Okay, this will be another controversial political post of mine, one which I will make because I believe it needs to be said. Like many of my political rants (including the one slated for my next blog), it grew out of an argument I had with someone close to me. In this case, it’s based not only on words I had with my mother the other day about the role of soldiers in the U.S. military, but arguments I’ve had with other respected relatives and friends who insist that being an American citizen demands that I display unconditional support for anything soldiers under the command of the U.S. government does, and that they should never be seen as anything other than heroes. This is based on a nationalist chauvinistic attitude that devalues the humanity of anyone who doesn’t have an American citizenship, and fails to do justice to the situation that American soldiers find themselves in as well.
I want to ultimately make clear what I think about war, when I do and do not respect the actions of soldiers, and what I believe Veteran’s Day should be all about. Hint: it’s not the mindless support of everyone who fights a war for the government I happen to be a citizen of.
I. War and Those Who Support War
This is one of several points of contention between members of my family and I, which has caused me to have a rocky relationship with them over the years. Yes, I’m quite opinionated and loudmouthed–this blog wouldn’t exist if such wasn’t the case (so cut me some slack here, readers!) But I stand behind these beliefs of mine, because none of them are based on upbringing, or beliefs that were inculcated into me by any form of indoctrination… be it from family, mass media, what passes for an “education” system in America, or my peers. It’s based on my own reading, research, evaluations, and building of principles based on observation and thinking that is entirely independent of the above influences.
That doesn’t make me a better person than these others by any means; I have more than my share of negative traits and flaws, which is one of the reasons I treasure the people amongst my friends and colleagues who put up with me on a regular basis, especially with a smile on their faces much of the time, and to those of my immediate family who raised me and stuck by me despite how difficult I can be. But I do like to say that I try coming to all of my principles and beliefs based upon independent review and evaluation, and I do not base my views largely–or solely–on political and social popularity.
Unpopular beliefs are not necessarily right, of course. Take serial killers, for instance. Take genuine terrorists, for another instance. Take the CEOs of any given big corporation, as yet another instance! But popular beliefs hardly have a good track record of being right throughout human history, and the popularity of destructive beliefs have been the cause of much needless misery, bigotry, and ignorance across the span of recorded civilization. So while what we call conventional wisdom isn’t always wrong–I agree it’s always wrong to steal or cheat others for selfish reasons, as two examples of my agreement with consensus opinion–it’s wrong often enough that all beliefs attributed to it deserve all due critical evaluation. Nobody should ever feel obligated to believe a certain thing simply because it’s popular, and have been told it’s the “right” belief their entire lives. It needs to stand up to critical and unapologetic scrutiny.
II. Okay, to the Subject at Hand Before I Go on Another of My Tangents
First, let me get a certain glaring misconception out of the way.
I’ve had a respected cousin of mine who argued with me over this point remind me that my late grandfather, and most of his brothers (all but one of whom have passed on at this writing), were in the military, specifically World War II… how would they feel, he asked me, about my admonishment of some of the activities of American soldiers and my general critiques of the American military if they heard them? The other day, my mother asked me the same question, reminding me also that her late husband (not my biological father) was a Vietnam veteran, and thus would always be a hero to her… despite what the soldiers were so often ordered to do there; regardless of how that war turned out for the country in general; despite the fact that it was an illegal war that is now known to have had no lofty or noble purpose whatsoever; many innocent people died, including both U.S. soldiers and innocent Vietnamese civilians, with many from each group horribly maimed from exposure to gunfire, grenade shrapnel, napalm (a particularly horrific way to die or be injured), exposure to Agent Orange chemical warfare, etc.
The soldiers couldn’t be blamed for wreaking such havoc on civilians, she said, because they were ordered to do this by their generals and the President. Let me ask the many who make that excuse this question: Did we let the many soldiers and other military personnel who served the Nazi government off the hook in the Nuremburg Trials when they famously used the “we were just following orders” defense? No, we didn’t, nor do you often hear any Americans suggesting otherwise. Is this because they were German soldiers and not American soldiers? If so, then I guess being told to murder innocents in horrific ways–either directly or via indirect exposure to gunfire, bombings, napalm, and chemical warfare–by the German government is one thing, but being ordered to the do the same by the American government is another matter entirely. American exceptionalism and chauvinism at its worst.
After all, the Nazi government was unequivocally evil, whereas the American government cannot be anything but noble and heroic, right? And this must be the case even if both governments order their soldiers to do the same things for essentially the same reasons: political dominance and economic hegemony over other nations, I guess. So then I suppose the national symbols they commit these atrocities on behalf of make all the difference, rather than what they do, or why they are doing it.
