So it has come to this?

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by Neil Godfrey

I have never visited the United States of America and have no plans to do so. (I must add that I have been told by some good American friends that there are certain pockets I would love and where I would feel very comfortable with people I really would like, and that not all Americans are racist, gun wielding, bible-bashing, anti-intellectual, loud-mouth, ignorant conspicuous consumers.) Nor have I ever taken a strong enough interest in sports events to attend major football (rugby, AFL) matches here in Australia. So I cannot seriously compare the following account with what happens here but I would be very surprised (and disappointed) if major Australian sports events were following suit.

To what extent has sports and the military become “increasingly fused” in the US? I ask because of an article by William Astore on TomDispatch about the militarization of sports and the redefinition of patriotism.

Since 9/11, however, sports and the military have become increasingly fused in this country. Professional athletes now consider it perfectly natural to don uniforms that feature camouflage patterns. (They do this, teams say, as a form of “military appreciation.”) Indeed, for only $39.99 you, too, can buy your own Major League Baseball-sanctioned camo cap at MLB’s official site. And then, of course, you can use that cap in any stadium to shade your eyes as you watch flyovers, parades, reunions of service members returning from our country’s war zones and their families, and a multitude of other increasingly militarized ceremonies that celebrate both veterans and troops in uniform at sports stadiums across what, in the post-9/11 years, has come to be known as “the homeland.”

These days, you can hardly miss moments when, for instance, playing fields are covered with gigantic American flags, often unfurled and held either by scores of military personnel or civilian defense contractors. Such ceremonies are invariably touted as natural expressions of patriotism, part of a continual public expression of gratitude for America’s “warfighters” and “heroes.”

. . . . .

Highlighting the other pre-game ceremonies the next night was a celebration of Medal of Honor recipients. I have deep respect for such heroes, but what were they doing on a baseball diamond? The ceremony would have been appropriate on, say, Veterans Day in November.

There is more but you get the idea.

Then there is this:

What started as a post-9/11 drive to get an American public to “thank” the troops endlessly for their service in distant conflicts — stifling criticism of those wars by linking it to ingratitude — has morphed into a new form of national reverence. And much credit goes to professional sports for that transformation. In conjunction with the military and marketed by corporations, they have reshaped the very practice of patriotism in America. 

Now there I do see a synchronicity with Australia. There has never been a repeat of the public insults directed at troops, many conscripts, returning from Vietnam. Now we see what I can’t help thinking is an opposite extreme, equally ignorant: the call for gratitude and honour that must stifle any public questioning of the motives and morality of those who sent them to kill and die. The masters of propaganda learned their lessons well.

I sometimes wonder if what we are witnessing now, but as an outsider it is difficult for me to say too much about America, is a gradual infusion of a type of fascism and militarism by stealth. The ignorant personalities don’t lead the way as they once did; but they do emerge somehow as symptoms or afterthoughts as the tide is changing.

I don’t know. Just thinking, wondering.

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Neil Godfrey

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13 thoughts on “So it has come to this?”

  1. The military branches are sponsoring more sports events because recruitment has been a problem. Many of the displays you see at sporting events are actually paid advertising. Major sports in the US have historically frowned on too much corporate advertising (this is changing too) – sports teams have realized they can make money from military advertising, and no one complains.

    But a certain fetish for venerating the military has developed since 9/11. But honestly it doesn’t feel like there is much substance to it.

    1. But honestly it doesn’t feel like there is much substance to it.

      That’s encouraging. Yes, William Astore has a lot to say about the corporate sponsorship behind it. Once again we are reminded of the military-industrial-corporate powers behind our democratic processes and mass media messages.

  2. It’s worse than that. During the “Seventh Inning Stretch” in baseball games, for decades teams either did nothing or had the announcer sing a novelty song like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Since 9/11, it became a “tradition” to invite someone to sing “God Bless America” in the seventh inning, and the entire stadium and teams have to stand, take off their caps, and sing along with it. As far as I know, this happens at all 162 games at all 30 pro baseball stadiums in the USA, and I assume it also happens at many or most college and minor league stadiums.

    There is lots and lots of militarism at all sporting events — army flagmen show up all the time, air force jet planes fly over the stadiums, and of course singing the national anthem before the game is mandatory for all sports games at all levels.

    This is all thought of as harmless “patriotism.” Nobody criticized any of it until Colin Kaepernick boldly did so.

