“In God We Trust”
— The Motto of the United States of America
One sad irony in the United States is that while our motto is “In God We Trust”, it is the farthest thing from the truth. We give lip service to Christianity while consistently pursuing policies totally at odds with the teachings of Jesus or trust in God. What we trust is violence and threats of violence. Violence is almost always our fallback position.
Throughout history, the United States has ruthlessly pursued violence as a solution in our foreign and domestic policies and we as a people have generally avoided any understanding or compassion for our chosen “enemies” except after violence has run its course. The most recent exception was a one-term President who won the Nobel Peace Prize while in office and was unseated by a right-wing ideologue who immediately doubled the war budget, tried to send weapons into space, illegally funded insurgents against a duly-elected foreign government, tripled the national debt with his warmongering – and is still the favorite past President of many.
Gratuitous violence has a much longer history than our nation. We find it in the Crusades and in the Inquisition. People calling themselves Christians systematically dismantled all the teachings of Jesus; ignored the parable of the Good Samaritan and set themselves up, armed with Biblical phrases, supporting quotations and firm Papal support, as mini-Gods; judging and condemning others despite the injunctions “Judge not lest ye be judged.” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Most modern “Christians” are incapable of humility in the face of an opposing ideology and have no empathy or compassion for anyone whom they consider “evil” or “enemy” or a threat to them, however fanciful or contrived that threat actually is.
It is a sad fact when one looks at the training of our youth that while Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street were popular for a time, it is mostly violent fantasies that our children and grandchildren watch: The Avengers, Power Rangers, Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Superman, the Fantastic Four, the Lone Ranger, Dirty Harry, martial arts and Kung Fu where even our most nonviolent heroes are “forced” into violent and destructive actions each and every week. Merely looking at T-shirts and lunch boxes will show you the current role models for young boys. I grew up in the era of Westerns where Indians and outlaws had to be mercilessly gunned down to keep us “safe”. Even the few stories that tell the other side: “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last Mohican” were brutally violent and teach our youth that violent people are the winners and those seeking peace or following the true teachings of Jesus don’t have much of a chance.
Popular video games teach the same lesson: shoot first; ask questions later; get a bigger, more powerful weapon and gun the “enemy” down in large numbers. World of Warcraft has millions of people playing a game where the “bad guys” all stay in their small areas and the “good guys” are sent individually and collectively into these areas to kill everyone and steal everything of value. The “bad guys” rarely stray from home.
Our history classes aren’t much better. We were fighting in Vietnam against “Communism,” yet schools could not teach our youth what “Communism” was except that it was “evil” and they ignored all of Vietnam’s long history as a single and united nation, their struggle against a succession of brutal and selfish colonizers, including China. We hear not a whisper about how, just after the last of our troops left Vietnam, Hanoi was no longer an enemy but an ally in the Cold War, deposing the Kamir Rouge, a colonial government sponsored by the Communist Chinese1, and stopping a Communist Chinese invasion at their border.
In Iraq, this knee-jerk response continued against a new –ism, “Terrorism,” the violent and ineffective policies still in effect. It is clear to any sensible thinker that weapons of mass destruction are a problem. However, the government of Iraq didn’t have any. We, the United States, on the other hand, had and have many thousands of WMDs. And we’ve used them! There is no valid justification for this lapse in honesty, integrity and Christian values. We are willing to fill the world with awful weapons because we mistakenly believe they will make us safe. We fill our streets with guns for the same reason.
The belief system prevalent in The United States is based on fear. We believe that we must create fear in order to create peace, order, and tranquility. That has rarely been true but remains a bedrock conviction, helped along by the NRA, the powerful corporate wing of which invests heavily in maintaining this myth.