This is why I refuse to adhere to this mindset of American exceptionalism, and why I expect the decision of any government claiming to “represent” me to the world not commit the same types of acts that we as Americans are expected to abhor according to our principles of liberty and justice. War for economic dominance and support for a capitalist world order under the command of an American empire that enriches a tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority of the world, including 99% of American citizens, is not in accord with these principles I hold dear. I cannot, and will not, equate the American government and military with these American principles I support. If I do, then I become a flagrant hypocrite who eschews empathy for people that happen to live outside the artificial political borders of the United States. For all my faults as a human being, I do want to maintain principles that make sense to me, and which I believe improve me as a human being by adhering to them.
The worst thing about this attitude is that it does as much a disservice to the American veterans of war as it does to common citizens who take American principles seriously. Those questions thrown at me by the relatives I mentioned above make the following unfounded assumption: All American war veterans completely support the validity of the war they fought in, and totally support the U.S. military and government without question; and will become angry and/or hurt over anyone who criticizes the military simply because as veterans, they must have loved serving as soldiers and found it the greatest of honors.
It amazes me that anyone in my family or immediate social circle, including my mother of all people, would assume I never had conversations about the war with my grandfather and many of his brothers over the long years we were privileged to have them in our lives. In fact, some of my grandfather’s brothers were among my favorite uncles, and I was quite close to them and had many conversations with all of them about the war on a regular basis, as it was a point of interest we shared. They were fully aware of my views against pre-emptive wars and my strong conviction that the U.S. government does not fight wars or act in accordance with the principles it claims to espouse. None of them got upset with me, and all of them had many horror stories to tell about their time in the service. They weren’t naive men. They weren’t gung-ho when it came to violence and fighting, at least not after they left the battlefield. My grandfather was in the Navy, and served on a ship, rather than facing combat directly, but he still had no romantic ideas about life in the armed forces. His beliefs on many, many issues didn’t correlate with my own, but he never had strong disagreements with me over the nature of the military. In fact, I never had a bad relationship with any of my uncles–most of whom were veterans–based on my views about war. I did have a rocky relationship with my grandfather, but it was over many issues that had no direct connection over my views of the war.
“Look, soldier, just keep reminding yourself about how much money the country’s corporations made off of your sacrifice when they hand you the Purple Heart medal! That will be worth both punctured lungs and every shattered vertebrae!”
I did have disagreements about this matter with my mother’s husband, but we never got along with each other and were very different people in general. Like many Vietnam veterans, he didn’t enter that unpopular war based on patriotic beliefs, but was drafted. Many others, then and now, enter the service because they are unemployed. In fact, the military is known to exploit the poor for this purpose. World War II was the last war that you actually saw movie stars and the children of high-ranking politicians enter and fight (well, except for John Wayne, of course), but even many of them only served as entertainment for the soldiers on location. Most of them were able to try and resume their careers in the entertainment industry as soon as the war ended, or they were discharged; whichever came first.
Do you see the children of such privileged individuals going to fight any war following World War II, including today’s constant wars in the Middle East? No, you don’t, and this speaks volumes about the economic and social demographic of the young men and women who are expected to fight these wars. The military of all nations, including America, exploits the poor and continues to pay them meager amounts of remuneration for putting their lives on the line for the benefit of the wealthy ruling class and powerful politicians they fight for, not to mention the horrific experiences they have to endure, the many innocent civilian lives they destroy, and the ill will they build towards their country amongst foreign populations in the process.
Let’s not mention how much of their jobs are now “outsourced” to mercenaries and other personnel who work for private American corporations like the former Blackwater, who are paid much better than any soldiers or military personnel operating under the command and employ of the government. This makes it clear how much the military is mainly interested in fighting over money and control over resources, not any lofty principles or abstract notions of doing “good.” Whether “good” or “bad” results from their actions makes no difference to them in either the short run or the long run; it’s about making money and controlling any resource that will turn a profit for the American ruling class, plain and simple.
I do have friends that served in the military whom I happen to respect as good men, and some of them have been upset with me over my feelings about the military. I’m not sure what they expect me to think, considering how seriously I take American principles. I’m not saying they are not principled themselves, or do not believe in American principles, and some of them have told me that they do not believe the soldiers who were in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade and a half were only there for what amounted to securing the petroleum resources and installing a government friendly to American business interests; they were sincerely there to help the Iraqi and Afghan people. I have no doubt many soldiers fully believed this, including my friends who were upset with me. But I do not believe, in all honesty, that the available evidence and end result of these wars, as well as those from similar American military excursions over the course of the late 20th century to the present, back that belief up. So I honestly believe that whatever their personal intentions were going in, that was not the intentions of the White House administration who sent them there.
