Kneeling in Fenway Park to the Gods of War
Posted on Jul 7, 2014
BOSTON—On Saturday 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 Fourth of July worship service that I attended last week—a game between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles—was a day late because of a rescheduling caused by Tropical Storm Arthur. When the crowd sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” a gargantuan American flag descended to cover “the Green Monster,” the 37-foot, 2-inch-high wall in left field. Patriotic music blasted from loudspeakers. Col. Lester A. Weilacher, commander of the 66th Air Base Group at Massachusetts’ Hanscom Air Force Base, wearing a light blue short-sleeved Air Force shirt and dark blue pants, threw the ceremonial first pitch. A line of Air Force personnel stood along the left field wall. The fighter jets—our angels of death—that usually roar over the stadium on the Fourth were absent. But the face of Fernard Frechette, a 93-year-old World War II veteran who was attending, appeared on the 38-by-100-foot Jumbotron above the center-field seats as part of Fenway’s “Hats Off to Heroes” program, which honors military veterans or active-duty members at every game. The crowd stood and applauded. Army National Guard Sgt. Ben Arnold had been honored at the previous game, on Wednesday. Arnold said his favorite Red Sox player was Mike Napoli. Arnold, who fought in Afghanistan, makes about $27,000 a year. Napoli makes $16 million. The owners of the Red Sox clear about $60 million annually. God bless America.
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: Sign up. You will be part of a professional team. We will show you in your uniform on the Jumbotron in Fenway Park. You will be a hero like Mike Napoli.
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.
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