Military William Astore

Who Is America’s Real God?

In God We Trust is on all our coins. But, which god?
[Wilson Cheong / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

By William Astore | TomDispatch

Who is America’s god? The Christian god of the beatitudes, the one who healed the sick, helped the poor, and preached love of neighbor? Not in these (dis)United States. In the Pledge of Allegiance, we speak proudly of One Nation under God, but in the aggregate, this country doesn’t serve or worship Jesus Christ, or Allah, or any other god of justice and mercy. In truth, the deity America believes in is the five-sided one headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

In God We Trust is on all our coins. But, again, which god? The one of “turn the other cheek”? The one who found his disciples among society’s outcasts? The one who wanted nothing to do with moneychangers or swords? As Joe Biden might say, give me a break.

America’s true god is a deity of wrath, whose keenest followers profit mightily from war and see such gains as virtuous, while its most militant disciples, a crew of losing generals and failed Washington officials, routinely employ murderous violence across the globe. It contains multitudes, its name is legion, but if this deity must have one name, citing a need for some restraint, let it be known as the Pentagod.

Yes, the Pentagon is America’s true god. Consider that the Biden administration requested a whopping $753 billion for military spending in fiscal year 2022 even as the Afghan War was cratering. Consider that the House Armed Services Committee then boosted that blockbuster budget to $778 billion in September. Twenty-five billion dollars extra for “defense,” hardly debated, easily passed, with strong bipartisan support in Congress. How else, if not religious belief, to explain this, despite the Pentagod’s prodigal $8 trillion wars over the last two decades that ended so disastrously? How else to account for future budget projections showing that all-American deity getting another $8 trillion or so over the next decade, even as the political parties fight like rabid dogs over roughly 15% of that figure for much-needed domestic improvements?

Paraphrasing Joe Biden, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you worship. In that context, there can’t be the slightest doubt: America worships its Pentagod and the weapons and wars that feed it.

Prefabricated War, Made in the U.S.A.

I confess that I’m floored by this simple fact: for two decades in which “forever war” has served as an apt descriptor of America’s true state of the union, the Pentagod has failed to deliver on any of its promises. Iraq and Afghanistan? Just the most obvious of a series of war-on-terror quagmires and failures galore.

That ultimate deity can’t even pass a simple financial audit to account for what it does with those endless funds shoved its way, yet our representatives in Washington keep doing so by the trillions. Spectacular failure after spectacular failure and yet that all-American god just rolls on, seemingly unstoppable, unquenchable, rarely questioned, never penalized, always on top.

Talk about blind faith!

The Pentagod advances a peculiar form of war, one that would puzzle most classic military strategists. In fact, its version of war is beyond strategy of the Clausewitzian sort. I think of it as prefabricated war, borrowing a term from the inestimable Ann Jones’s recent piece for TomDispatch on our Afghan disaster. It’s a term pregnant with meaning.

Prefabricated war is how the Pentagod has ruled for so endlessly long. There is, as a start, the fabrication of false causes for war. In Vietnam, it was the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the “attacks” on U.S. Navy ships that never happened. In Afghanistan, it was vengeance for the 9/11 attacks against a people who neither planned nor committed them. In Iraq, it was the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein didn’t have. Real causes don’t matter much to America’s war god since false ones can always be fabricated, after which enough true believers — especially in Congress — will embrace them fervently and faithfully.

But prefabricated war doesn’t just start with or consist of manufactured causes. It’s fabricated far ahead of time in a colossal cathedral of violence — President Eisenhower’s military-industrial-congressional complex — that sends its missionaries and minions around the planet on a mission of global reach, global power, and full-spectrum dominance. War is prefabricated on 750 military bases scattered across the globe on every continent except Antarctica, in America’s giant arms corporations like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, and by Special Operations forces that act much like the Jesuits of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, spreading the one true faith to 150 countries.

Since America’s war god is also a jealous deity, it insists on dominating all domains — not just land, sea, and air but space as well. Even more ethereal realms like cyberspace and virtual/augmented realities must be captured and controlled. It seeks omnipotence and omniscience in the name of your safety and, if you let it, will also know everything about you, while having the power to smite you, should you stop blindly worshipping it and feeding it more money.

