Essay / Misc.

Americantology: Like Bill Mauldin in Fallujah

The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reports that a new religion has been born in Iraq. A whole new religion! It is called Americantology.

Invented by a Marine deployed in Fallujah (Company C, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment), this religion’s chief symbol is the American flag, its only priest wears a civil war cap (blue: this is a yankee unit that calls itself “New England’s Own”), and its liturgy consists entirely of patriotic music, generously defined: “The National Anthem, Anchors Aweigh and the Marine Corps Hymn … Bruce Springsteen, Toby Keith, Neil Diamond, AC/DC … Lee Greenwood, and Ray Charles.”

If this religion has a catechism, I think it would define the chief end of man as staying sane in Fallujah. All it amounts to is listening to AMERICAN MUSIC REALLY REALLY LOUD, flying the flag, drinking near beer, and pretending you’re not in Iraq for a while. I won’t report the whole story here, since you can read it yourself at the only news source that’s studied it. Follow the above link, or just Google “Americantology,” a made-up word that only scores a handful of Google hits. The founder of Americantology, Sergeant Ben Grainger, invented the term as a jibe at “Tom Cruise’s Scientology.” When it seemed to Grainger like he needed to whip up a brand new religion on the spot to fit current needs, he opted not to mock a major world religion, but instead to pattern his phony faith after another one recently cobbled together. I’m not betting on Grainger being an especially devout man, but you’ve got to admire his instinct for funny religions. I can just imagine Grainger’s thought process: “If Tom Cruise can make one up by adding “tology” to his favorite thing, what’s to stop me? Flagtology… no, Redneckmusictology… no, Americantology. Yeah, that sounds good.”

For a while I wasn’t sure how to feel about this Americantology story. To my mind, it does seem a little bit culturally insensitive to our Iraqi friends to inflict AC/DC on them. But as soon as I type the words “culturally insensitive” from the safety of my stateside suburban home, the jig is up and I’ve lost my credibility. I expect clueless academics to start writing articles about Americantology anytime, investigating this cultural text as the inscription, under parodic erasure, of imperial civil religion’s genealogical self-performance. Yes, the articles write themselves: Grainger has unintentionally given voice to the unspeakably patriotico-idolatrous theology performed by the neoconservative etc. Brazos Press will probably have a whole book about it by the end of the month: Americantology: The Joke That Tells the Truth If We Are Brave Enough to Listen.

But what’s really happening here probably only makes complete sense to the military mind, The Deployed. It’s a rough satire, but it has some of that same gallows humor, grim resignation, and love of the homeland that made Bill Mauldin’s WWII comics so popular for that generation. People who disagreed starkly about political issues surrounding the war all agreed that Bill Mauldin’s cartoons hit the nail on the head. Well, George Patton didn’t like them, and would have censored them if Eisenhower had let him. But almost everybody else in the US got the joke.

It would be great to have a 21st century Bill Mauldin cartooning Fallujah, helping the US forces there keep their heads on straight with a little humor. Until then, we can catch a glimpse of the same spirit in a symbolic gesture like Americantology.

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