July 11, 2014

Chris Hedges: "Kneeling In Fenway Park To The Gods Of War"

Essential reading.

Chris Hedges, TruthDig:
On Saturday [July 5] I went to one of the massive temples across the country where we celebrate our state religion. The temple I visited was Boston’s Fenway Park. I was inspired to go by reading Andrew Bacevich’s thoughtful book "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country," which opens with a scene at Fenway from July 4, 2011. ...

The religious reverie — repeated in sports arenas throughout the United States — is used to justify our bloated war budget and endless wars. Schools and libraries are closing. Unemployment and underemployment are chronic. Our infrastructure is broken and decrepit. And we will have paid a crippling $4 trillion for the useless and futile wars we waged over the last 13 years in the Middle East. But the military remains as unassailable as Jesus, or, among those who have season tickets at Fenway Park, the Red Sox. The military is the repository of our honor and patriotism. No public official dares criticize the armed forces or challenge their divine right to more than half of all the nation’s discretionary spending. And although we may be distrustful of government, the military — in the twisted logic of the American mind — is somehow separate.

The heroes of war and the heroes of sport are indistinguishable in militarized societies. War is sold to a gullible public as a noble game. Few have the athletic prowess to play professional sports, but almost any young man or woman can go to a recruiter and sign up to be a military hero. The fusion of the military with baseball, along with the recruitment ads that appeared intermittently Saturday on the television screens mounted on green iron pillars throughout Fenway Park, caters to this illusion ...

Saturday's crowd of some 37,000, which paid on average about $70 for a ticket, dutifully sang hosannas — including “God Bless America” in the seventh inning — to the flag and the instruments of death and war. It blessed and applauded a military machine that, ironically, oversees the wholesale surveillance of everyone in the ballpark and has the power under the National Defense Authorization Act to snatch anyone in the stands and hold him or her indefinitely in a military facility. There was no mention of targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens, kill lists or those lost or crippled in the wars. The crowd roared its approval every time the military was mentioned. It cheered its own enslavement.

War is not a sport. It is about killing. It is dirty, messy and deeply demoralizing. It brings with it trauma, lifelong wounds, loss and feelings of shame and guilt. It leaves bleeding or dead bodies on its fields. The pay is lousy. The working conditions are horrific. And those who come back from war are usually discarded. ... At best, you are trotted out for a public event, as long as you read from the script they give you, the one designed to entice the naive into the military. Otherwise, you are forgotten.
Also: After our trip to Boston in early April, my partner Laura wrote the following: "military propaganda at sports events reaches new extremes: continuous recruitment ads at baseball games".

It disgusts me that my favourite team seems intent on prying the title of "Biggest Military/War Lovers" in MLB from the Yankees.


laura k said...

Great stuff.

Maxwell Horse said...

Here's how much of a loser I am. When I went to post the following, I was told "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters." So here's part one:

I think it would make for an interesting (and overdue) mainstream article exposing how many billions of dollars the government must surely spend to spread propaganda through sporting events. (As it is, I think the public probably assumes that the owners of the individual teams push all the NeoCon stuff--relentlessly and shamelessly--because they honestly feel that way as individuals and want to spread the word. At least in the case of Larry Lucchino, and my vague knowledge of his political bent, I have a hard time believing he's so George Bushian in his view of war.)

But regardless, I think my anger goes more towards my fellow sheep in the public than any agenda-driven people behind the scenes. It's one thing when there is a direct benefit to a small handful of elite to promote war. Of COURSE they're going to be waving the pom-poms.

What's harder to reconcile is the fact that people in general are so malleable and brainless and so completely devoid of personal agency that they willingly cheer something so contrary to what would normally be considered ethical (if it weren't under the banner of "patriotism"), and cheer on something so ultimately contrary to their own quality of life and their children's quality of life. I feel like they do this simply because social atmosphere steers them in that direction. There's no direct benefit to them--in fact, quite the opposite--but they eat it up and promote it all the same. I feel like if the government tomorrow decided to drop the whole war campaign and instead relentlessly seeded the public with the idea that broccoli was this wonderful and noble thing, you'd be seeing people in the stands wiping away tears in equal amounts when the "Big Broccoli Song" came up over the loud speakers. And they would no doubt fly off the handle and scream "traitor" if someone dared say that they didn't care for broccoli.

