THE F-35 AS GOLDEN CALF
Sep 25, 2016
Below is a commentary I wrote on a piece published in the Vermont Digger, attacking the F-35 -- which will be based here in Burlington -- as a colossal political boondoggle. I begin with the article. My commentary follows.
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rosanne Greco, a former member and former chair of the South Burlington City Council and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, having served for more than 29 years.
As a child I believed most of the Bible stories I was taught. But there was one story I found hard to believe … until recently, that is. The story was of people (the Israelites) building a statue of a golden calf from their riches (their melted jewelry), which they then worshiped as a god and to which they sacrificed. The Israelites believed this idol would save them from their enemies. They revered those who created and paraded their idol, and criticized those who dared to doubt the idol or its high priests. How could individuals be so enamored of an inanimate object? It was difficult for me to believe that rational people actually believed something built by human beings was a god.
However, over the past few years, I’ve seen Vermonters come to worship an object made by human beings. Devotees adorn their vehicles with images of their idol and post phrases claiming that their idol will save Vermont. They contribute their riches to create their golden calf, to promote its presence, and to proselytize its message. And, they are willing to sacrifice to their god.
What is Vermont’s golden calf? It is the F-35 joint strike fighter. People across the state worship this military machine. Their tax dollars pay to build and operate it – at a cost of $1.4 trillion. Anyone who dares question this weapon idol or the military associated with it are accused of being unpatriotic. And the people who will be negatively affected by its presence are casually sacrificed. The idol, which has been made into Vermont’s god, has become more important than the people it was built to save.
Like the Israelites, the devotees of Vermont’s golden calf belittle the non-believers who refuse to adore their F-35 god. Questioning the F-35 god is considered sacrilegious behavior. Like the people in the biblical story, the devotees of Vermont’s golden calf revere the people associated with the F-35 idol. Challenging the idol’s military high priests’ words or actions is considered heresy.
But, Vermont’s golden calf is far more dangerous than the Israelites’ idol, which was just a statue made of gold. Vermont’s god is a complex weapon system made with highly toxic materials – and — its purpose is to kill.
The Israelites sacrificed their jewelry to build their god. We sacrifice our health care, education, infrastructure maintenance and more, since our tax dollars go to the idol not real human needs. In Vermont, the sacrifice is intensely personal, as it directly harms our neighbors and friends. Thousands of Vermonters, many of whom are people of color or economically challenged, will likely have their homes devalued, the health and learning ability of their children impaired, their health and the quality of their daily lives ruined. As much as the Israelites adored and sacrificed to their golden calf, they never harmed each other. In this respect, Vermonters differ from the Israelites. Vermonters are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of their neighbors at the altar of their F-35 god.
Recently, Joe Randazzo wrote a “My Turn” in which he talked about the U.S. culture of violence, saying “Our national ethos is based on military dominance. … The NRA and our military/industrial/government complex are too powerful.” I agree. If our god is a military weapon system, then violence is the way we pray.
Decades ago, Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial-political complex taking over our country. It’s happened. Large portions of our economic system are based on military weapon production. Endless wars have replaced peacekeeping pursuits. There is an almost religious fervor toward protecting our weapons.
I excused the Israelites’ behavior as the actions of primitive people who were raised on myths and had no access to scientific information. What is our excuse today? Moses came down from the mountain and stopped the Israelites’ idolatrous behavior. We need a Moses in Vermont to destroy the F-35 god we have created and to stop our idolatrous worship of it before it kills us.
The behavior of the Israelites thousands of years ago is no longer surprising to me. Would that Vermont’s golden calf were only a statue.
Rosanne Greco’s equation of the F-35 with the golden calf of the Hebrews is a challenging read which becomes only deeper with further consideration.
Assuming only the symbolic, not historical, nature of the tale, we have to ask whether Moses’ people were just “primitive”, stupid, “worshipping” an object they had watched Aaron melt down and sculpt from their own jewelry. Clearly something else is going on in this Exodus story.
Moses had been commanded by YHWH to climb the Sinai mountain -- alone -- so that he may hear the truth, from the horse’s mouth as it were, about what being “the chosen people” would require. We might compare our being the “indispensible nation”.
But Moses had been gone almost 40 days and nights, and the people feared that he, and any further understanding of the great and only God they were to serve was hopeless. That God, he told them, was invisible, unimaginable -- so what could they know, how were they to behave?
So while his brother was gone, perhaps forever, Aaron built the people a SYMBOL for their own desire for an imaginable, possibly knowable god, an object to temporarily lift their morale until Moses’ return. The statue was not that of a powerful bull, but of a calf, something the people knew how to nourish and care for, a “godlet” that reminded the wanderers of themselves, a this-world representation of something valuable, and far greater which might soon be known.
Error! We know what happened. Moses spent the next 39 years trying to convince his people to take on the real demands of the inscrutable. That is the symbolic meaning -- still relevant -- of the story.
So back to Col. Greco: if the F-35 is a “golden calf”, falsely worshipped because visible, understandable, then what is the misunderstood YHWH-object for which it stands? It may take more than another 39 years for America to understand its marching orders, even though it professes deep connection with the Christ that came to ease and simplify the 617 Commandments. (“His yoke is easy, his burthen is light.”)
Whatever it is that is out there to be realized by us, the chosen people, the indispensible nation, it might have something to do with love (caritas) among people, and not with gold, cute-techiness, or violence.