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The 'Glory' of War

By Robert Fantina - Posted on 27 January 2015

                It is rare for someone of this writer’s acquaintance to enlist in the military, although it has happened. When someone does so, his or her family usually speaks of how proud they are of them, as if the enlistee has done something to which great honor is attached. This attitude is also reflected in public opinion polls, in which much of the populace generally seems to agree that military service is good preparation for elected office.

                Let us look at these two myths in a little more detail.

  1. Myth of honor and the military. U.S. soldiers today are placed in war zones, combatting ‘enemies’ the U.S. armed and trained in order oppose some earlier ‘enemy’. These enemies are created initially to combat some regime that either was democratically elected, but leaned too far left to please the U.S., or that somehow thwarted U.S. corporate expansion. While the government’s public relations operation works overtime to associate such things as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ with these imperial misadventures, history has proven that this is not the case.

               Not all U.S. soldiers go to war zones. Some are stationed at one of the hundreds of military bases the U.S. operates around the globe, ostensibly to protect some supposedly vulnerable country from something, or, also ostensibly, to protect U.S. interests in that region.  In all cases, however, the presence of military bases enhances the profits of wealthy businesses, and does little or nothing for the people of the countries where those bases are positioned. Oh, there might be some employment opportunities for some of the people there, but with soldiers there all granted diplomatic immunity from any crime, and with the bases themselves utilizing property that could be farmed or otherwise used commercially by the host country’s citizens, there is only negative benefit.

              During training, U.S. soldiers are taught to consider the enemy as less than human. It may be troubling to kill an Arab (although with rampant Islamaphobia sweeping the U.S., perhaps not), but killing a ‘raghead’ isn’t so bad.  During the Vietnam War, a soldier testifying about the infamous My Lai massacre said that none of the soldiers accused would ever have killed “a white person. A human, so to speak”. But killing hundreds of ‘gooks’ was perfectly acceptable.

              Soldiers are also taught ‘interrogation techniques’, which apparently serve as an introduction to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Such pretty words; unfortunately, the rest of the world, and U.S. law, consider them to be torture. Yet U.S. soldiers learn them, and there is no point in learning something unless it is going to be used.

             Soldiers are considered ‘deployable assets’; nothing more. Perhaps this level of dehumanization might account partly for why soldiers and veterans are committing suicide at such a high rate. For veterans, it is a rate of 22 per day. In 2012, the last year for which information is available, more active duty soldiers died by suicide than died in combat.

             So where is the honor? Where is even the most basic level of respectability in all this? What is honorable about killing people to further the corporate bottom line? How can considering people to be less than human be associated in any way with honor?


          2. Myth that military service makes good leaders.

               Soldiers are taught to follow orders unquestioningly. They are taught not to think, but simply to do as they are told. Placed in artificially-created life or death situations, they react based on the training they have received, training that includes the dehumanization of themselves and the U.S.’s self-proclaimed and self-created enemies.  They are taught from the start of their military indoctrination that country comes first over everything else: their own lives, the lives of men, women and children in whose country they have been sent to kill, and certainly over their own basic dignity and humanity.

               In 2008, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was the Republican nominee for president. While deployed (this writer does not refer to anyone in the military as ‘serving’) in Vietnam he bombed the countryside, a pleasant way to wage war without ever seeing the impact of those bombs on the victims. During his twenty-third such ‘mission’, Mr. McCain’s plane was shot down and he was captured. He has since created a cottage industry of his years as a prisoner of war. Certainly he underwent unspeakable torture during that time, but it’s also important to know that in 1968, a year after Mr. McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese, his father, Admiral John S. McCain, Jr, was appointed commander of all forces in Vietnam.  The North offered to release Mr. McCain as a goodwill gesture; the senior McCain turned down the offer. He, it seemed, had learned well the lesson to put country before anything else, regardless of the lies that started and sustained that particular war.

               Military men (and possibly women; this has yet to be tried) tend to see war as the solution to almost any international problem, either real or imagined.  This is not to imply that presidents without military experience aren’t more than happy to drop bombs; witness the bomb-dropping proclivities of former President Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama. But while these two presidents make at least a pretense of wanting to avoid war, those with any military experience tend to rush right in. Consider President George W. Bush, the author of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who, with very limited and dubious military experience, was so eager to sit in the White House and send U.S. men and women to kill and be killed on foreign shores.

                So the next time a friend advises that his or her son or daughter has enlisted, or when a young friend tells this writer that some senator has recommended him or her for some military academy, this writer will express the sorrow and sympathy such an announcement warrants. He will tell the parents that he is sorry their offspring has made this choice; that they must not blame themselves, and it is still possible that at some point, the child will be able to turn his/her life around. He will tell the young friend who is enlisting that there are options, that such a desperate move isn’t necessary, and that surely things will look better in the near future. He will offer his assistance in helping the young person seek alternatives, and, if the young man or woman remains determined in this self-destructive path, he will tell them that, in the future, he can and will help them desert.

                This writer would welcome a convicted felon into his home more readily than an active duty U.S. soldier. At least the world recognizes that the felon has done something wrong; there is little recognition of the constant wrongs being committed by U.S. military personnel on a daily basis. Also, the crime that the convicted felon committed would have to be considered; for example, Chelsea Manning’s felony included the release of confidential information that showed that the amount of civilian casualties in Afghanistan was far greater than the U.S. government had previously admitted, and also demonstrated that what some Allied nations were saying publically was far different from their private interactions with the U.S. These revelations cannot realistically be considered crimes anywhere but within the twisted justice system of the U.S. military.

                As the poverty draft grinds on, and as the U.S. finds ever more reason to send its young people to kill and die in faraway places, we may all encounter young men and women considering enlistment. The obligation is ours to dissuade them from making that mistake, if at all possible. The evidence is there; recruiters won’t show it to them, but we must.

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