I could more easily swallow all the Red Sox propaganda if I thought for a second that the orgasmic fetishizing and cheering from the stands were some kind of eye-rolling front. But it's clearly not. I can't help but think of guys like Tom Caron. He seems like a good, thoughtful guy. Yet nearly every single night (I'm not kidding) he is participating in some public bit to glamorize war in the pre-show. Again, I think I wouldn't be bothered so much if I thought some part of him were thinking, "Yeah, this is bullshit. But I can't afford to lose this job." But there seems to be none of that hesitancy or inner-conflict. He, along with everyone else, seems to be completely unreflective when it comes to this topic.

Maxwell Horse said...


The other day on WEEI, Dale Arnold and Michael Holley--two of the most thoughtful and seemingly genuinely nice guys I've heard on the radio--had a completely unironic "four at four" topic on their afternoon show. The topic was, "Let's name famous sports figures that were also real life heroes." And of course, being a hero meant that they dropped bombs on people in a war. It didn't matter what war they participated in. They could've gone to Vietnam to spearhead the "Operation, let's steal lunch money from kids for no apparent reason," and they were held in equal reverence as those that fought Hitler. And the child-like admiration and John Wayne-like dogmatic way that Dale Arnold spoke of war--again, it's hard to reconcile this mindlessness with the thoughtful and intelligent guy he seems to be otherwise.

Comparing it to religion is almost not strong enough of an analogy--especially in this year of 2014. Religion isn't that popular these days. Go into any church and you're going to be seeing a lot of empty seats, whereas Fenway is filled to near capacity every single night. One can speak openly about how stupid one finds religion without much fear of backlash. (Can you imagine the public outcry if the Sox front office completely lost their minds and started playing ads for Mormonism on all the monitors in the ballpark?)

War, however, is completely out of bounds as an acceptable topic of criticism. You kind of have to speak in hushed, low tones one-on-one, if you feel that way. You have to make sure you're in private and with someone who is "like-minded," like you're part of some underground rebel movement in a dystopian science fiction novel.

laura k said...

Hear, hear!!

I also find the cheering sheeple the most depressing part of the many depressing things about this.

MH, I hope you've written this somewhere more visible and more permanent, and perhaps under your real name, and not (only) hidden such excellent analysis in a blog comment.

Maxwell Horse said...

Thanks, Laura. I'm pretty incognito on the internet though. But if anyone wants to quote or paraphrase the above (assuming it's not to rip it apart) elsewhere, they're welcome to. (Not that it's solid gold wisdom or anything. But every bit of "counter-propaganda" may help, no matter how relatively tiny, to combat the big machine.)

allan said...

From an essay reprinted at a Blue Jays blog:

Travis Reitsma, Runs Batted Out:
"We're told politics and sports don't mix and that it's not the right venue to speak out against things like war. We're told to leave our opinions at the stadium gate and just enjoy the game. The problem is, once we're in the stadium — or once we tune in on television — we're exposed to a myriad of political messages. The explicit promotion of war is nothing if not political and it would be nice to hear a different message once in a while."

allan said...

Rob Neyer, SB Nation (Nov. 2013):
"[W]hat bothers me more than anything is how sports, and in particular baseball, have lately used every possible excuse to trot out the flag-waving and the war-glorifying and the jingoism. ...
[A]s fewer and fewer Americans are willing to actually serve in the military, sports teams do more and more to make everyone else feel wonderful about sending our young people overseas to fight ... before coming home to face a medical system that is pitiably ill-equipped to take care of them. You want to support the troops? Fantastic. Send fewer of them to fight unwinnable wars, and tell your Congressmen to fight for the requisite care for those who do fight."