Moreover, it’s just complete nonsense that every veteran of these wars leave the armed forces fully supporting the military, and with a firm belief that what they did was more right than wrong. Let me offer a link to an organization that will completely blow this inexplicable and completely unfounded belief right out of the bath water: The Iraqi Veterans Against The War and the collaborative org called The Afghanistan Veterans Against the War. These are anti-war organizations that are staffed and populated entirely with veterans of these two major Middle East wars that have saddled down America during the first decade and a half of the 21st century.
These veterans are not blindly patriotic supporters of war who believe that the U.S. military is nothing but altruistic simply because it operates under the banner of the American flag. They are not in disagreement with my own views, as the relatives of mine which I mentioned above would seem to assume all who have served in the U.S. military must necessarily be. They are not men and women who hate their country, as I’m often spuriously accused of doing simply because I expect the government and military to abide by the lofty principles America claims to stand for, and which I believe too many American citizens mistake for egotistical support for anything the U.S. government does. These veterans do not rationalize what they often had to do as soldiers, or that they experienced what they did for the benefit of the idealistic principles they hold dear; and they emerged with full empathy for the citizens of these other countries whom they spent time with and got to know as fellow human beings. They do not overlook or denounce what these mostly good people go through simply because they do not share the citizenship of these veterans; and they sure as hell do not consider them “the enemy.”
“Just tell his family that he took a bullet for our country! Do we happen to have a medal for foreign civilians who get caught in our crossfire? I’m sure his fam would appreciate it!”
Furthermore, many veterans of the illegal and unethical Vietnam War became outspoken critics of the military being used for what amounts secure American economic dominance over the Soviet Union during the Cold War by attempting to deny it control over as many spheres of influence as possible. Vietnam was caught in the tug of war for world hegemony over these two warring super-power nation-states, neither of whom had the best interests of anyone other than their respective ruling classes in mind. These veterans were well aware that their excursion to Vietnam had nothing to do with defense of the nation’s borders from unprovoked attack. Please note this excerpt from an important Veteran’s Day article for CounterPunch by Eric Mann:
One of the most cruel and vicious lies of the system is to claim that the G.I.’s came home from Vietnam to derision and hatred from a hippy, Black militant, radical anti-war movement–when in fact just the opposite was true. The anti-war movement was deeply involved with the G.I.s themselves, lead by a broad united front including many G.I.s. The truly remarkable film, Sir, No Sir, shows stories of the depth of anti-war activities including massive rallies of G.I.’s (that would be militarily suppressed today) the direct revolt among the G.I.s, the drug use to avoid the horrors of war, and yes, the war crimes committed by many G.I.’s on direct orders from the U.S. generals.
We chanted “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today” because we knew that the president of the United States was the arch war criminal and the soldiers were under a military dictatorship called the U.S. army. And yet hundreds of thousands of the 2.6 million soldiers who went to Vietnam over that long war and many more who refused to serve in the first place resisted the war–tens of thousands actively through organizing, resistance, protests, refusing to report or refusing to fight–while many soldiers “fragged” that is, killed their commanding officers rather than go into battle against the people of Vietnam. For in fact it was the U.S. government who was the enemy of the G.I.’s and the anti-war movement who was their friend–and that is true today as well.
At this writing, the film Sir, No, Sir is available affordably from Amazon Instant Video here (standard definition only, if that matters overly much to you) for $2.99 as a rental and $5.99 to purchase. This film clearly puts paid to the myth that soldiers, particularly veterans, are overwhelmingly supportive of the military no matter what it does, and that none of their consciences ultimately lead them against war. Soldiers are human beings, and not mindless warriors and engines of destruction who can do nothing but follow orders, despite the requirements of the job.
It is these soldiers, who think for themselves, take American principles seriously, and who risk their lives to do the right thing, rather than risking their lives to do nothing more or less than what they are ordered to do by commanding officers. In my opinion, for whatever that may be worth to anyone, it takes more than mere bravery and willingness to put your life on the line to make a true hero. The reason you put your life on the line, and for whom, and what you do to others in the course of putting your life on the line, matters much more than the mere fact of being brave and risking your life. Let’s not forget that many criminals, mercenaries, true terrorists, religious extremists, and soldiers who fought for the Nazi government are/were also brave and risking their lives. In my estimation, no one who lacks principles (or can care less about them), empathy for other human beings, or is willing to kill anyone they are ordered to regardless of circumstances or reason, or who put money over anything else, are heroes, no matter how brave or willing to risk their lives they happen to be.
