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Mural of a statue of Mars, god of war, in Pompeii.  (Photo: Kleuske/CC BY 2.5)

The God of War

Robert C. Koehler

There’s Mars, the god of war, perched in a parking garage in Dallas, annihilating the enemy with utter impunity. Mars, you sicko! Just listen to President Obama:

“By definition, if you shoot people who pose no threat to you — strangers — you have a troubled mind. What triggers that, what feeds it, what sets it off, I’ll leave that to psychologists and people who study these kinds of incidents.”

Pardon me while I scream. Let’s all loose a primal scream as we absorb the daily news and the secret news. What’s happening to the United States of America — what’s happening to Planet Earth — is beyond words, yet the words march on. The same New York Times story that delivered the president’s words condemning Micah Johnson’s killing of five police officers last week also reported the killer’s military service and apparently life-consuming military mindset.

Johnson, the story reported, “had returned in disgrace from his stint abroad in the Army Reserve, but then continued a training regimen of his own devising, conducting military-style exercises in his backyard and reportedly joining a gym that offered martial arts and weapons classes.”

He had also spent the last two years “building his arsenal . . . stockpiling guns and gathering the elements to build explosives,” according to CBS News.

And as Joshua Holland wrote recently in The Nation: “Micah Johnson was what Wayne LaPierre might call a ‘good guy with a gun’—a combat veteran with no criminal record. . . .

“And last Thursday, donning body armor, Johnson grabbed at least one ‘military-style weapon’ and gunned down 12 people in the streets. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said that his investigators are ‘convinced that this suspect had other plans and thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed that he was going to target law enforcement — make us pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color.’”

The insanity begins at the top. That is to say, he fit the true believer’s definition of a Second Amendment stalwart: an armed patriot rising up to fight government tyranny.

There’s Mars, the god of war, perched in a parking garage in Dallas . . .

The insanity begins at the top. The U.S. government is engaged in endless war. Our defense budget, in all its waste, hovers at the edge of a trillion dollars a year, surpassing virtually all domestic spending, yet is never, never, never discussed publicly by politicians, including presidential candidates.

War accomplishes nothing except to ensure the conditions for further war and to maintain dominance of humanity’s collective mindset. War’s handmaiden is public relations: Our enemy is evil and killing him (or dying in the process of trying to kill him) is the essence of glory. Everyone longs for glory. All you have to do to get it is kill someone evil. This is the theme of our mass entertainment and our video games. It’s the bait that lures the adolescent soul into surrendering his life to the military, which Micah Johnson apparently did.

“But Mr. Johnson did not succeed,” the Times reported. “While overseas” — in Afghanistan — “a female soldier in Mr. Johnson’s unit accused him of sexual harassment. When the Army considered kicking him out, he waived his right to a hearing in exchange for a lesser charge.”

The Times story dropped the subject there, leaving the implication that Johnson was merely a bad participant in an otherwise good institution. But glory and sexual assault are permanently linked. As Nan Levinson wrote recently at Waging Nonviolence: “By the Pentagon’s own estimate, some 20,300 sexual assaults involving the U.S. military took place in the last fiscal year. About one quarter, or 6,083, of those were reported . . .”

The point I’m making here is that the national ritual after every mass killing is to isolate the murderer and focus on his weirdness and inability to be normal: his “troubled mind,” as Obama put it. But in fact, mass killers embrace our essential national values. Johnson’s mind was no more troubled than the collective mind called national defense, which identifies and dehumanizes our enemy of the moment, then proceeds to take that enemy out as efficiently as possible.

And the process is completely impersonal. In war we kill “strangers” who have not done us personal harm; they merely represent — by their uniform or simply by their presence in enemy territory — the large wrong we are attempting to eliminate.

In the shadow of the Department of Defense lurks the Second Amendment, which ensures that war doesn’t vanish simply because we’re safely within the borders of the greatest country there is. Bad people are everywhere and the need for defense never ends. This, too, is part of the context in which Johnson and all the other celebrity mass murderers have acted. Add to this our increasingly militarized police departments and the de facto war being waged on people of color and what we have is an almost endless justification for violent behavior.

The only way out is to think beyond war: to mourn, to grieve for so many lives cut short, and to refuse to dehumanize anyone.

Dehumanizing others is so easy when you’re armed.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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