Militarism and the Precipice of Spiritual Doom

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

          Like so many of Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, this one has often been left on the cutting room floor by politicians and the mainstream media. But despite the concerted effort to sanitize his legacy to conform with corporate tastes, the truth is that the great Civil Rights leader did not only struggle for a “dream” of racial equality. He was deeply committed to the fight against aggressive US militarism and economic and social injustice. And as a minister, he framed much of his work and worldview in spiritual terms. Sadly, were King alive today he might feel that one of his most dire predictions has indeed come true.

Most Americans have crushing debt that would bankrupt them if there were an economic shock like the loss of a job or an market downturn, a personal injury or health crisis, or a natural disaster. The US has the highest prison population rate in the world and already this year over 700 people, mostly unarmed black men, have been gunned down by police. 91 Americans a day numb themselves to death from opioids and the suicide rate has jumped 24% nationally from 1999 to 2014. Right now millions are literally fighting for survival in the US colony of Puerto Rico from a climate change created monster of a storm, while the President plays golf and tweets insults at its beleaguered leaders. And including Sunday’s horrific terrorist rampage in Las Vegas there have been 270 mass shootings in the US in 2017 alone.

Yet still so many Americans hold fast to nationalism like a talisman. Perhaps it is the cognitive dissonance reflected by an age of alienation and betrayal in combination with media distractions and political obfuscation, but outrage can still be generated by any perceived slight of or desecration to the anthem or flag. Sporting events, thanks to enormous funding from the Pentagon, are rife with symbols of nationalistic jingoism and flyovers by jets which bomb impoverished nations to smithereens. And Democrats and Republicans in Congress just voted almost unanimously to give $700 billion to the military industrial complex.  In the meantime most from either side of the aisle balk at even the mention of debt relief for students or universal, single payer healthcare.
There is, in fact, hardly a day in Washington where saber rattling and war mongering aren’t on the agenda. In fact this is the primary agenda given the influence of the Department of Defense, the Pentagon and associated think tanks. In the mainstream media personalities boast about “the beauty” of America’s weapons and laud Trump only after he used the “MOAB” (mother of all bombs) for the first time ever in Afghanistan. There are 800 US military bases in at least 70 countries and it remains the biggest polluter on the planet. And Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Russia are perpetually in the crosshairs of liberal and conservative pundits and politicians alike. Stocks in Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and Northrup Grumman must be booming.
Thanks to a culture of entrenched militarism and corporate wealth accumulation America is no longer “approaching spiritual doom” as the late Martin Luther King, Jr. lamented. It arrived on that precipice long ago and only teeters on it precariously while it clings to supremacist myths of “exceptionalism” and “indispensability.” The horrific mass shooting on October 1st, 2017 in Las Vegas, the nation’s most garishly emblematic city for late stage predatory capitalism, is an example of this.
Bursting through the gold gilded windows of the tower of Mandalay Bay hotel, the gunman unwittingly became a metaphor for America’s unrestrained militarism. He took aim at the innocent just like every president and general of Washington has before him, decade after decade. With imperious abandon he fired round after round into the crowds below him who must have appeared faceless from that great distance, just like the victims of drone operators in silos or office buildings thousands of miles away.
Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that spiritual doom was a place of utter despair and desolation where one can dehumanize the “other” so easily as to extinguish their lives in an instant with little regard or remorse. He understood that societies with a bloated military and imperialistic appetites invariably gut programs for infrastructure, education, healthcare and the humanities at home. And this is the ultimate curse of militarism. When a society disregards human beings abroad and are apathetic to the militaristic hubris of their leaders it will inevitably suffer that same fate in the homeland. Whether it comes in the form of a mass shooting, or a SWAT raid, or brutalized traffic stop, or tanks and water canons against unarmed water protectors, or the ignored plight of millions of people on an occupied island in the Caribbean is of no consequence. The cause and the end result are always the same.
Kenn Orphan  2017

3 thoughts on “Militarism and the Precipice of Spiritual Doom

  1. This nihilistic race to the precipice not only by one country, Is despairing. I try in my own little way and am not put off by predicted responses. Another human idiocy is that God is thrown about like confetti. Encouragingly, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” is now being derided as ‘Notenough,we need action not cliched words’. May I humbly suggest that the least we can do is to echo that sentiment.? Graham

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  2. So true. Bob and I have been lamenting the fact that the American military complex- including the gun industry and NRA that no government official wants to talk about least they lose their funding will be their doom as well as the American peoples, who stare in disbelief as more people die every day and ask why. And yet they vote these same people into office. It’s so tragic to watch the downfall of a once American dream.

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