Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Outside the “Base” Lines

What is the meaning of “sacred?”

When most people consider the question, they think of holy places or deities. That is but one definition. Sacred is not limited to the artifice of religion, but applies to all things held with reverence. The sacred memory of a dead soldier, for instance. The birth of a child. Vows spoken on a wedding day. Cherished time spent with family and friends. These are events that have a transformative effect on our lives.

Anything can be sacred, including a baseball game. The moment Jackie Robinson stepped onto a Major League Baseball field was sacred, as was the World Series in New York City in October 2001, yet the occasions don’t have to be globally monumental. Your first baseball game may be sacred to you, or a memory of a game with your grandfather, or your son’s first glimpse of a verdant MLB yard. Baseball’s leisurely pace, time of year, and length of season leave ample opportunity to experience sacred moments.

The opposite of sacred is profane. Most people think of four letter words when profanity comes to mind, but profanity encompasses the desecration of sacred things. Westboro Baptist Church is profane. Pedophile priests are profane. Religious wars are profane. These are the easy ones. Profanity exists everywhere in our daily lives, from big picture events to seemingly innocuous details. Putting an innocent man in prison is profane because it assaults the sacredness of freedom. Buying a shirt manufactured by a company that operates under terrible working conditions is profane because it violates the sacredness of human life. Even watching a reality television show is profane because it discards sacred human creativity for voyeurism. And MLB’s Memorial Day pomp and circumstance was profane.

Much has been written about MLB’s misguided (at best) decision to wear camo uniforms on Memorial Day and how the American public doesn’t understand what Memorial Day is about. Dead soldiers, people. Memorial Day is to remember our war dead, not glorify the military. The lack of understanding by MLB and America in general is a symptom of a far greater problem, one that threatens to undermine the so-called freedom US troops are purported to defend: a complete disconnect from the military and the wars it fights. Check out these numbers from a recent Pew survey:


77% of adults over 50 said yes.
57% of adults ages 30 to 49 said yes.
33% of adults under 29 said yes.

The draft ended in 1973, lifting the responsibility to bear the costs of American wars from the general public. The lack of contact with members of the military has blinded the public to military life. According to that same survey, 84% of post 9/11 and 76% of pre 9/11 vets say the public does not understand well or at all the problems that those in the military face.

Yet we’ve developed a culture of military worship. It’s like 9/11 broke all sense of reason within us. Now we can’t go to a ballgame without experiencing tacky displays of what is improperly described as patriotism. It’s as if waving tiny flags to a song about America or letting an injured soldier throw out the first pitch assuages guilt for making them do all the work in protecting our country while we continue to buy stuff and play video games and obliterate our capacity for thought with pint after pint of “craft” beer. “See, we support the troops! Let us give ourselves a pat on the back for showing our support!” No, it’s not patriotism at all; it’s an offensive display of arrogance.

Those of us who have no family in the military have no obvious stake in the fight. Our sons and daughters aren’t the ones dying or being scarred for life; our soldiers are someone else’s kids. We’re so distant from the reality of our wars that when consequences of our ambivalence confront us in places like Boston or Benghazi, we are shocked and outraged and wonder why it is happening to us, but we soon go about our daily lives as if those things were something sad we saw on TV. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who fight those wars don’t have that luxury.

If you truly supported the troops, you wouldn’t vote for politicians who send them to war in the first place, because our wars are unnecessary wars that just beget more violence. You wouldn’t send them to be maimed, or psychologically scarred, or killed in places you can’t even point to on a map. And you would quietly donate directly to veterans organizations or volunteer at the USO instead of buying a jersey or cap that was specially made for a day that is supposed to be solemn, a day on which we are supposed to reflect upon the tragedies of war and remember those who were killed fighting in them. We’ve become so enmeshed in the web of consumerism that people can’t see they’re nothing but tools for marketing, even when the proceeds go to a cause. You donated because you got something out of it. Isn’t your freedom enough?

War is real, and it isn’t a sporting event. That anyone would feel proud to sing along to “Proud to Be an American” by draft dodger Lee Greenwood or arrogant enough to sing “God Bless America” as if somehow the coincidence of your birth makes you better than other people on the planet is the very definition of profane. I look around and wonder if there is anything sacred left in this country, if there is any reverence, any awe. Our eyes are glued to screens, our ears are stuffed with headphones, our minds are mired in oblivion, and our hearts are sitting on some shelf in the marketplace of apathy.

War is profane, for it is the annihilation of the most sacred aspect of human existence: life.

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