 billion in September. Twenty-five billion dollars extra for "defense," hardly debated, easily passed, with strong bipartisan support in Congress. How else, if not religious belief, to explain this, despite the Pentagod's prodigal $8 trillion wars over the last two decades that ended so disastrously? How else to account for future budget projections showing that all-American deity getting another $8 trillion or so over the next decade, even as the political parties fight like rabid dogs over roughly 15% of that figure for much-needed domestic improvements?
Paraphrasing Joe Biden, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you worship. In that context, there can't be the slightest doubt: America worships its Pentagod and the weapons and wars that feed it.
Prefabricated War, Made in the U.S.A.
I confess that I'm floored by this simple fact: for two decades in which "forever war" has served as an apt descriptor of America's true state of the union, the Pentagod has failed to deliver on any of its promises. Iraq and Afghanistan? Just the most obvious of a series of war-on-terror quagmires and failures galore.
That ultimate deity can't even pass a simple financial audit to account for what it does with those endless funds shoved its way, yet our representatives in Washington keep doing so by the trillions. Spectacular failure after spectacular failure and yet that all-American god just rolls on, seemingly unstoppable, unquenchable, rarely questioned, never penalized, always on top.
Talk about blind faith!
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).