Let’s also not forget the film Born on the Fourth of July, which was based on a true story published as a memoir by Ron Kovic. His experiences in the Vietnam War, where he received a permanently crippling injury, and what he experienced upon his return to the States upon his honorable discharge, made him feel betrayed by the U.S. government he put everything on the line for. He was very gung-ho patriotic upon entering the service, and he didn’t have to be conscripted. He changed his tune fast after his experiences, and he in no way emerged a proponent of war, a blind supporter of the U.S. government’s policies, or of the belief that anything the U.S. government does is automatically in accord with American principles as far as he is concerned. This veteran is indeed a true hero, but he didn’t become a hero until after he was discharged from the war. Like all American soldiers, during the war he was two things: a trained killer and a victim, for and of U.S. greed and imperialism, respectively.
The movie can be rented or purchased on Amazan Instant Video here. It stars Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic, but please don’t let that deter you from renting or purchasing the movie if you happen to be a “hater” of the world’s most popular Scientologist since L. Ron Hubbard himself. He put in a good performance here. If you prefer the book version told directly from Kovic’s pen, the Amazon Kindle version is a mere $1.99 (and free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber), and you can purchase it here.
“Greetings, civilians! Guess whose coming to your neighborhood to slaughter–er, liberate you! *Cough!* My bad…”
III. A Few More Considerations About the Meaning of Veteran’s Day
Going back to the argument I had with my mother, it quickly turned ugly. I’m admittedly not a very charitable person at times when it comes to arguments over principles I hold very strongly. That is something I need to work on, as I understand I can get overwrought during debates about certain topics. Though I certainly question how I went about things, and what I said during the course of the argument (yes, I admit that I told my mother than I find her “disgusting” for making the justifications she did, and refused to watch the movie together that we had planned to after that), I still stand behind my stance.
But when did the argument truly get heated? It was when I reminded her about the many innocent people maimed and killed in the course of not only the Vietnam War, but the recent and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and asked her how she justifies that when she calls the actions of American soldiers indisputably heroic. Her response was a common one I hear too often from fellow 99 percenters in regards to their largely apathetic acceptance of so many things in this corrupt global economic system: “I try not to think about any of that.”
I’ve heard the same response when I’ve asked so many fellow members of the labor class how they can spend their entire lives showing little to no concern for anything outside their own personal little nest, when doing this allows the problems to grow increasingly worse, and will likely lead to many hardships for their children and grandchildren after they grow up. “I try not to think about that,” is frequently their only response. Then they go back to not worrying about much of anything but their own personal little nest egg while their government continues to fight pre-emptive wars, impoverishes billions of people across the globe (including many within their own borders), and continues to destroy the environment in a mad pursuit of profits for the few. And they continue to wonder why things continue to get worse, and fail to see why widespread apathy is the worst possible response to an archaic world order in its twilight years.
Saying “I try not to think about any of that” is basically saying that you make the choice to be willfully apathetic about a major component of war, and deliberately overlook its destructive effects not only upon the soldiers from your own country, but also the innocent men, women, and children from other countries who are maimed, butchered, and driven to irrational extremes of hatred against anyone with American citizenship, just so they can worship the people who do all of this as heroes. The argument escalated worse when she reminded me of a documentary she saw a few days earlier showing many soldiers who had lost limbs as a result of fighting in the wars. This was to make me come closer to agreeing with her point that they made heroic sacrifices for the country.
Of course, she ignored a few important facts.
Soldiers are trained to fight, and conditioned to do so without hesitation under orders. They know the risks going in.
Secondly, they are sent to do the fighting for reasons that are dubious at best, and have nothing to do with securing democracy or protecting the borders of their nation. The end result is the needless slaughter, crippling injuries, or mental illness of many of them for nothing that benefits either the working class of America, nor the citizens of the country they attack, in any way. These actions also cause the needless slaughter and inflict horrible injuries upon innocent people who are inevitably caught in the crossfire (“collateral damage,” as the government likes to call these civilian casualties). Further, when you consider the long and sordid history of the U.S. government smashing democratically elected governments that did not play ball according to its business demands ; its cozying up to vile misogynistic dictatorships because they do happen to “play ball” with their business interests, such as Saudi Arabia (most of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 incident, including Osama bin Laden himself, were Saudis; none of them were Iraqi); and the fact that it hasn’t successfully built or maintained a single democracy anywhere in the world in all of its wars lends plenty of good evidence that it did not send soldiers to these countries for altruistic reasons in harmony with American ideological principles. The fact that many soldiers may truly believe this going in, and many still believe this afterwards, doesn’t change the fact that they were dupes and cannon fodder for the government. Their intentions are subservient to the intentions of the government and their commanding officers that serve it, and this is why many of them bravely become anti-war activists upon their discharge. Those who believe otherwise against all the prevailing evidence may very well be in denial, since they genuinely want to be good people who do what they do for the best of reasons.
