The Pentagon as Pentagod

America’s true god is a deity of wrath, whose most militant disciples employ murderous violence across the globe, writes William J. Astore

U.S. military recruiting station, Times Square, NYC, 2018. (Will Buckner, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By William Astore

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 percent 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 USA

Arizona National Guard on duty in Sharana, Afghanistan, 2009. (The National Guard via Flckr)

Arizona National Guard on duty in Sharana, Afghanistan, 2009. (The National Guard via Flckr)

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.

A Cathedral of Violence

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 Dwight 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.

Aerial view of Pentagon at night. (Joe Lauria)

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

NORAD command post in Cheyenne Mountain, 1984. (U.S. National Archives)

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.

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.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, atomic physicist and head of the Manhattan Project, circa 1944. (U.S. National Archives)

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.”

This article is from TomDispatch.

The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

15 comments for “The Pentagon as Pentagod

  1. Jimm
    November 18, 2021 at 20:26

    Thought provoking article for sure, in the spirit of MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. This country needs a new memorial erected, or many of them, called The Tomb Of The Unknown Civilian.

  2. John Stanley
    November 18, 2021 at 16:41

    We are faced with two possible Armageddons. The Pentagon created nuclear one and /or the Climate/civilisation collapse one which
    has a high probability of occurring within 5 years. ( See You tube Arctic Apocalypse).
    Are only recourse is to confiscate all the wealth of the corporations which feed both forms of lunacy.

  3. rosemerry
    November 17, 2021 at 14:02

    The whole pretense that the spending is for “defense” is based on the decision by “our leaders” that the USA is in existential danger from enemies, which actually are manufactured by the powers that be. I was raised in Australia and we never had that nonsensical “hide under the desks” fear that US children were apparently all subjected to, even though we were under US influence than as now. Notice how in the “rules-based international order”, countries are accused of wicked deeds or plans, not allowed to answer (or their answer is ignored or mocked) and the accusation becomes automatically “true” and deserving of attack, or sanctions from the “good guy” USA. I read Paul Johnstone’s memoir “From MAD to Madness”, about his responsibilities in Cold War US decisions to destroy every city in the USSR, as if that were inevitable in “our fight against Communism”. Enemies change, but the USA always needs plenty of them.

    • Surrealisto
      November 19, 2021 at 09:02

      Australia was never as much at risk as the United States was as a possible Soviet nuclear target. The paranoia was real here. in 1962 you could cut it with a knife. Much as it may seem nonsensical now, it was pioneering Civil Defense and how else at the time to logically deal with such a thing when most schools didn’t have actual bomb shelters.

  4. Observator
    November 17, 2021 at 12:46

    The author of Matthew 10:34-37 puts these words in the mouth of its “Jesus” protagonist, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

    Theologians have misused millions of words to reconcile this rather psychotic rant with the church’s later conception of a benevolent “prince of peace.” But the historical record is unequivocal of the evils that this bellicose mindset has inflicted on humanity, and continues to do.

  5. Phil Spicer
    November 17, 2021 at 12:00

    Thank you for the share.. It is so important that this is shared. I am 76, no power, status, money, all I can do is say I am listening and appreciate all you brave people. Thank you.

  6. evelync
    November 17, 2021 at 11:41

    I loved your article, William Astore. Thanks for casting more light on what I believe many more people are starting to face as a bitter reality.

    It seems that the almighty rapacious beast we have all been feeding is inevitably headed towards ending the world as poet Robert Frost shared many years ago in his poem:

    Fire and Ice Fire

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    so…in today’s world the 2 existential threats are nuclear Holocaust & Climate disaster that we seem headed towards.

    The only hope I see within the power of the people of this country is to perhaps redirect the beast from devouring the world to becoming a part of solutions so desperately needed to deal with the crises back home.
    Bringing soldiers home to help repair infrastructure, help design develop production of wind and solar systems, transmission lines. and make this a sustainable country instead of going bankrupt through for profit contracts serving the few.