It is based on a type of thinking NOT practiced by Jesus which I call “polarized” thinking. Polarized thinking looks at things from one perspective only, judging a person or even a nation by one single, isolated criterion. For example, Ho Chi Minh went to Paris to glean support for his struggle against a man who staged phony elections in a temporary division of his traditionally-united country and for air cover to survive the next colonial attack. Only when he failed to gain support there, did he go to Moscow and secure a surface-to-air defense for his capital city along with a few technicians to help keep it operational. The Viet Minh, who had fought for their country against the Chinese, against the French, against the Japanese, and against the French again were simply labeled “Communists” rather than “anti-colonialists” or “freedom fighters” or some other non-prejudicial label. We never questioned whether they actually were “Communists” mostly because we hadn’t learned what a “Communist” was. No other words were needed in the United States, no other facts were considered. A Communist was, by mutual consent among us “Christians”, a bad person worthy only of extermination. Never once did we even consider the parable of the Good Samaritan in the context of Vietnam and never did we consider whether “North Vietnam” was possibly an ally against Communism.
When Buddhist monks set themselves on fire in the streets of Saigon, we had a clue to the truth, but we did not pursue it. No newsmen asked the questions, “Why would a Buddhist monk ally with the Communist Chinese who had murdered thousands of Buddhist monks in Tibet just a few years earlier? Why would Hanoi ally with China, it’s traditional enemy for about four millennia? Why go to Moscow for help?” Of course, we never thought of Vietnam as a nation with a long and glorious history far surpassing our own two centuries. We, who are so full of our own patriotism, can’t seem to consider the patriotism of another country. We, a nation of supposedly high ideals and good intentions, had no compassion for the “gooks” and “Charlies” we were killing in the hundreds of thousands in their own country. We set up “free fire zones,” large sections of the countryside where we violated the Geneva Conventions and exterminated men, women, and children in their own homes! This isn’t idle speculation on my part. I got this directly from a man who was directed by his superior officers to do this. The Mai Lai massacre was not an isolated incident. It’s uniqueness was in becoming public. It was also a common practice of US forces to release unused weaponry over populated rural areas on the way home from bombing runs.
The idea that the Vietnam War was a civil war in a nation which had been united since well before the time of Jesus, the idea that the leaders of “South Vietnam” were, for the most part, surrogates of foreign powers and profiteers who had allied with the colonizers of Vietnam was never considered. They were “anti-Communists” and therefore good by definition. The idea that the United States, mistakenly or by cruel design, was the next-to-last in a series of foreign invaders never occurred to us. We were “good,” we decided, and any opposition, “bad.” The Chinese Communist invasion of North Vietnam within five years of our troops leaving Vietnam went largely unreported in the United States. We ignore anything that might prove us wrong.
No sooner had our “Communist” “enemy,” China, evaporated before our eyes and miraculously and inexplicably turned into a “Preferred Trading Partner”, but we were attacked by just over a dozen militant Arab “Anti-Americans”. These few people all killed themselves in the process of demonstrating their anger at US armed forces in their native countries. They were backed by a few others in an isolated and lawless place between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What we did in Afghanistan forced al Quida to ground. But it also legitimized the violent and illegal acts of the small group of 9/11/01 terrorists by offering a violent, illegal and disproportional response directed at convenient, rather than appropriate targets. It put us on a par with the terrorists and, after the fact, justified their actions. It also gave them new impetus to terrorist attacks by adding more US soldiers on Mideast soil2.
The invasion of Iraq was even worse. A comprehensive study of suicide bombers over the last 25 years has led conclusively to the fact that suicide bombers are killing themselves and others because of what they consider “foreign” troops on their home soil. That means that each soldier sent to Iraq, each soldier in harms way walking the streets of another country is an additional provocation, an additional incentive to more and worse violence back here. We didn’t stop anything with our invasion of Iraq. Instead, it is clear that we created a new and fertile breeding ground for terrorism.
The concept of “liberating,” “bringing peace” or “fighting terrorism” by wholesale invasion of another sovereign country was best exemplified by the Chinese when they invaded Tibet to free them from “slavery” to the Dalai Lama. It is a vacuous set of lies. There are several reasons for this. One primary reason is that Karl Marx was wrong when he interpreted history in terms of class struggle. Rarely if ever did the vast majority of classes, religions and political parties fail to form a united front when at war.
