Should God Bless America
By Craig Etchison
11 January, 2006
Axis of Logic
In the many letters and commentaries published in my local paper since the beginning of the Iraq war, quite a few conclude with the blazing sentiment, "God Bless America." Bumper stickers abound with the same words wherever I drive on the east coast. Signs in front of businesses proclaim, "God Bless America." almost as if God blessing America is a given, something that goes without saying because...well, because we're America. This raises a fundamental question that is seldom, if ever, asked or discussed--should God bless America?
Our president, a man who parades his Christian faith with obvious relish, calls us a peace loving country wherever he speaks, even as he bangs the military drum he carries so proudly wherever he goes. Yet, when we look at the economic, political, and military actions of our country, national leaders like Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and Mr. Rumsfeld carry out policies that ignore the most fundamental tenets of the Gospels--to love your neighbor as yourself, to respond to evil with good, and to be peacemakers.
Our responses to 9/11 clarify how Christian principals played no role in the decisions made by our politicians, the same politicians who work so hard to present themselves as devout servants of God. An illuminating moment occurred when our leaders went to the National Cathedral in DC a few days after 9/11 and prayed the Lord's Prayer--including the line "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Those same leaders forgave no one by refusing to acknowledge that the terrorist act might have deep roots in poverty, despair, and the radical reachings of a few disaffected who did not represent the Muslim community as a whole. Instead, Mr. Bush unleashed our war machine on the Iraqi people in revenge for 9/11--ignoring the fact that the Irais had no connection to terrorism or 9/11. Of course, we now know the sad truth that Mr. Bush was looking for any pretext to become a war president almost from the day he took office.
The consequences of our revenge? Over 2100 American soldiers dead as I write this--and counting. Thousands of American soldiers wounded, many grievously--and counting. An estimated 100,000 Iraqis killed--including thousands of women and children, as is always the case in war--and counting. Thousands of Iraqi civilians wounded, with one estimate putting the number at 300,000--and that in a country whose medical infrastructure, the best in the area before shock and awe, we effectively destroyed.
As if the killing and destruction isn't enough, we've strewn the country with the remnants of up to 2000 tons of depleted uranium munitions that will have lethal consequences forever. Use of depleted uranium leaves radiactive and toxic waste that has led to a massive rise in birth defects in Iraq and Afghanistan--perhaps most poignantly captured in the words of one Iraqi who said that mothers no longer ask if a newborn child is a boy or a girl. They want to know if it's normal. Various cancers are epidemic among the population. The horror of depleted uranium weapons--the residue has a half-life of 4.5 billion years--violates every treaty and convention on the rules of war. But, hey, we're America.
Does no one see the disparity between what our officials pray (and sanctimoniously profess at every public opportunity) and what our military is doing? Is this not blatant hypocrisy? Would the God of love and mercy described in the gospels really bless us for choosing to start a war that is destroying His children and His creation?
Why would God bless us when we've given all the Terry McNichols on the lunatic fringe of the Arab world the psychological ammunition to recruit the downtrodden, the disaffected, and those whose dignity has been trampled. The result? Since Mr. Bush began his war of choice, terror attacks have quadrupled, and the world is far less safe for everyone.
When will we Americans understand that we are not exceptional, the we, like every other person on this planet are children of the one Creator? We were, however, given exceptional resources. We were given exceptional opportunities to make this world a better place for all of God's children, not just the children of the obscenely wealthy who have more than they need or could ever use. We were given fiscal resources, natural resources, and intellectual resources to help others less fortunate. To feed the hungry. To house the homeless. To heal the sick. Instead, we will spend over $500 billion this year on a war machine that spews death and destruction around the world, gobbling up our financial resources at over $12,000 per second. Why would God bless such a profligate people when hundreds of millions of people lack food, clean water, basic sanitation, not to mention clothing, shelter, and education? How can we ever justify before God or man spending over $12,000 per second on a war machine when each day, every day, 30,000 children die from malnutrition and the diseases associated with malnutrition?
I return to the Gospels and the parable of the rich man and his servants. To those who are given much, much is expected. We Americans have been given much--arguably more than any nation in the world's history--but what are we doing with our abundant resources? We squander them on war and preparations for war even as those preparations destroy our environment. We spend $18 billion a year caring for nuclear warheads we house--enough warheads that we could target every country on earth with 10 warheads. We have the equivalent stockpile of 155,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs, and Mr. Bush wants more. How could God bless a people who delight in war?
I have argued against the Iraq war since we first learned of its possibility because history--especially the history of the past fifty years--shows clearly that violence leads to more violence. We've known since WWI--the war to end war--that violence won't lead to peace. Eighty million people--a majority of them women and children--died from war in the 20th century. How many more must die before we understand the futility of war, the futility of revenge?
And while waging this war in Afghanistan and Iraq is a major failure of my country, I am also compelled to speak out when my country wages a massive war against the environment. Since Mr. Bush took office, he has rolled back over 400 laws and regulations that protect the environment. The U.S., a mere 5% of the earth's population, is the greatest purveyor of greenhouse gases in the world, releasing 25% of all greenhouse gases. And our national government does nothing substantial to reduce those gases. The energy bill recently passed in the senate gives huge tax breaks and incentives to King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nuclear, Gas) while slashing already inadequate conservation measures along with money for research into alternative fuels.
The climate change now furiously underweay because of our profligacy won't affect just us. Climate change will affect--is affecting at this moment--the whole world. That Glacier Bay will have no glaciers in 25 years is one small example. In 50 years or less, polar bears will disappear. Populations are abandoning their south sea island homes as the sea rises over them. And when the inevitable environmental crash comes--sooner rather than later according to most scientists--people around the world will suffer. And we, who have the resources, the technology, the opportunity to mitigate that crash, do little as our president fiddles, a puppet of the mighty energy sector, and our congress serves as paid lackeys for the transnational corporations who rape the resources of the world so a few can wallow in obscene wealth.
When are the masses of decent people in this country--and I believe that the vast majority of the people in this country are decent--going to stand up to the fear mongering, to the blatant greed of the military-industrial complex, to the corporate-purchased politicians and say, "This is not what the American experiment is about"? Our leaders have craftily convinced many of us to believe a lie--to believe that dissent is unpatriotic. When are the many going to embrace the words of Teddy Roosevelt, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public"?
I have been called part of the "hate America crowd" because I question what is happening in this country. But when my country fails to live up to its potential, then I am compelled to speak out. I would have this country live up to its shinning ideas of truth and justice for all. I would have a government by and for all people--not a select wealthy few who have the colossal hubris to think they have a special hot line to God. I would have my country embrace Gandhi's words--"There is no road to peace. Peace is the road."
So long as our elected leaders consider us exceptional and better than the rest of the world. So long as we believe we can break any rule--not only international laws and conventions but also those basic tenets found in the Gospels--whenever we want. So long as we utilize violence to solve conflict. So long as we squander our precious finite resources on a war machine engaged primarily in empire building and economnic terrorism. So long as we willfully destroy the environment that sustains us and all living creatures on earth. So long as our country continues down this path, the question remains--should God bless America?
Is it not time for all of us who care to speak up? Is it not time to let the president and the Congress know that our present course is unacceptable? Is it not time for us to throw off the politcally manufactured shackles of fear? Is it not time for us to proclaim that we want a decent government that is not beholden to every special economic interest? Is it not time for us to declare that our government will have only one special interst--treating all people and the environment with decency? Is it not time for us to decree that all decisions will be made in a single context--people and planet before profit? Maybe then we'll be worthy of God's blessing.