Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Soldiers of the apocalypse

-- by Dave

If this story from Max Blumenthal in The Nation doesn't shake you to your core, then you may not appreciate fully what's happening to this country. It opens with an update on the most recent exploits of actor Stephen Baldwin (one of the Baldwin brothers, mostly known for their liberal politics):
Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a "Military Crusade in Iraq" in the near future.

"We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war torn region," OSU declares on its website about its planned trip to Iraq. "We'll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq."

The Defense Department's Chaplain's Office, which oversees OSU's activities, has not responded to calls seeking comment.

Think about this:

By making this proselytization part of official DOD "outreach," we begin the process of making the Christian conversion of American soldiers official military policy.

And then we are sending these converts into a Muslim war zone with visions of crusades dancing in their heads.

Can things possibly get any more insane?

Well, yes they can. Read on:
But behind OSU's anodyne promises of wholesome fun for military families, the organization promotes an apocalyptic brand of evangelical Christianity to active duty US soldiers serving in Muslim-dominated regions of the Middle East. Displayed prominently on the "What We Believe" section of OSU's website is a passage from the Book of Revelations (Revelation 19:20; 20:10-15) that has become the bedrock of the Christian right's End Times theology: "The devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, and whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, shall be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

With the endorsement of the Defense Department, OSU is mailing "Freedom Packages" to soldiers serving in Iraq. These are not your grandfather's care packages, however. Besides pairs of white socks and boxes of baby wipes (included at the apparent suggestion of Iran-Contra felon Oliver North, according to OSU) OSU's care packages contain the controversial Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game. The game is inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' bestselling pulp fiction series about a blood-soaked Battle of Armageddon pitting born-again Christians against anybody who does not adhere to their particular theology. In LaHaye's and Jenkins' books, the non-believers are ultimately condemned to "everlasting punishment" while the evangelicals are "raptured" up to heaven.

I hope everyone remembers some of the details of the "Left Behind" game:
Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission -- both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state -- especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

... This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

A little while back, Digby noticed that we're going to have a real systemic problem on our hands when these veterans get back from the war:
I predict that we are going to see a remarkable resurgence of rightwing violence if the Democrats take full control of the government. These people are always surprisingly cooperative when the government is run by Republicans and then rediscover their "anti-government" beliefs when Democrats share or dominate the government. I can't imagine why that would be.

We will also, sadly, see veterans involved in this. Aside from the PTSD they will come home to a world that isn't very understanding. How could we be? They've been in hell. I suspect that some of them will be attracted to the rightwing militia (or worse) unless the government makes some very aggressive moves to help these people out and provide every kind of counselling and support they can think of. The last thing we need are hardened Iraq veterans finding solace with the rightwing terrorists.

Thios problem is amplified by the presence of increasing numbers of neo-Nazis and skinheads signing up for service and shipping out to Iraq:
This isn't a problem affecting just the Nazis, gang-bangers, and other violent personalities worming their way into the military. It also affects the many more formerly normal, non-racist recruits who have been dragged into multiple tours of duty in Iraq, regardless of the profound psychological effects of such treatment. This includes many people whose evaluations have recommended they not be returned for duty. There's a reason to call Iraq the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School.

This will, I fear, become a significant component of the predictable surge in far-right activity that is almost certain to manifest itself in the USA over the next couple of years, especially as Democrats and liberals expand and entrench their hold on power. We're essentially re-creating the conditions that arose in Germany and Italy after World War I: scores of angry, disaffected and psychologically damaged war veterans, poised to organize into a political force aimed at "rebirthing" the nation and its heritage.

What's even more disturbing, though, is that the top brass at the military seem all too willing to create those conditions.

Knowing that these soldiers are being preconditioned for a "kill or convert" mentality through video gaming, that concern just became a bona fide state of alarm.

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