This tells us that patriotism trumps just about all the other –isms. Of course, this also makes people in general vulnerable to claims about threats to the nation whether real or imagined. It appears that the most fragile and fraudulent theories, when phrased in a way that (or at a time when) people feel threatened, will incite the population to war en masse without any logic or facts getting in the way of their almost complete unity of purpose.
Such was the case with our invasion of Iraq. There were a tiny few of us3, of course, who were flabbergasted at the whole thing and believed that this was even worse than Vietnam in that we were starting a civil war rather than just intervening in one.
Furthermore, one claim after another made by the government of the United States has proven to be fraudulent. There were no al Quida terrorists in Iraq when we invaded, though there probably are now – the President ignored the man who told him this before we invaded4. Saddam Hussein had no cyanide gas with which to kill Kurds. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction and the fact that their enemy, the United States of America, has them in profane numbers seems lost in our biased, one-way thinking. We, the United States, have used WMDs in two wars (Nuclear in WWII and chemical in Vietnam) and dropped out of the World Court because of war crimes in Vietnamese “Free Fire Zones”. We falsely accused Saddam Hussein of hiding WMDs when we have them all over the world and all over our own country. When looked at with even-handed, empirical data, all the justifications for our army being in Iraq crumble. Furthermore, each and every goal the US has had in this invasion cannot be achieved through armed invasion – except the arrest of Saddam Hussein and the installation of even more brutal dictators in his place. We’ve done it too many times. Our claims are not believable and they aren’t believed by anyone but our own naive countrymen – and by less and less of them as time goes on.
Jesus would, I conjecture, be appalled and irate at what we have done in His name. We have, for many years, acted the ruthless bully. We have demonized people we have unilaterally chosen to be our opponents, and, at the same time, cheated and robbed our way to prosperity and ascendancy. We stole this land from the people it belonged to and then set out stealing the wealth of the rest of the world. Our Christian churches have become the greatest proponents of war and invasion, couching sanguine self-seeking policies in incendiary and high-sounding but vacuous and evanescent rhetoric.
I am deeply disturbed by what we have done. During the last century, we have been war-partners with most of the rest of the world, allies one year, enemies the next in a changing collage the only consistent part of which is death and destruction.
We were so afraid of Communism that we never bothered to learn what it really was. We were incapable of sitting back as Jesus might have suggested and seeing it wither of its own avarice and dishonesty. Instead, we provided an outside threat which greatly aided our “enemy.”
I remember the claims of the United States government back in 1965 that Communist China was allied with North Vietnam. It was a remarkable demonstration of the ignorance of both the government and the general populace of the United States that such a claim was made – and generally believed. A thorough study of the history of the nation of Vietnam reveals the true nature of their relationship and it was never even cordial going back many centuries. Shortly after the US troops abandoned their efforts to support the secession of neo-colonial “South Vietnam,” the Chinese invaded once again and were soundly repelled.
At the time, we had a “Domino Theory”, one of many passing pseudo-intellectual fads that was supported by fear, ignorance, and little else. Nobody once asked the real and viable question, “What really happens if we don’t oppose Communism?” Slogans like “Better Dead than Red” and true stories of their ruthless suppression of human rights in Eastern Europe (which we merely watched) fueled our fears and our production of hydrogen bombs, the insane choice of Mutually Assured Destruction. We opposed them with surrogate dictators and despots almost indistinguishable and sometimes interchangeable with their own surrogate dictators and despots. We built bomb shelters so we could last a little longer after radiation poisoning made the world uninhabitable.
Most of the “aid” to other countries during this time was weapons, ammunition and military training. We militarized the entire world and forced our “opponents” to do the same. Each and every bit of this bizarre and destructive campaign was paid for with pieces of green paper taxed from the middle class and imprinted with the motto “In God We Trust.”