Yet, as strong as it may be, its urge to fabricate threats and exaggerate vulnerabilities never ends. China and Russia are allegedly the biggest threats of the moment, two “near-peer” rivals supposedly driving a new cold war. China, for example, now reportedly has a navy of 355 ships, an ostensibly alarming development (even if those vessels are nowhere near as powerful as their American equivalents). That naturally requires yet more shipbuilding by the U.S. Navy.

Russia may have an economy that’s smaller than California’s, but it’s allegedly leading in hypersonic missile development (and China, too, has now entered the fray with, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs put it recently, something “very close” to a “Sputnik moment”). As a result, the Pentagod demands yet more money to bridge this alleged missile gap. Like earlier bomber and missile gaps from the previous Cold War, such vulnerabilities exist mostly in the minds of its proselytizers.

And in that context, here’s an article of faith rarely questioned by true believers: while America prides itself on having the world’s best and most powerful military, it perennially declares itself in danger of being overmatched. As a result, from aircraft carriers to stealth bombers to nuclear missiles, ever more weaponry must be fabricated. Who cares that it takes the next 11 nations combined to come close to matching the American “defense” budget. Beware the cry, “O ye of little faith!” should you dare to question any of the Pentagod’s fabricated “needs.”

The notion of prefab war goes deeper still, notes Ann Jones. As she wrote me recently:

“I would also carry the implications of prefabricated war to its source in the industrial world that does the material fabrication that dictates the strategy and style of war and pockets the profits.

“In Afghanistan prefabrication meant forcing Afghan soldiers to drop their trusty Kalashnikovs and retrain endlessly on new U.S. rifles (I forget the model) so heavy and temperamental as to be close to useless; they were particularly sensitive to dust, which in Afghanistan is the principal constituent of the air. The U.S. also trained Afghan soldiers how to enter houses, to search inside and kill every occupant; it erected on the training ground some prefabricated wooden houses for the practice of home invasions. (I witnessed this stuff myself.)”

To her point, I’d add the notion of a prefab “government in a box,” a bizarre aspect of the Afghan surge early in President Barack Obama’s first term in office. The idea was to drop ready-made mini-democracies into less-than-stable regions of Afghanistan that had been conditionally secured by U.S. troops. Those prefab governments would then supposedly provide a democratic toehold, freeing American troops to do what they did best: apply “kinetic” force elsewhere through massive firepower.

But the Pentagod didn’t deliver democracy in a box to Afghanistan. Instead, it brought prefab war, made in the U.S.A., exported globally. Or, as Ann Jones put it to me, “The Afghan war was pulled from a box to be used to pave the way for the Big Box war already planned for Iraq by the Bush/Cheney administration.” That such a “Big Box” war then failed so dismally led, of course, to no diminution in the Pentagod’s power or authority, blind devotion being what it is.

Judging by the Vietnam, Afghan, and Iraq wars, a shoddy yet destructive form of prefab war has been the ultimate American export of these years.

Losing My Religion

I was once an acolyte of the Pentagod. I served for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, working in Cheyenne Mountain near the end of the original Cold War. I hunkered down there waiting for the nuclear Armageddon that fortunately never came (though the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was certainly a near miss). A cathedral of power, Cheyenne Mountain could have served as the ultimate temple of doom, but America ultimately “won” the Cold War when the Soviet Union imploded after a disastrous conflict in Afghanistan. That proved a setback indeed for a deity that feared the very thought of a “peace dividend” in the wind. Fortunately, that singular moment of victory proved only temporary, as America’s incessant conflicts since Desert Storm in 1991 have shown.

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In 1992, the year after the Soviet collapse, I found myself walking around the Trinity test site in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the first atomic blast rumbled and roared in July 1945. You might say that, before using two atomic bombs on the Japanese, this country used the first one on ourselves, or at least on all the creatures living near ground zero at that desert site.

“I have become death, the destroyer of worlds,” mused J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, after his “gadget” exploded, irradiating the surrounding desert in a historically unprecedented way. Oppenheimer himself emerged a changed man. He tried unsuccessfully to block the development of the far more powerful hydrogen bomb, an act of clarity and conscience for which, he would be accused of communist sympathies in 1953 and stripped of his security clearance. He and others who followed learned how unwise it is to resist America’s god of war and its drive for yet more power.