    Our soldiers deserve to be rescued from participating in the aggression that leaves many wounded both physically and spiritually as participants in the bombing, droning, destroying that takes its toll on innocents all around.

    I was shocked to learn this bizarre bit of news at CODEPINK – the depth and breadth of the government contracts that are run through the defense dept include stuff like $3Billion for the Salvation Army….

    We need oversight on government contracts and it should be an open process operated out of a domestic agency, not the military which has lost control of it and with Congressional oversight.

  7. November 17, 2021 at 11:29

    Sorry, but I feel nothing but disgust for Pope Francis. If he’s so for peace, why does he permit Chaplains to be affiliated with the military machine? If they were instructed to work toward getting enlistees to turn their backs on the military machine, it would be one thing. Blessing them without urging them to either desert or refuse to kill is just more support for the military machine.

  8. Jeff Harrison
    November 17, 2021 at 10:56

    See your problem, Mr. Astore, is that you, like me, were raised Roman Catholic. Catholics usually only want to talk about the New Testament which are the teachings of Jesus Christ, the son of God. If you want to know about the teachings of God himself, you need to read the Old Testament which tends to be all about smiting, and flooding, and all manner of cruelties meted out for being an abomination before the Lord. I must say that I approve of your creation of the pentagod.

    We have wasted so much blood and treasure on phantoms that we shouldn’t be surprised when we become one ourselves.

  9. jon nelms
    November 17, 2021 at 10:41

    War is patriotic.

    • Surrealisto
      November 19, 2021 at 09:04

      “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” – Ambrose Bierce

  10. torture this
    November 17, 2021 at 06:40

    My first reaction was that the god we worship is money but criticizing the billionaires will get you just a little criticism if any while criticizing the troops will cause all Hell to break loose. We even hold services for the military every Sunday just before kickoff. But, if we are to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, I think we first need to eliminate the sickening super-rich whose purposes it serves.

  11. TomG
    November 17, 2021 at 06:37

    A great article, but I’d say the Pentagon isn’t the god, but the temple where the money changers gather to plan their exploitations. When congress tags on another 25 billion on top of an already ludicrous “budget” request, one needs to look into the congressional districts to see where the money is going. They get away with it year-upon-year because the best paying manufacturing jobs are feeding the MIC supply chain. The god, as it were embedded in every district, is the perversion of Psalm 139. “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there; even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” It is the god Hubris; “for darkness is as light to you.”

  12. Aaron
    November 17, 2021 at 05:11

    It is indeed a kind of religious devotion to the war machine. I guess what drives it, more than anything, is the money – the profiteers. It has been said that money is power. And when we’re talking about trillions of dollars changing hands, that is all but omnipotent in a hyper capitalistic culture. The Zionist media are devout followers of the Pentagod and are eager to give us constant propaganda for more spending and the war on terror because it facilitates our wars in the Middle East, benefiting them. Then you have the NFL this year with their season long ‘salute to service’ theme, replete with military camo clothing all over the sidelines and flyovers with flags covering the entire field from goal line to goal line. I believe it was McCain who discovered that the Pentagon pays the NFL for all that crap. In the documentary “Four hours at the Capitol” there is a Trump follower who says “I believe Trump was anointed by God”. And there are guys with shirts with “Trump, Guns, and God”. I don’t know how we can even reach the rational part of their brains if they have that degree of cult-like love for him and weapons. Trump told them that he loves them, and they love him, so that’s where we are.

    “When you love someone
    You’ll deny the truth
    Believe a lie
    There’ll be times that you’ll believe
    That you could really fly
    But your lonely nights
    Have just begun
    When you love someone”- Bryan Adams “When you Love Someone”

  13. James Simpson
    November 17, 2021 at 02:47

    US evangelicals have a selective reading of their holy text. For example, when have you heard them talking of these two verses of the Old Testament?

    Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

    Ezekiel 16:49-50 (NIV)

    Whenever an evangelical tells you of how sinful Sodomy is, quote the above.

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