Itching for Armaggedon
The hit song in Jerusalem in 1991, according to a joke making the rounds among Wall Street traders back then, was “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
The occasion, in case anyone has forgotten, was the first war against Iraq undertaken by a George Bush, this one in defence of Kuwait. The fighting continues today, after a second George Bush, a born again Christian, marched into Iraq.
The younger Bush had some belief that there were nuclear weapons and chemical weapons stashed around Iraq by the brutal dictator who had, in fact, gassed his own citizens as well as the soldiers of neighboring Iran in the 80s. The trouble was that although Saddam Hussein pretended to have a lethal arsenal in 1991, American intelligence services didn’t believe it, and none were ever found. But the younger Bush believed what he did.
It will be decades before solid information explaining Bush’s rationale comes out, but he often spoke in the familiar language of gods and devils and was carried into office by a surge of fundamentalist Christian voters. The war was clearly a disaster whose proportion cannot be measured yet. It doesn’t matter that our military finally marched out Iraq, as every report from that place shouts chaos in an unstable region. It’s certainly plausible that Bush’s oil business ties had something to do with it. Anything to keep the big SUVs on the road and the refineries humming. But we do not know. Nothing good ever comes from a battle over unfounded beliefs — such is the source of much of the killing and destruction in the world today.
The language was similar to that of Reagan’s fears about the evil Soviet empire, Reagan being the president when the United States sent the Marines to the defence of a handful of medical students in the island nation of Grenada, which coincidentally occurred just in time to deflect public attention from the Arab terrorists who had blown up a United States Marines barracks in Beirut. (Reagan hadn’t lost his marbles that early in the game. He could remember Jimmy Carter’s fatal scrape with Muslim fundamentalists.)
I’m dredging up all this because this coming election is an even bigger turning point in the nation’s history than the one 12 years ago, and the debate is more drenched in the ecstasies of religious warfare. The influence of fundamentalist Christianity is stronger than it ever was, and has neatly joined forces with the anti-government, laissez-faire spirit that has plagued the nation for more than 100 years, flavored with a dollop of unspoken racism among a broad spectrum of losers.
We’ve come a long way from lip-service to school prayer, and we have the misfortune to have someone like Sheldon Adelson, the gambling entrepreneur who is spending maybe $100 million fomenting war with Iran. His campaign certainly has made the politicians jump, especially the Republican ticket of Romney and Ryan, working closely with oil magnates from the Koch brothers on down.
These folks want to marry the fundamentalist Christian crusaders here with the fundamentalist minority of Israelis to engage the fundamentalist Muslims of Iran in a conflagaration. We don’t ever learn. Our maneuvering was a disaster in Afghanistan in real life when the Soviets were still there in the 80s, clearing the way for al Qaeda, and it was a tangible disaster in Iraq, where the murder of civilians continues unabated. The rulers of all these countries may not be very pretty, but we cannot change things with fairy tales, certainly not with the Book of Revelation.
And so, the news that Obama and the Democrats flinched when challenged over the words in the platform and retreated has depressed me mightliy. They backed down and added one tangential reference to god and one bellicose reference to the status of Jerusalem.
Like most things that catch the news media’s sharp eyes, this non-issue of saying “God-given potential” instead of just “potential” will evaporate, but the game is played over such vague impressions. I read the explanations from the Democrats, like Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Corey Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. I understand that the platforms are formalities and that such lip service is normal.
The little tempest was a sharp contrast to the rest of the convention, which focused on important domestic issues. And Obama is a sharp politician who recognizes a tiny tactical mistake and he is probably howling mad. He must know quite well that Gerald Ford fell far behind by tripping on stage, and that Michael Dukakis was seriously wounded when sucker-punched by a debate question about the hypothetical rape of his wife. These inconsequentials have a way of turning a close election.
Jerusalem is a tough question, wrapped up a multiple tragedies involving the Jewish people and the Muslim people. We all know it won’t be resolved in the political platforms, but above all, the world does not need or want new crusade. Holy war is not the answer.