During that same trip in 1992, I visited Los Alamos National Laboratory, the site where those atomic “gadgets” were first assembled. Fifty years earlier, during World War II, America began to bring together its best and brightest to create a device more destructive than any ever built. They succeeded, in a sense, in tapping into the power of the gods, even if in a remarkably one-sided fashion, gaining an astonishing ability to destroy, but none whatsoever to create. Armageddon, not genesis, became and remains the Pentagod’s ultimate power.

Back in 1992, the mood at Los Alamos was glum. A national laboratory to create ever newer, more powerful nuclear warheads and weapons didn’t seem to have a promising future with the demise of the Soviet Union. Where, then, did the future lie? Perhaps the best and brightest could turn their thoughts from bombs to consumer goods, or computers, or even what we today call green-energy technologies?

But no such luck. So here I sit, 30 years later, a bit heavier, my hair and beard greying, having lost whatever faith I had. Why? Because the god I served always wanted more. Even now, it wants to spend up to $2 trillion in the coming decades to build “modernized” versions of the nuclear weaponry that I knew, even then, could only create a darker future.

Consider the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD. It’s an innocuous acronym for what someday will be hundreds of land-based nuclear missiles, one leg of this country’s nuclear “triad” (the others being the Navy’s Trident submarine force and the Air Force’s strategic bombers). Deploying the GBSD, the Air Force plans to replace its “aging” ICBMs with “youthful” ones, even though such missiles, old or new, were rendered redundant decades ago by equally accurate ones that could be launched from stealthy submarines.

No matter. Northrop Grumman won the contract at a potential lifecycle cost of $264 billion. Think of those future missiles and the silos where the present ones sit in flyover states like Wyoming and North Dakota as so many subterranean chapels of utter destructive power, serviced by dedicated Air Force crews who believe that deterrence is best achieved by a policy that once was all-too-accurately known as MAD, or mutual assured destruction.

Yet, before I bled Air Force blue, before I was stationed in a cathedral of military power under who knows how many tons of solid granite, I was raised a Roman Catholic. Recently, I caught the words of Pope Francis, God’s representative on earth for Catholic believers. Among other entreaties, he asked “in the name of God” for “arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead.”

Which country has the most arms manufacturers? Which routinely and proudly leads the world in weapons exports? And which spends more on wars and weaponry than any other, with hardly a challenge from Congress or a demurral from the mainstream media?

And as I stared into the abyss created by those questions, who stared back at me but, of course, the Pentagod.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular and a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

20 comments

  1. So much of what’s been published here at Scheer Post has been right on target with so much racing through my thoughts. I agree that America’s “god” is more similar to God of War (Mars).

    Disney’s recent film Jungle Cruise began with Spanish conquistador, driven to find what was sacred to natives for this region. Nevertheless that same god that drives imperialism and empire had been employed or exploited all throughout history. This god has mighty weapon to cut down all in the way to steal… oops I mean acquire and then destroy everyone and everything in path.

    Was Adam & Eve deceived by God in the Garden to care for this planet? Must be right along with confusion of be fruitful and multiply regardless that Adam’s obedience prevented him with a womb and only Eve’s disobedience to eat that forbidden fruit to transform her with blood needed for her womb.

    Yes, Lucifer that wicked cunning serpent wasn’t smarter than Eve. Yet it’s masculinity not feminity that thirst and hungers for power, dominance, and destruction of beauty created. Until Government reaches Harmony embracing feminity, we as children of loving creator will never have fulfilled Adam’s duty set in genesis.

  2. Oh, the fallen angel, Astore, 20 years helping prop up death-murder-the spread of Amerikkkaner disease. Again, not to attack the person but his principles. I worked with many military as a college teacher, and I held my line, my socialism-Marxism, my ground truthing in Central America, in Vietnam as a civilian biodiversity crewman. I challenged them, worked with them on critical thinking, and in the end, military — Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard — many of the guys and gals were economic draftees and believers in this shit hole country of genocide and white supremacy. Forget about the Air Force Academy and the Christian pledges and the rape culture there.

