Grace is Cheap, And Broadcast.

Excerpt from Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War by Andrew Bacevich

Via TomDispatch, the excerpt is named Ballpark Liturgy: America’s New Civic Religion; Cheap Grace at Fenway by Andrew Bacevich.

It is almost ten years to the day of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93. Our culture became inundated with 9/11 memorabilia, baggage of a new dawn of international security and . From the crackpot conspiracy theories proliferating on internet sites ranging from seedy to quite legitimate, to the conglomerate of services, danger signs, and warnings driven by the Department of Homeland Security, to the transience of buying a $5 magnet to show others you are supportive. What happened to that support in within the span of those ten years? We have seen the ill effects of failed and quagmire multi-trillion dollar wars in the Middle East on our exuberant patriotism spru after 9/11. No longer are prolonged overseas wars of choice in the name of freedom a calling for public opinion. But we cannot deny the grip that patriotism has on public conscience. Even though we no longer flock to gas stations to cover our bumpers with the red, white, and blue, there are constant reminders of an obligatory contract to see America’s reaching hand as a justifying force. Bacevich sees this symbolism embodied in the most American of all past-times, a baseball game. A saccharine July of 4th celebration at the Red Sox’s Fenway Park pursues “cheap grace”, in essence the conversion of a multitude of corporate sympathies and government interests to prey on deep seeded psychological patriotism. Similar events tug on our heart-strings, resulting in a public consciousness in support of our American military endeavors.

“In ways far more satisfying than displaying banners or bumper stickers, the Fenway Park Independence Day event provided a made-to-order opportunity for conscience easing.  It did so in three ways.  First, it brought members of Red Sox Nation into close proximity (even if not direct contact) with living, breathing members of the armed forces, figuratively closing any gap between the two.  (In New England, where few active duty military installations remain, such encounters are increasingly infrequent.)  Second, it manufactured one excuse after another to whistle and shout, whoop and holler, thereby allowing the assembled multitudes to express — and to be seen expressing — their affection and respect for the troops.  Finally, it rewarded participants and witnesses alike with a sense of validation, the reunion of Bridget and her family, even if temporary, serving as a proxy for a much larger, if imaginary, reconciliation of the American military and the American people.  That debt?  Mark it paid in full. 

The late German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a name for this unearned self-forgiveness and undeserved self-regard.  He called it cheap grace.  Were he alive today, Bonhoeffer might suggest that a taste for cheap grace, compounded by an appetite for false freedom, is leading Americans down the road to perdition.”

Our stars and stripes wave in the winds of the four corners of the earth, alongside more nations than we could possibly remember our allegiances to. Once called upon to stand with an ally, or to uphold cherished human rights of self-determination, liberty, and justice, we have historically backed our words with military force. Our soft power once stretched across all oceans. And our hard power sent aircraft along those same lines. But back at home now, we imbibe in gestures and posturing. Indeed, this “American Civic Religion” is an indubitably contemporary institution. In previous wars, its participants were not volunteers. Families had to pour their whole livelihoods into war mentality because of the dangers to Americans picked at random to strap on a helmet and wield a rifle. Backed by corporatism and capital gains, the 21st century offers cheap grace. Now instead of uniting in our show of support for the troops, we are witnesses to reminders during football and baseball games. A tragedy forces us to unite. In the wake of 9/11 cheap grace seems necessary. Five dollars bought us together in solidarity. The past decade’s contractionary economic malaise tempers our patriotic enthusiasm, as do the realities of the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan. One wonders whether this ten year descent into jaded indolence is just the further erosion of a status quo inclined to indifference, spoken for naught. America often speaks of self-sacrifice; the sacrifice of crucial government institutions and the sucked-dry populace at the behest of the financial, insurance, and real estate industry, the sacrifice of our armed forces, which seemingly amount to the sacrifice of our nation’s but we stand on the sidelines now, arms often folded in disinterests, arms raised in left-wing and right-wing indignation, arms floundering about with no real allegiance. Bacevich notes, “A decade of war culminating in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression hasn’t done much good for the country but it has been strangely good for the Red Sox — and a no-less well funded Pentagon.” And as corporate revenues soar to new heights, demand is stuck, producing near double digit unemployment levels and labor force participation below 60%. So the immediacy felt by the shock of 9/11 has all but disappeared, and we’re left standing with a cheapened version of American freedom, footing a bill the country neither has the means nor energy to deal with.


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