Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 76) transports me to downtown Asheville, late 1960s, when my mom would drive me and Granny downtown for the weekly “shopping” spree and lunch at the S&W. The shopping consisted of a stop at the Green Stamp store for a little redemption, some browsing of the seconds at Fains, a stop in at Dunham’s to speak to Daddy if he was in the shop, and if I was on good behavior, we got to go into the Army Store, where I would gawk in fascination at all the surplus gear. Two things I remember getting from there were a camouflage jacket and a toy rubber knife in a sheath. With Daddy a member of the greatest generation of WWII vets, and big bro Jerry parachuting out of planes into the jungles of Vietnam with the 101st Airborne division, I was enamored with all things military, and was proud to be playing for the 2-A Little League team sponsored by the Army Store. I even got Daddy to give me a buzz cut like Jerry’s. That little boy seems so far removed from the peacemaking advocate for disarmament he (I) would grow up to be. The world of the 60s seems pretty far removed than the world we inhabit today, too. Then, the encroaching military-industrial complex President Eisenhower had warned about was still somewhat contained in some of the more obvious defense-contracted corporations like Lockheed Martin and General Electric, and “military surplus” was confined to camouflage clothes and soldiering gear. I doubt that even Eisenhower could have envisioned how far that complex would infiltrate our daily lives. On the one hand, we now have the war-machine to thank for everyday technologies like computers, microwaves, GPS, radar (weather reporting), digital cameras, antibiotics, razors, canned food, even freeze-dried Dippin’ Dots. Someday soon, according to the futurists, we will also take for granted things now in the r&d phases of military innovation: telepathic helmets, brain-operated prosthetics, power-generating pants, etc. But beyond our dependency on military innovations, it’s stunning to think about how virtually every move we make on any given day represents the defense department’s tangled web weaving its way into our lives. Google, Starbucks, Proctor & Gamble, Sony, Home Depot, even my New Balance shoes, these are just a few on the long list of producers of everyday products partnered with the Pentagon. Practically every store we walk into, be it a supermarket or clothing store or technology shop, is a virtual Army Surplus store. The dream of disarmament, in this world we live in, requires far more than limiting drone attacks and negotiating treaties around the number of nuclear warheads. Those represent only the tip of a mammoth iceberg comprising a modern day economy designed to keep the war-machine alive and well, no matter the politics and ideologies our leaders proclaim.
Long before our current complexity of military-industrial invasion into our everyday lives, long before Eisenhower’s prophetic warning at the end of the happy days of the 50s, the ancient Hebrew poet had his own divinely inspired dream of disarmament. Asaph pictured the God of Zion disentangling the covenant community from the intrusion of all things military into their lives. The song trumpets God breaking the flashing arrows, the shields and swords, the weapons of war that were woven into the ancient world. Instead of glorifying violence and celebrating the valor of warriors, the Psalm has a radiant and majestic God acting to plunder the valiant and disable the warriors, and at the sound of God’s rebuke, the horse and chariot– the ancient version of Lockheed Martin– lie still. No wonder God is portrayed as a deity to be feared; the divine presence in the world was disruptive and destructive of the machinery that had woven its way into the everyday lives of the people of faith. From the perspective of the Psalmist, though, this kind of fear-inspiring wrath against military technologies was a cause for praise. It inspired him to sing of a day when there would be no surplus left to sell in the Army Store or Old Grouch’s Military Supply.
I got my first dose of disarmament when my brother Jerry came home from Vietnam. I was experienced at playing war, and I foolishly thought he would be ready to play. I donned my camouflage jacket, snuck up and pulled my toy knife on him. Before I knew it I was disarmed; both I and the knife were flying across the room. I tried unsuccessfully to camouflage my tears, as I learned the hard way that war was not a game. That was a simple lesson from a simpler time, when the divine dream of peace and the eradication of all things military was confined to swords and shields and horses and chariots, the Lockheed Martins and Remingtons of our corporate world. Now, the lesson is more complex and the dream has to go far deeper and wider. Could we re-imagine a world without all the military-inspired technologies we now take for granted, making us unwittingly complicit in the war-machinery wreaking havoc throughout our world? What would life be like without this Apple computer at my fingertips, without Google and ITunes, without Home Depot and Sara Lee and P & G products and the incredibly long list of Pentagon funded products, cataloged by people like Nick Turse, who wrote The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. If we are honest, even the most progressive peacemakers among us would have to admit that the prophetic vision of complete disarmament and complete disentanglement from violence is a frightening prospect, deeply disruptive and destructive to an accustomed and comfortable way of life. To come to a place of praise in the midst of this fear, and to trust the goodness of such a disentangled life, is part of my continuing journey of faith.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.