To mark the birth of Jesus, a.k.a. The Prince of Peace, Connecticut’s official Christmas ornament is a miniature Sikorsky helicopter. It frequently embarrasses me when my fellow Christians weigh in on public affairs.
Too often, people are trying to force their beliefs on others, whether those beliefs be doctrinal or simply homophobia or science-phobia disguised as religion. But this is different. I’m not interjecting my religion into the government’s business. The government is interjecting itself into my religion. I question whether the state should be in the Christmas ornament business at all. But if it must, please no military equipment to mark the birth of the Christ who commanded us to love one another.
The Bible frequently warns against the sin of idolatry. Connecticut makes a false god of the weapons industry. Our congressional delegation promotes these interests in Washington. State legislators fall all over themselves to find ways to pay the bills for Sikorsky and Electric Boat in the form of tax abatements and “workforce development” grants. Without weapons makers, we are told, Connecticut would have a jobs crisis. Weapons makers turn their workers into hostages to leverage in their demands for bigger profits and lower taxes.
Helicopters, I should note, have many positive uses, like search and rescue. Every time one rolls off the line destined to be a lifesaving tool, that’s wonderful. But Sikorsky’s parent company, Lockheed Martin, gets more money from the Pentagon coffers than any other business, at $72.9 billion in 2020. It earned much of that through its role manufacturing the largest military air fleet in the world. We have almost double the number of attack helicopters as the second place nation in the military air power race, Russia.
I first heard the term “economic conversion” in high school. Activists wanted the state to foster the development of other types of manufacturing that would offer secure, well-compensated jobs without producing products that we pray are never used. I graduated in 1981. In all that time, there has never been a critical mass of elected officials with the courage to pursue this path.
What if they had? Imagine what things would have been like if, three years ago, Connecticut was a center for developing and manufacturing personal protective equipment. Imagine what the state’s economy would be like if we led in the production of technology to produce clean, renewable energy.
Throughout this essay, I refuse to call the weapons makers the “defense” industry. We have far more firepower than we need to defend against any aggressor. We are committed to maintaining that surplus, as seen by the $1.5 billion Congress will surely appropriate to replenish the missiles we sent to Ukraine. In discussions of the measure, the term “stockpile” is used over and over — and not as a pejorative.
We need defending against the actual and urgent threat of climate change. The U.S. military has one of the biggest carbon footprints in the world, bigger than that of entire nations — including industrialized countries. A Brown University study estimated that in 2017 our military emitted 59 million tons of carbon. This makes the planet less habitable and increases the risk of wars over scarce resources. This is not defense. It is endangerment.
It is also against my religion to trash the planet. In the Book of Genesis, God looks at swaths of creation — the land, the sea, the sky — and pronounces them all “good.” People of faith have an obligation to keep them that way. Hanging a military helicopter on a Christmas tree is celebrating how badly we have failed.
“He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” When Jesus said that, I wonder if he foresaw how great a title it would be for a book about the Connecticut economy.
The Connecticut version of the ornament made its debut days after the Pentagon announced it was phasing out Sikorsky’s Black Hawk. (The same company had made an official White House ornament in 2019 that was the Sikorsky helicopter Dwight Eisenhower used during his presidency. In his farewell address, Ike coined the term military-industrial complex.) The contract loss will cost jobs, which brought back memories of widespread layoffs at Electric Boat in the 1990s, followed by a steady stream of employment ups and downs for workers ever since. Our state worships the weapons industry. Connecticut, your god does not love you back. This industry is extremely vulnerable to political winds and will always create insecurity for workers.
The ornament is being sold to benefit the Governor’s Conservancy, a private foundation which maintains the Governor’s Mansion. This cause does not excite me. I could muster enthusiasm if some of the place’s 19 rooms were being put to good use providing a warm bed for people now sleeping on our capital’s streets. I wonder how many affordable homes we could build for the cost of the tax abatements that our state’s weapons manufacturers currently enjoy.
We have wasted so much time. Yet, in my religion, we believe that redemption is always possible if you want it bad enough. Please God, let 2023 finally be the year that Connecticut seeks a future beyond the weapons of war.
Colleen Shaddox is a writer who lives in East Haddam.