I suspect this diary is going to get me in some trouble. Let me start by saying that I am the descendent of soldiers. My recently departed grandfather repaired Navy warships, DURING combat, in the Pacific Theater in WWII. His father fought on the back of a horse for the Polish Army in WWI. I have plenty of respect for them and all soldiers, so much that I don't think it even needs to be said.
But I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the military deification currently in fashion in America.
You could not watch a football game this Thanksgiving weekend, or hear a rendition of the National Anthem, without a gauze-filtered shot of a beret-clad Marine, or a stadium flyover from a cadre of F-15 fighters (it occurs to me we are the only people on the planet that cheer when they see F-15s overhead), or satellite footage of Army regulars in Baghdad standing at attention with a turkey in the background, followed by the requisite announce booth salute "to our brave men and women fighting for our freedom overseas." This is common courtesy, but it strikes me that we've gone further with this than ever before.
We live in a country where even the slightest criticism of Administration foreign policy is met with the derisive cry that "you're undermining our troops in the field of battle." We live in a country where Dennis Kucinich is laughed off the debate stage merely for proposing a "Department of Peace."
We live in a country where a religious leader can say things like "Let's blow them (terrorists) all away in the name of the Lord,"
and nobody bats an eyelash. We live in a country where half of the video games advertised on television during the holiday season are for military-based first-person shooters, games like "Call of Duty," "Full Spectrum Warrior" (which originally was created as a training tool for infantrymen that the video game company simply turned into entertainment), and "America's Army,
a game made by the US Army, that they released as a free download, a kind of marketing tool designed to indoctrinate young men and women into the idea of war.
We live in a country where concerned parents find it appropriate for their kids to dress up as soldiers,
or at least more appropriate than dressing up as members of the opposite sex. Amazingly, the ringleader of this incident, Delana Davies, justified her belief in overturning a sanctioned Cross-Dressing Day this way:
"It's like experimenting with drugs," said Davies, who also has a 2-year-old daughter. "You just keep playing with it and it becomes customary. ... If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?"
The notion that the substitution of "Camo Day" makes OK dressing like a soldier, a man or woman with a rifle, hired to kill the enemy, never occurs to Davies or anyone else. Nothing could be more honorable than to be a soldier, in this country.
The United States obviously has enemies in the world, and enemies sometimes must be engaged militarily. But I see too many signs that the pendulum in this country is swinging away from Athens and toward Sparta.
Our soldiers are not just heroes anymore, but infallible gods who are only on the side of righteousness. Such belief, the endless replaying of "support the troops" over and over again, complicates the relationship between military policy and military action. If the troops are always right, it's a slippery slope to the belief that the policy is always right, and if you're not on the side of the policy, you're against the troops. And in such moral anarchy, you end up in places like Abu Ghraib, or in the mosque with Kevin Sites
, watching the downed insurgent being shot at point blank range. And then you get the rebuke from the faithful truth-supporters, that "you don't know what it's like over there" and "you don't know what these kids are going through" and "you hate the very soldiers that guarantee your freedom." These are the very people who would never consider the fact that doctors help guarantee life, the law enforcement officers help guarantee liberty, that teachers and social workers help guarantee the pursuit of happiness. But nobody worships at their collective altars. Soldiers are heroes, not gods, and the difference is crucial.
The difference is crucial because societies that deify the military find it hard not to also deify militarism, and it leads to more war, more death, and more destruction. All societies that laud state power in this way become imperial. There simply is nowhere else to go. It wasn't too long ago that the Founders of America were wary of a standing army,
which if you think about it, is the very basis of the Second Amendment. They almost certainly would frown at the thought of a "volunteer" army that preys on the poor who have no other outlet if they want to seek higher education or a decent job. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Where there is no oppression there will be no pauper hirelings." But today we not only perish the thought of abolishing the Army (and consequently have every citizen ready to serve if needed), we see that as heretical as abolishing religion. There are three organizations in this country that display the same hierarchial, top-down, just-follow-orders-or-be-expelled structure: the military, the church, and the Republican Party.
In this election cycle, the Democrats, from the rank-and-file to the top leaders of the Party, were keenly aware of this deification of the soldier. That's why they chose John Kerry with the same fervor with which they would choose Sgt. Rock or GI Joe (Clark performed too sloppily in the embryonic stages of his campaign; Kerry provided the best combination of politician and soldier). But in the madness to pick a "war hero," we forgot the other aspect of the New Heresy; you can't ever, EVER speak out against a war. There is no more national consensus against a war than the adventure in Vietnam. But that didn't matter. Such opposition cannot and should not be made plain. I phone banked to Nevada during the election, and I'll never forget one phone call I made to a registered Democrat. "I was going to vote for Kerry, but then I saw Stolen Honor." Most people believe that no atheist President will ever be elected. I'm beginning to think that no antiwar President ever will be either, and certainly not an antiwar activist.
A lot of people would counter that we're in a time of war, and that such jingoism is natural. But I would say that it's never been to this degree. The only other war I've lived through in my lifetime was Gulf War I. I was a freshman in college. And the biggest hero I remember at the time was Whitney Houston, who pulled an Ashlee Simpson
at the 1991 Super Bowl. And Schwarzkopf was certainly revered, and I remember the yellow ribbons, and the parade for returning vets. But Time's "Person of the Year" was not the American soldier. And you could credibly criticize the policy and not have that reflect on the troops in any way. The two were not yet connected. And this connection was absolutely calculated.
It's in the Bush/Rove clan's best interest to deify the soldier, thereby blurring the line between the military and militarism. And with the genie now out of the bottle, with news organizations riding along with battle units as if they've been given a chance to fly with angels, with the soldier so paramount as the face of the nation, it becomes increasingly difficult for progressives to separate the architects of war from its implementers. One of the only ways is by playing into the deification; by articulating that a diplomatic, internationalist agenda is in effect a way to save the lives of our brave men and women in the field rather than put them through a meat grinder in another of a series of optional wars.
As I said before, it goes without saying that I support the troops. I'm just not comfortable with accepting them as my personal savior(s). I'm not comfortable with a society that values warmaking as much as we do. I have seen troops marching lockstep in Red Square, in North Korea, in Nazi Germany, the the cheers of the masses. I don't want to live in a country that does that. And we're getting pretty close.