About a week ago, the House of Representatives passed a measure that
decrees a national day of praying and fasting to please God. At the time, I was offended by yet another wild opportunistic lurch aimed at making America a corporate theocracy. Swish in Herr Bush's exhortation that we pray to God for our troops' benefit and you've got one treacherous brew that lightens the soul while excusing the crimes. But now that our troops have gone ahead and slaughtered a van full of Iraqi children, perhaps a day of national penitence is in order. God's likely to be pissed about this.
When I heard about the checkpoint execution, I flashed back to that scene in "Apocalypse Now" where Mr. Clean shoots up the family's junk when the daughter dives for a basket that holds her puppy. According to the U.S. propaganda, the Iraqi people are supposed to have suffered decades of brutal oppression at Saddam's hands. Accepting this as true, just how is the average Iraqi supposed to tell a good army from a bad one? To the van's driver, one army probably looked just like the other, what with the guns and uniforms. I've a pretty good feeling that the driver feared an Iraqi military checkpoint and what would happen to him and the
children if they stopped.
But what if he did know that this was an American checkpoint and he was still too afraid to stop? Our message of liberation and care would seem to have abysmally failed. Those messages are hard to discern from warning shots and gunmen firing into your radiator. Or perhaps the driver had seen American troops shoot civilians somewhere else. Our government tells us that we've killed a lot of guerilla resistance fighters. As truth is the first casualty of war, and always has been, the transmutation of innocent civilians into desert Viet Cong could be a matter of press releases and a couple of well-placed rifles. If the driver saw some kind of massacre or other atrocity, no amount of leaflets or fresh water will convince him that we're there to help.
When I read the account of what happened at the intersection, I was appalled at the procession of ghastly miscues. Firing a single 7.62mm round through a radiator is hardly going to immediately halt a vehicle, as is obvious from the outcome here. Why the tires were not shot out, I don't understand. Or a larger round used on the engine, like a .50 caliber. One shot from that would have done the job while most likely sparing several more lives, at least. However, the most egregious miscue was raking the passenger section with 25mm cannon fire. Even if there was a bomb back there, firing a cannon at it could have caused a detonation, turning the entire vehicle into shrapnel. And, of course, shooting the tailgate of any truck is ineffective at halting it. The guys who fired the rounds were doing what they were told, and now have the privilege of living with this
accidental massacre for the rest of their lives.
But do we all really need to band together and hit our knees for insurance against a term in Hell for our vicarious sins? I can think of several thousand protesters who don't. Particularly the ones who laid tiny caskets outside CNN's San Francisco headquarters last week. Or the ones who tied up traffic for three days while holding signs decrying the war's cost to babies and mothers. They've all been praying to their respective gods and goddesses for peace and an avoidance of tragedies just like the checkpoint slaughter. Yet the god who sent us to fight has prevailed, and his soldiers are filling heaven with youthful arrivals who keep things entertaining for older, more jaded souls. His followers, it would seem, have much for which to atone.
In fact, precisely where are our foremost Christian leaders when we need them most? Do we catch the holy triumvirate of Falwell, Robertson, and Roberts wailing away at us for leaning on Jesus once again? Where are the prime time Southern Gospel Hour specials and the respective like from other sects? Shouldn't the need for a soul savior be particularly acute during times of rampant greed, hasty war, and potential spiritual ruin? Can't they muster the almighty power to overcome ratings towers like "The Bachelorette?" Smack in the middle of a new crusade, and God's generals are keeping to the rear, behind sitcoms and million-dollar hooker lotteries.
Prayers and contemplation ought to be a personal and private thing, free from government sponsorship or deistic endorsement. Pious political grandstanding amounts to nothing more than ecumenical embarrassment, and it erodes the promise of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. America has enough problems with hypocrisy right now. Our pretense of saviors veils our intent to sack and plunder, our posture as guardian belies our position as dominator. The world sees us for who we really are and not who we present ourselves to be. A national day of atonement won't cleanse us in the eyes of our fellow human beings, nor those of the being who created us. It'd be another callous charade carried out by God-fearing masses who can't live what they purport to believe.
Though Abraham Lincoln once signed a similar proclamation in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, this precedent hardly applies to the current war's facts. Lincoln was trying to hold together a Union where slavery would shortly be abolished. That Union's goal was never the wholesale looting of Southern plantations or farms. Carpetbaggers achieved the latter in the years following the Confederacy's defeat, but this was "Reconstruction" -- traditionally a period during which the loser gets raped harder than when the bullets were flying. It's been said that whenever presidents of the last century were going to get us in deep shit, they always invoked the posthumously unassailable Lincoln. Old Abe's name is now synonymous with moral Kevlar. Just the kind of protection one needs in time
Herr Bush hasn't donned the Abe Armor to the press or public yet. Perhaps he was holding that in reserve for a protest that never came, or mention of it in some upcoming Atlantic Monthly piece. In private, His Georgeness is already wearing the Abe cloak and has been for a while. The New, New World Order has those upstart classical European powers as the secessionist rebel scum who haven't the guts to smite evil dictators where they squat. And like Lincoln, George knows he's only acting for the benefit of the Union. God blessed that Union before when Abe asked for help, so it stands to reason that the same God would do so again as we meander through our present murky hours. But the clothes don't necessarily make the man. Bush is a perverse caricature of Lincoln and a sophistry suit won't wash at the Almighty's cleaners. No matter how many of us help stitch it together.