Are you ready for combat?

This oversized tractor-trailer dominated my view on the morning of Friday, April 15, 2011 as I stepped outside of the Presbyterian Student Center to check the mailbox. I know now that this is a reference to the new Nike “Pro Combat” uniforms that the Bulldogs will be playing in tomorrow in their season opener against Boise State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. But back in April, I had no idea. Just what is this all about? I wondered, more distracted by the vehicle’s size and its location–directly in front of the PSC’s driveway, blocking the entrance for anyone who might be turning left into the parking lot as they traveled north on Lumpkin Street–to notice at first glance what was written in size 5,000 font across the side.



Y’know, College Football season officially starts tomorrow. Prepare for combat, indeed.

For some time now, I’ve had my own thoughts about the social class categories that American society shares with the caste system in India. For a quick and dirty (though by no means scholarly) explanation of that system, you can go here. Just what do I mean by that? I mean that, here in America, we have certain social classes that everyone knows about, which in their own ways could roughly compare to the castes of Indian society. I’m not trying to say that class/caste sociology in America is anywhere similar to that in India–I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t know–but that we have certain classes which could be seen as lining up with those of India’s castes. Let me demonstrate.

 At the top, we have Brahmins, the religious leaders. True, not everyone in America is religious, but among those who are, and even those who aren’t many religious leaders in our society are held at a distance, revered even, as being somehow different than the rest of us. Below that, you have the Kshatriya caste, which is composed of the rulers and the warriors. I’m going to  skip over my American comparison to this one for a moment, because this will actually constitute the majority of the discussion, as you’ll see. Below the Kshatriya caste we have the Viasya–the business owners, the bankers, the local politicians. Those in this social stratum in America enjoy some of the “preferred” status afforded to the higher levels in society, but are close enough to the “average Joe” that they aren’t held at an arm’s length. You might even invite them to your Labor Day cookout, or you’d feel good about being invited to theirs. This level really constitutes the Middle Class, or perhaps what the Middle Class is supposed to be. It’s sad to say that these days the true “Middle Class” worker seems to be a vanishing breed. Which brings me to the Sudras, the unskilled workers. While the origins of the caste might have reserved this status for field hands and servants, I’d venture to say that for the purposes of this comparison, this class includes just about anyone who works in a cubicle for a company whose owner they’ve never met. I’m not trying to say that folks with computer skills are “unskilled;” in fact, what I’m saying has more to do with how we view these skilled workers than anything else. In our technologically-immersed (read: technology-dependent) society, being a “skilled” worker gets you less mileage than it used to. This is also an area where the analogy breaks down a bit. There are truly “unskilled’ workers in our society, and then there are those with education and skills, who still find that their options are more limited than perhaps they should be. Take my friend Chris, who has years of experience as an IT and a knack for graphic design:  he works in a restaurant, like so many others. Finally, below everyone, are the pariahs of society, the untouchables. While In India this caste may be reserved for only the most hapless folks–lepers, for example–in America the untouchables are the homeless, the addicted, and those we suspect of being “illegals.” I find it fitting that this caste, of any, was labeled in the above diagram as “Children of God.” But that discussion is for another time. I’ll now return to the Kshatriya class, the rulers and the warriors.

Our highest government officials, our celebrities (those who rule our cultural lives), and even the heads of certain financial institutions (those who rule our fiscal lives) are in many ways held upon a pedestal in our society. So too, are our warriors. Our men and women in uniform, from those in the Armed Forces to our policemen and firemen, are often shown in various situations on TV in slow motion, or on billboards with some inspiring words off to the side. These warriors of ours, who defend our way of life from intruders, are honored for their service, and well they should be, for their duty is tremendous.

In recent years however–I’m thinking, oh, about a decade or so–I’ve noticed a heightened cultural sensitivity to the jobs these men and women have. It can be seen in the ubiquitous yellow ribbons adorning vehicles up and down the freeway, or in the special attention our servicemen and women receive in television advertisements and when boarding commercial airliners (“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to take the opportunity to ask you to show your appreciation for all of our men and women in uniform who will be flying with us today,” followed by sometimes raucous applause).

While I do not begrudge this special treatment, or hope to suggest in any way that these servicemen and women are not to be thanked or honored for their sacrifices, I find it telling that in the years since 2001, when our impenetrable sense of American privilege was shattered on that bright September morning, we have taken it as a matter of course to elevate and even exalt  only the role of the warrior class in our society. So let me ask you this, in full recognition of the sacrifices and service that our military and law enforcement personnel give us all: when was the last time you saw someone stop in public to thank someone wearing a pair of scrubs? I wonder what sort of national catastrophe it might take for us to embark upon so fierce a campaign to honor our schoolteachers and hospital workers, for all the sacrifices and service they give us, as we have for the last decade to honor our military men and women.

This is the big question I wanted to challenge you with today, the big question I’ve been ruminating over for about two weeks, when it first came up over diner with my parents.

But what does any of this have to do with Nike Football, Mitch?

I also wanted to challenge you in this way: what if the exaltation of the military mindset is so prevalent in our society that we don’t even realize we are turning our athletes into warriors? Not literally, of course, but culturally–subtly–and in so doing we are reinforcing the very militant mindset that has given rise to anti-muslim, anti-immigrant, and generally anti-foreign sentiment that now pervades our American social psyche?


“Football strategy is like war-time strategy,” I once heard a moderately drunken gentlemen in his late 50’s slur to his buddy behind me in the stands of Sanford Stadium. Inside the sporting arena, even refined gentlemen are allowed to hate, despise, and wish death upon the enemy members of the opposing team. I’m sorry, did I say ‘allowed?’ I meant to say ‘encouraged.’  And perhaps this discussion is the long-foregone conclusion of the irony I noted at the old man’s remarks on that September day some seven years ago. The sports rivalry is perhaps the last bastion of “us/them” hatred left disguised in our civil society, and I only want to unmask it, and call it what it is. This, so as to approach it more cautiously, more intentionally, and not get carried away with the reckless abandon that I used to, especially on Georgia Football Gamedays.

That being said, Go Dawgs. Sic ’em.

Until next time, may the Peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!


One Response to “Are you ready for combat?”

  1. Christine Kaplunas Says:

    Thinking of the reality of our social stratification reminds me of how Jesus turned/turns this world, and social pyramid, upside down. “The last will be the first and the first will be the last.” I also know how many of our soldiers wear American uniforms not just because they love this country, but because it’s their only employment option or it’s their chance to become citizens; or it’s a chance to become respectable citizens, to be afforded the sort of dignity (as with your example of being applauded on the airplane) that they would never receive as people perceived only as poor. Would the 1st-class/Business-class ever be caught applauding the poor on a plane if those poor people weren’t soldiers? Planes are sometimes the most direct encounters of social stratification by wealth. Imagine affirming the dignity of all people, regardless of their social level. This also goes for the people conducting the high-level decisions of war- that helping them out of corrupting power may help return their humanity to them, despite their previously murderous ways. Maybe then the kingdom of God announced by Jesus is less about inverting the pyramid, and more about the pyramid becoming a relic of the old ways. You got me thinking, Mitch. 🙂

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