  3. “…not all Americans are racist, gun wielding, bible-bashing, anti-intellectual, loud-mouth, ignorant conspicuous consumers.” I second that emotion. While I grew up in (and came back to live in) a “liberal” college town where most everyone I know deplores that kind of shit, I still managed to get “educated” in a high school where creationism had to be taught alongside “evolutionism” as “the other side of the issue” in biology class, and American history class consisted largely of Protestant sermons. But yeah, no; we’re a hella mixed bag over here.

    But, yeah; sports has always been considered a proxy for or sublimation of war, and that association has gotten stronger with every Republican administration since Reagan. Of course, it took a huge leap with 9/11.

    Oh- “bible-bashing” means “denigrating” the Bible in some way (like questioning its historical accuracy); I think you meant “Bible-thumping”.

    I might also remind the rest of the world that our current figurehead for that kind of extremism did not win the popular vote; at least half of us are deeply ashamed of our president.

    1. “Bible bashing” means “bible thumping” here. We use the term for anyone who wants to preach the Bible’s values. But I can see the ambiguity in the expression. Context tells all.

      1. I think it’s that problem with the whole “divided by a common language” thing. In American there is a profound difference between “bible-thumping” (preaching/proselytizing your bible beliefs and/or religion vigorously) and “bible-bashing” (criticizing ‘thumpers’, the bible and/or Christianity vigorously). ;-]

  4. “… not all Americans are racist, gun wielding, bible-bashing, anti-intellectual, loud-mouth, ignorant conspicuous consumers.”

    Why is it that otherwise civilized people think that it is perfectly okay to spout such bigoted stereotypes about the US? The kind of thing you would never dream of saying about anyone else? I dare you, I DARE you, to say the equivalent of the quoted sentence about Jews or blacks or about anyone other than Americans. Of course you won’t, because you’re not a bigot (except about Americans, who apparently don’t count as human, so bigotry is okay).

    As for fascism and militarism, you will have to look very hard to find a country less fascist and less militaristic than the US. Even the armed forces are less militaristic than those of most other countries.

    The reason you see such displays at sporting events is that you don’t see them anywhere else.

    1. Well that is the American type who so often comes to us through our media, and even, regrettably, sometimes in real life.* I am Australian, and I utterly deplore what is touted as the “real Aussie character” by not only some outsiders but by way, way too many Australians themselves: “boorish, yahoo, redneck, beer-belly drunkards and gamblers, foul-mouthed, racist, cruel and war-loving, bullying, anti-intellectual, delinquent malingerers (or euphemized as “larrikan”), ….” That’s us, my mob.

      But if you read what I wrote I don’t think you can fairly say that I was “spouting such a bigoted stereotype”. I was pointing out the image of Americans that comes across to us here loud and clear but that I know it is not universal because I have and have had some very good American friends. I also have cited with much approval a good number of American authors and academics here.

      But I cannot deny I have no wish to visit a country that regularly is presented in our news media as a place where mass shootings happen on a regular basis, where police as so often reported as being criminal themselves in their treatment of racial minorities, where so many people are proudly “redneck” and god-believers/evolution deniers, where ignorance of the world outside America seems to be par for the course, and whose government is constantly waging war after war after war on some other poor hapless country that won’t toe the American line. That is the image of the USA that does too often and too consistently come through to us.

      Of course I take heart in movements that are clearly working to oppose these attitudes and policies. I can only hope they grow in influence.

      My most galling memory is of a visit to a cultural museum in Cambodia, surely one of the poorest countries that has suffered unspeakably as a result of wars sparked by the West and groans under a most corrupt government. Cambodians were allowed free entry. I loved that. Foreign tourists were asked to pay an entry fee. I did not mind at all. But I cringed when looked around to see what a commotion at the entrance was all about after I had been looking around inside. It turned out that a group of clearly well-to-do Americans were very loudly demanding a “seniors discount” to the asking entry price! Shit. I wanted to hide lest anyone think I was an American like them.

      But of course not all Americans are like that. I know very well from personal experience that many would deplore those tourists in Cambodia as much as I did. I also, by the way, happen to have met several Americans who have migrated to Australia just to get away from large sections of the “stereotype” in the USA that I described above. Unfortunately since they arrived Australia has been slowly attempting to “catch up” with America’s direction in the world.

      1. “Well that is the American type who so often comes to us through our media, …”

        That’s no excuse. Unless, that is, you are willing to give racists a pass because they are just repeating what they’ve heard.

        “I don’t think you can fairly say that I was “spouting such a bigoted stereotype”.”

        When you say “Not all X are Y”, you are saying that some X are Y, and, depending on tone, you could mean “Almost all X are Y”. Would you be okay with me saying, “Not all Australians are boorish, yahoo, redneck, beer-belly drunkards and gamblers, foul-mouthed, racist, cruel and war-loving, bullying, anti-intellectual, delinquent malingerers.”?