    The military industrial complex is much more complex than just boots on the ground and missiles in the air. Every aspect of this country’s putt-putting around in a car, or airplane, all of that is propped up by murder and mayhem in oil holding countries. Every aspect of USA, from Hollywood, to Mass Media, to the plastics in our IV drips, all tied to the complex — legal-education-pharma-med-prison-banking-finance-insurance-real estate-surveillance-retail-mining-chemical MILITARY Complex, more than industrialized, but now digitized. DARPA-tized.

    And, yet, Astore will continue, I believe, work on this Complex PTSD, and as a worker for social services, believe you me, I have worked with veterans in Portland and three counties who are homeless, many physically beat down at age 30, many substance abusers, and so many ruined even in boot camp, where most of my female clients were sexually assaulted.

    The God is the Devil, William. In Satan we Trust. If you believe that mythology.

  3. “Man in the hands of an angry (insane profit driven) God.” Preacher Jonathan Edwards. “bombs bursting in air” God. The psyche of those early white settlers projecting their intolerable hatred wrath of having been religiously, economically, and/or physically enslaved onto their God who would in turn punish those not towing the revised religious line where man shall be measured by his material works (and degree of “otherness” ).(coloring; culture; values). Weird. What does corporate (weapons industry) behavior/stance have in common with these (googled) characteristics of “the abuser?” Red flags and warning signs of an abuser include but are not limited to:Extremely controlling behavior.Extreme jealousy.Possessiveness. Unpredictability.bad temper.Cruelty to animals.Verbal abuse.Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships. ” And to what degree has the victim (citizenry) become identified with the abuser?

  4. Yes, I have long thought that capitalism is based on a war economy. If that’s capitalism’s end result, who wants it? I’ve done some reading on corporate private armies across the world and for hire by anyone with enough money to do so. Probably part of that huge budget you write about since they are paid twice as much and are less expensive than a standing army. They are treated poorly too, if they get caught or hurt, but seem to have no other recourse for their kill instinct. I suspect some face abject poverty without drug war lords or Corporate, like Eric Prince’s Black Rock, since renamed, monetizing the hiring of murderers.

  5. It took a Republican president and a five star general to tell us “beware of the military industrial complex”

  6. America’s god is money, and that’s as clear as it could possibly be. Americans are the most greedy and materialistic people on Earth. Give ME break!

  7. I grew up during the real Cold War of the 1950s and I can well remember the claims of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We have 45 nuclear missiles pointed at every major Russian city and they now have 9 pointed at ours! Clearly, we are losing the arms race and need more funding!” (“Why were the Founding Fathers so short-sighted that they would only allow military embezzlement. – I mean appropriations. – for two years?”)

  8. Again, no mention of the US’s most secret program. Copying captured ET technology. The cost of achieving air parity with ET doesn’t come cheap. When General Mark Milley told a graduating class in the military that they would be fighting little green men and hybrids, he just couldn’t quite tell us that he didn’t mean Russians without insignia on their uniforms and people using hybrid means of warfare. Can anyone contradict me that he just said “hybrids”? How I wish it were simply the human threats, but the military’s penchant for worst case scenarios and the statements of Lockheed’s former Ben Rich, (that he had contract to take ET home) , tell me it just ain’t so. Hence Star Wars under Reagan; hence the Space Force. That’s where your money is going.

  9. Sorry, I got that completely wrong. If the copiers of ET technology have to answer to anyone for their budget, they absolutely do not need to be persuasive and thereby to “sell” a worst-case scenario, they have only to tell their funding source what is actually happening, that is, tell them the meaning of the alien abductions, and the money will be handed over. As appears to be the case. I’m just not sure if they answer to anyone or if they just write down their figures on a black budget which passes under special access programs funding secrecy arrangements.

  10. Sorry, I got that completely wrong. If the copiers of ET technology have to answer to anyone for their budget, they absolutely do not need to be persuasive and thereby to “sell” a worst-case scenario, they have only hto tell their funding source what is actually happening, that is, tell them the meaning of the alien abductions, and the money will be handed over. As appears to be the case. I’m just not sure if they answer to anyone or if they just write down their figures on a black budget which passes under special access programs funding secrecy arrangements.