Somehow, the Communists and anti-Communists found “detente” and within less than a decade, Communism withered of its own internal rot, the dishonesty and invalidity of its rhetoric, and the selfishness of its leaders. That huge fear, that massive military buildup, the incredible and widespread killing and destruction was against a wicked witch that melted into a puddle of goo at our feet. We and the Soviets filled the world with fear, hate and awful weaponry because we didn’t know that national pride was greater than theories and –isms.
Just one missed but vital fact changes everything. I discovered this in Bangkok, Thailand. I would talk with the sam-lor drivers as they transported me across town for a few baht. The Thais were angry at the Burmese…really angry. It seems that the Burmese had invaded Thailand and occupied Chang Mai. I was surprised to find that these Burmese invaders had been expelled two centuries earlier – about the time the US Constitution was written … and Thais were STILL sore.
Communism and Anti-Communism were momentary fads by comparison. They came and went within a single century. Terrorism and Anti-Terrorism are carbon copies of this same mistake.
Studies show conclusively that if we took our troops off foreign soil, the whole Terrorism mess would disappear.
US troops don’t belong in other countries! Lots of people find them offensive. Some of these offended people take it personally and sometimes they resort to terrorism because of what THEY perceive as an insult and a threat to THEIR nation.
When have you seen foreign troops here other than in training schools? What would you feel if you saw armed and grouped foreign soldiers in your neighborhood? Would you not feel outrage if they took a brother or a father forcefully from your home?
But “America” (as we grandiosely call ourselves) appears incapable of acting rationally. We must have our blood sport on the streets of Baghdad even though it destabilizes the world and creates war and enmity. We must bully and bluster. We believe in the Monroe Doctrine and have expanded it to include the entire world. We must micro-manage the world. Out of … ego? … self-absorption? … of course: greed … and fear … and adolescent dreams of “greatness.”
So when will we trust in God? When will we follow the teachings of Jesus? They seem tailor-made for the world today, unlike the days when He preached. Surely Mutually-Assured Destruction and trying to terrorize terrorists are not truly sensible. Why not try to practice what we say we believe? Why not live within our own borders and with the resources we can create or barter for and act the part of a nation among nations? Why not get rid of our own WMDs rather than bullying others about theirs – real or imagined? If we divested ourselves of our WMDs, we might have some credibility in demanding others do the same.
What good is a nuclear weapon? In tomorrow’s world, it is the next terrorist escalation. Our own bombs will be used against us. I know a little too much about this. I was a nuclear weapons custodian with a Top Secret NAC clearance. The fact is that terrorists can always out-trump conventional solders in producing terror. We must re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan. We must love, not just our country and our fellows. We must love our enemies. We must understand them and care for them and stop harassing them.
We must understand the needs and complaints and desires of the “enemy” we are fighting. We must see him with clarity and compassion. We must stop our rhetoric, our blustering, our bullying and our perverse ignorance. We must find humility. This is the path to peace.
Of course there’s a price. We might have to retool our factories to produce things that are useful and helpful. We might even have to retrain in less destructive occupations. We might find our prices for gasoline in line with the prices others have paid for decades. But we could be happy and truly proud. We could put our actions in line with our rhetoric. We could easily live with just a bit less luxury and a lot less fear and injustice.
Trust, compassion and love have a chance to bring peace on Earth. Greed, fear and violence have been around a long time now and show little promise of making the world a better place.
Isn’t it about time we trust in something other than violence? It’s a lot easier to change someone else’s mind about human rights or terrorism or religion as an example than it is to persuade them to change through fear, violence, and attitudes that belie our rhetoric.
1Almost indistinguishable from our succession of dictators in Saigon except for thin veneers of rhetoric.
2Robert Pape, PhD, sociologist from the University of Chicago; Dying to Win
3(including one single United States Senator, Bernie Sanders)
4Richard Clarke, the man who also warned about al Quida terrorist attacks in the US and was firmly ignored.
©David N. Dodson, Phoenix, AZ 2015, 2016