        “… a country that regularly is presented in our news media as a place where mass shootings happen on a regular basis, …”

        Again with the stereotypes.

        “My most galling memory is of a visit to a cultural museum in Cambodia, …”

        Are you claiming that never in your entire life have you encountered anyone but Americans acting like jerks? If not, why not relate those anecdotes, so we can all have some fun with negative stereotypes of various nationalities? Or would that be offensive? If those Americans had been Jewish, would you have mentioned that? Would you have said, “Not all Jews are like that.”? I doubt it, because that would have been offensive.

        1. I am not saying all Americans are like that. I am simply stating the fact of what so often comes across to us in the media. That’s not stereotyping all Americans. That’s telling you what Americans project to outsiders all too often. Surely the difference is clear.

          Yes, I would hope you would say that, I would be perfectly comfortable with you saying that “Not all Australians are …. etc”. A good too many of us are, hopefully not most of us. But there are a good number who boast and take pride in that image. Is that how Australians come across to you through the media in America? I cringe with embarrassment when I see those types.

          Simply stating what comes across to us in the media is not me stereotyping all Americans. Surely I’ve said enough to tell you I don’t believe all Americans are like that. Of course they aren’t.

          Why you say I am singling out Americans as the only ones who are jerks when I’ve told you the worst Australian stereotype is beyond me.

          As for the Jewish comparison, that’s nonsense. Americans are not a race. Jews are a race. There’s a difference. A significant one. But Jews themselves have written of the stereotypes they have presented throughout history and that is not antisemitism. It is reporting how they have seen themselves and how others have seen them at different times and places.

          You need to learn the difference between observation of media presentations and an attitude that looks down upon an entire people as conforming to a stereotype. Please try to read the positives I also said in my comments and stop selecting the bits that misrepresent my overall point.

          P.S. Are you an American? What is your experience with peoples and countries outside the USA? Do you know the national image that is projected every time there is another mass shooting followed by cries of protest when anyone suggests gun regulations? Other countries are simply not like that. That is an image that is projected. Of course many Americans want tighter gun laws. Of course we know that. But I am talking about the image that is presented and how outsiders tend to roll their eyes and despair that that is what “the USA is like”. That’s the image that comes across. It’s not being “anti-American” to state that that is the image that comes through the media.

          Other advanced industrialized western nations simply don’t have the same level of religiosity or evolution denial as is found in the USA. I think that’s a statistical fact but it’s not saying that all Americans are like that. Obviously not.

          Other western countries have a greater capacity to institute safety nets for the poor and sick while it seems any efforts to introduce comparable programs in the U.S. are confronted with impossible roadblocks. Again, that’s a big difference in overall culture and image there. But it’s not saying that all Americans like their system or the attitudes towards the disadvantaged and the sick that have long supported that system.

          Americans do not present as the healthiest image of a good society to many outsiders, and negative images of America do indeed come across to other countries, even to countries that overall love America or would prefer America to many other places. And yes, it is not too difficult to find Americans here who have deliberately emigrated simply to get away from the larger US society. These are facts. It is not anti-American to state them — please go back and read what else I have said about American friends and places in America where I am assured I would feel comfortable.

        2. @ Michael Sommers

          How many countries outside the US have a World Series for one their national sports when for most of its history they were the only nation playing?

          How many other nations have been involved in almost non-stop military conflict somewhere on the globe?

          How many other nations are there where mass shootings are such a regular occurrence that one might be forgiven that at some point they could well be regarded as some sort of sick national past-time?

          How many other nations are so paranoid that even in the face of one of the highest death tolls by firearms refuse to consider reforms to the firearm laws and the second amendment?

          You get pissed off because of Neil’s comments?

          Well, chief, if the cap fits ….

          1. At least I suppose we could say there is some Canadian content for the “World Series” as the Toronto Blue Jays do play in Major League Baseball, the same cannot be said for the NFL who describe the Superbowl winners as “World Champions”. At least the winners of the Soccer world club final are truly World Champions.

    2. A false equivalence. “American” is a nationality; “jew”, “black”, etc., are not. If you wish to compare apples to apples to support your dudgeon, you need to posit another nationality that you think cannot/should not be “stereotyped”.

      I know for a fact that there are plenty of jews, blacks, latinos, women, gays, etc. who fall within the set “American” but who, sadly, fully exemplify the stereotype which Neil illuminates. I see them, speak with them, interact with them daily.

      To say that all X are not Y does, in fact, imply that some X ARE Y. This is not an indictment, however, but merely a statement of fact.

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