  11. One must simply follow the money to determine who is America’s God and who rules over it. James Forrestal knew it.

  12. I really like this Pentagod idea. I think it can be extended a little by adding a dose
    of Trinitarianism to it. So, let’s make it the Pentagodhead.

    Father: Money. Son: Profit. Holy Ghost: Dominance.

    More fun can be had by transmogrifying some other sets of religious concepts.

    The Three Cardinal Virtues: Hate, Fear, Cruelty.

    The Seven Deadly Sins: Love, Kindness, Generosity, Understanding, Empathy,
    Truthfulness, Honesty.

    Y’know, I think we may have the trappings of a real religion here – and religions
    are tax exempt in this country. If I had thought of this earlier, I could have become
    L. Ron Hubbard.

  13. The ‘Pentagod’ is what it is because of a higher god – not violence, but wealth. Money. That is the reason for the Pentagod. To police the world for corporations, police the working classes, police the poor, the landless, the farmers. And to make money doing it, which used to be called ‘war profiteering’ and seen as a bad thing. That is also the reason for our local violent entities – the police and fascist organizations. Lucre. Economics is behind the Pentagod and even the fundamentalist Bible thumpers. Your selective quotes from Christianity give you away as a person who doesn’t want to look at the whole, bloody, reactionary Bible… the one the Evangelicals, war supporters, corporations and fascists love.

  14. Violence by any means necessary — structural adjustment, shutting off water supplies, economic sanctions, blockages, loans, inflation, and so much more, that is the power, but with the MIC as the Ace in the Hole.

    Let’s look at Zionism and Judaism and Christianity as those evil doers, and, payoff after payoff is the creation of Eichmann’s, the enforcers of PayDay loans, fear of imprisonment, and no credit, bad credit, eviction histories, all VIOLENCE.

    Colonizers new and old, the culprits of this godlessness God. Here, just one large swatch of lies and violence perpetrated on the Afrikan continent: Invasion of the Body-Soul-Community-Environment Snatchers, Lord of War, Lord of Sucre . . . .

    https://libya360.wordpress.com/2021/11/22/african-civilizations-before-colonial-invasion/

    Neocolonialism upholds this imperialist lie through divisive propaganda via corporate mass media and social media.

    The conventional narrative projected by Western worldviews that Africa was a barbaric and dark continent before colonization demands perpetual opposition. The organic intricacies of African civilizations prior colonial invasion are viewed as worthless historical mishaps.

    Pre-colonial African civilizations should not be romanticized as the proverbial utopia. It had its inherent faults/contradictions just like every other society on Earth. These include class struggles, gender inequities, tribal and ethnic animosities, political conflicts, and natural misfortunes.

    But that does not mean African civilizations were inferior to Western ones as asserted by imperialist and racialist tropes of superiority complexes and ‘white savior mentalities’. Africa was never a ‘dark continent full of ‘superstitions’. Neocolonialism upholds this imperialist lie through divisive propaganda via corporate mass media and social media.

    It is disingenuous to ignore the link between the scarce and distorted history of pre-colonial Africa and the present poverty, displacement, inferiority, and identity crises in Africa. And it is remiss to say all African ethnicities are homogenous – they share a plethora of commonalities.

    1. I know nothing of precolonial Africa, and I was hoping that your link would give me some information. Instead, the essay that is linked to spends about 90% of its words on complaining about colonizers — no disagreement there, colonization is evil and wrong, and so are the fanatic religions imposed that espouse belief in only one god — and its descriptions are very general and vague. Oh well, guess I’ll have to continue to search for this information.

  15. as one digs deeper into the national character of amerikans one sees they have sought the value of everything in this world according to the answer to a single question: how much money will it bring in?
    Tocqueville

    the only God in America is money
    Malcom X

    amerikans are farcical when it comes to money and force majeure–the 2 things they worship. my country has created 1 art form–the tv advertisement. you should not expect a democracy from a society like this
    Gore Vidal

    the double symbolism amerikans assign to money is considered paradoxical to Europeans
    Geoffrey Gorer

    1. @Jaques
      Americans know the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is the height of foolishness.

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