Guns and batter

BY LARRY LEVIN

The St. Louis Jewish Light is proud to be one of the few media outlets in our metropolitan area not to weigh in on the Mark McGwire controversy.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

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But first, and what brings McGwire to mind, is the interesting and potentially explosive story broken by ABC News last week about guns sold to the military (bet you’re itching to know how that relates to McGwire, aren’t you?)

It turns out that Michigan-based Trijicon, a military supplier, has long been inscribing New Testament references onto gunsights it sells to the United States Armed Forces. This is no small contract — according to ABC, has an almost $700 million multiyear deal to sell sights to the government.

Despite some rather ineffectual denials from the government, this is on its face a blatant violation of the First Amendment requirement of church/state separation. ABC quoted Michael “Mikey” Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) as saying, “It’s wrong, it violates the Constitution, it violates a number of federal laws.” Marine and Army officials are already looking into the situation which has been allowed to fester for years.

There are many indications, from online discussion groups to YouTube videos, that military personnel have been aware of this for quite some time, despite official spokesmen’s protestations to the contrary. And as if the practice doesn’t scream foul on it’s face, there’s even one anonymous soldier’s video that says that those who aren’t Christian should “get over it.”

There’s no question that the inscriptions must end. Not only is the U.S. military parading around with Christian references on their official equipment (we’d have the same objection no matter what faith’s words or symbols were being displayed), but the practice feeds into the arguments made by some that the Afghanistan war and other fronts look like a battle for world religious supremacy.

And lo and behold, as quickly as you can say “Retreat, Christian Soldiers,” Trijicon announced, on the heels of the ABC report and the MRFF campaign, that it would no longer put the inscriptions on its sights. Money does indeed talk.

But should Trijicon be punished for their past deeds by being prohibited from selling sights to the government in the future? The company apparently was never chastised, warned, reprimanded or otherwise condemned for its actions. It was allowed to continue this practice unabated under the military establishment’s collective noses.

Hmmm, that fact pattern does sound suspiciously like…well, like that of Mark McGwire and Major League Baseball.

Baseball raked it in during the McGwire-Sammy Sosa slugfest. The media were berserkoid with rapture. Attendance surged. The home run competition was credited with reigniting baseball passion after labor strife and superior marketing by other major league sports had diminished America’s Pastime.

Only the owners and players kept looking the other way at what was known by many insiders to be an epidemic of drug use in MLB. Neither management nor union wanted to stop milking the cash cow (Sure, the players hid behind privacy rights and the owners behind blaming the union, but neither side were babes in the woods). Any prohibitions against illicit drugs that baseball had at the time, such that they were, were left almost wholly unenforced.

Steroids are what grabbed the headlines, but as anyone who’s read the classic “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton knows, amphetamines and other drugs were rampant and unchecked in MLB for at least a half century (nevermind drinking during Prohibition, and on and on). And they still are — since an apparent crackdown on uppers, the number of authorized prescriptions for supposed attention deficit disorder issues has — are you ready? — quadrupled. In other words, the players are still playing the game, they’re just doing it better.

Some critics point to the McGwire testimony before Congress five years ago as a coverup of momentous proportions. We beg to differ – if the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination is to mean anything, then its assertion should not be interpreted adversely.

Others point to those locals who applauded St. Louis’ Hometown Hero while at the same time ripping into the Mannys and Barrys of the world. Sure, there’s some of that, though there’s little question that Ramirez and Bonds brought some of their condemnation on through their clownish and selfish actions, respectively.

But all that misses the main point. Everyone, from fans to journalists to players to agents to owners, bought into the circus. For the same Greek Chorus to come out with thumbs slinging down now seems about as plausible as Lady Macbeth thinking it was all about handwashing.

Trijicon did something wrong that they and the government now have the opportunity to correct. Mark McGwire did something wrong that MLB elected to correct after the fact. Both they and their enablers made mistakes, and all parties have the opportunity to make it right going forward. Let’s trust that they do. To paraphrase the old adage: Fool us once, shame on them. Fool us twice, shame on us.

Larry Levin is Publisher/CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Light.