On Sunday, October 7, B-2 Stealth bombers thundered into the sky from Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster. They roared to Afghanistan, where they punished Taliban targets with 5,000-pound bombs.
Thou shalt not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above.
In the following days, reporters from all over the world descended on Knob Noster. Air Force officials wouldn't discuss the bombers' missions, so journalists interviewed the locals.
A San Francisco Chronicle reporter stopped by the Sparrow's Nest religious bookstore, where he found "a specially made black T-shirt depicting the bomber cupped in the hands of Jesus." Owner Sandy Cromer told the scribe, "I happen to know a lot of the B-2 pilots, and they're very fine Christians." Cromer's T-shirts offered the true meaning of "Stealth": Seek the Everlasting Arms, Look to Him.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
On the day the bombing started, local TV stations knelt down before the awesome planes. KMBC Channel 9's Bev Chapman recycled four-year-old video from when she "actually got inside" one. "The people who pilot the B-2 bomber are part aviators, part computer programmers, and can they deliver," she said. The B-2 "can carry its so-called smart bombs halfway around the world and still be back in time to see the Chiefs play."
Officially named the "B-2 Spirit," each gigantic raptor, coated in its special radar-eluding "skin," can haul either conventional or nuclear weapons. Each plane costs $1.3 billion off the assembly line. (A fully equipped plane's price tag is closer to $2 billion, Air Force officials say.) We spend more on one bomber than the entire Gross Domestic Product generated last year in countries like Mongolia, Belize and Guyana. With 21 bombers, the fleet is more precious than the GDP of Lebanon, Bosnia or El Salvador (and of at least 121 other countries; the World Bank doesn't have GDPs available for, say, Afghanistan, Iraq or Cuba).
"Linda Lindsey believes that a Stealth B-2 bomber somehow sounds different when it climbs into the air here on a mission of war," the Chronicle reporter wrote. "When they're loaded, the sound just fills the sky," Lindsey told him. For two nights, "it seemed like the whole world was alive with that sound."
Honor your father and mother.
On Saturday, October 13, a handful of Kansas Citians drove to Knob Noster. One was a UMKC professor. A couple were soup-kitchen volunteers from the Catholic Worker Movement. Two were nuns.
Under a bullet-gray sky, the women kneeled on white blankets at the Air Force base's gate and bowed their heads. "We were praying that we would stop bombing and God would give wisdom to our leaders on how to be part of the world community," said Sister Pat Kenoyer.
A steady line of cars stacked up at the checkpoint, where guards in camo and black berets checked the IDs of all who entered this city of 10,000 fighters, Department of Defense civilians and Air Force families. Many drivers steadfastly ignored the protestors, but from the windows of minivans, Air Force kids scrunched up their foreheads and stared. Some drivers laughed, because the seven demonstrators did look silly, scattered on the lawn in front of a sprawling installation dedicated to the serious business of American defense. Some drivers shook their heads in disgust as they read Brad Grabs' "Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War" sign or Moira Ferguson's "Wage Peace Not War." A few flipped the bird; one spat. In a red car, a young man with a blond buzz cut, his cheeks inflamed, rolled down his window and sputtered -- almost to himself -- "Get your cock-suckin' shit kiss my fucking ass."
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Air Force spokesman Captain Brett Ashworth looked out over the demonstrators proudly. "That's what we're here for," he said cheerfully. "To protect their right to do that."
Johnson County, Missouri, Sheriff Charles Heiss, however, was under no obligation to showcase the hospitality of the United States Air Force. After two peaceful hours, Heiss, who had been parked nearby in his white cruiser, tailgated the departing protestors' car down Highway 23 out of town. "I didn't follow the car," he said later, before getting caught in his lie and declaring that he'd driven behind the Kansas City car on his way into Knob Noster to get lunch.
And by the end of the next week, Whiteman's Ashworth had changed his mind. Grabs said he called to say the protestors would no longer be welcome and that he would encourage local law enforcement to deal with them.
Thou shalt not kill.
Though they were under no illusion that their prayers would halt the bombers' murderous missions, demonstrators proclaimed their day a success. "We may have looked ridiculous, but we were representing very large sections of the Kansas City population," said Ferguson. They planned to keep up the Saturday vigils at Whiteman, whether they were welcome or not. "This kind of thing is done not to change the world," Grabs said, "but to keep the world from changing us."
It's up to the fliers at Whiteman to carry out the will of everyone else in the United States, which apparently is to change the world. To rid the planet of barbarians who beat women for showing their faces, who starve their own children, who behead their brothers, who slaughter thousands of innocent civilians half a world away.
And we'll succeed. After all, we have God on our side. Don't we?