The second important fact my mother willfully chose to ignore (by her admission) is the huge number of innocent civilians who likewise end up with their limbs blown off, or reduced to being homeless refugees in their own country, because of warfare fought in their midst. These are individuals who, by and large, had no interest in anything to do with the war, and were mostly average people who simply wanted to live their lives, enjoy the company of family, and find some measure of financial security in their lives… just like most of us here in America. It’s not their fault they live in a country or region thereof subjected to war. This does not happen based on decisions that come from them. If they did have a democratically elected government, chances are the war is a result of the U.S. government sending in the troops or intelligence agencies to overthrow it, either by direct invasion or supporting a clandestine coup. They are needless victims. The U.S. soldiers are also victims, but because we currently have an all-volunteer military, they are not the helpless type of victim, as are these civilian casualties.
I sympathize with both the soldiers and the civilians who had their limbs blown off, or ended up crippled or otherwise maimed from gunfire, shrapnel, falling debris, etc., or incurred severe emotional problems as a result of participation in, or exposure to, all of this. But I make no apologies for sympathizing with the civilian casualties more, despite the fact that they do not not have the exalted privilege of having an American citizenship, and are thus not members of the “home team” (yes, I meant that ironically; and yes, I did mean to suggest that too many Americans who do not have to fight wars themselves treat it as some type of spectator sport akin to violent national pastimes like football, while cheering on the “home team” whom they consider to “represent” them because of the colors and symbols they wear on their uniforms).
So, contrary to my esteemed mother, other relatives, and friends who choose not to think about these things… my conscience and the seriousness with which I take American principles do not allow me to do the same. Call this one of my faults if you want, but I cannot turn off my empathy for others who are killed needlessly simply because they lack American citizenship. I may be an American citizen, but I’m a citizen of the world first and foremost. The safety and well-being of all innocent people matter to me. Why people do what they do matters at least as much to me as what they do, including the sacrifices they may make. I will not support pre-emptive war, endless war, or war to secure the profit interests of the few no matter which government does it. I’m sorry, but to me, the stars and stripes of the American flag represent something far greater to me than what is represented by the dollar sign attached to portraits of dead presidents (with Ben Franklin thrown in for good measure). I will not confuse loyalty to the former with fealty to the latter above all else.
The deity that American politicians and hawkish citizens should be worshiping instead of Jesus Christ.
IV. But Do You Support the Troops, Dude?
So do I support the troops? Yes. I support them by insisting that the U.S. government not send them to kill or get killed for dishonorable reasons. I insist they do not risk their lives, or be ordered to take the lives of others, except for reasons related strictly to self-defense of this nation, and important rescue missions of innocent people. The military should never be used for conquest, the building of empire, or securing profits for the wealthy few; I will not look the other way and give it unconditional support when it fights wars for these ignoble reasons connected to the dollar. Our troops should not be used in an endless “war on terror,” since extremist terrorist cells are the direct result of needless wars destroying innocents and embittering those who survive; terrorism should be treated as a law enforcement matter via international cooperation, not a matter for the military to deal with.
The needless and capricious use–or misuse, I should say–of the military is the main cause of the emergence of terrorist cells and extreme foreign hatred against the U.S., not the solution to it. And this hatred is not due to “jealousy” over our “freedom”… Western culture is not as universally loved and sought after, despite what the bloated egos of many Americans seem to think. The people of these nations need to be peacefully led to embrace democratic principles on their own; it cannot be forced upon them.
So this is what I spent Veteran’s Day doing, since Norse Wiccans do celebrate that day: Praying to Thor, the warrior god of thunder, and Tyr, the god of war, to keep our soldiers away from needless war, and only be sent into combat when absolutely necessary.
The true warrior does not seek out fighting for glory or personal benefit, but only in defense of themselves, in defense of the weak, and in defense of their own principles. The peaceful warrior is not a contradiction in terms, but the true purpose of the warrior once all petty concerns are put aside in favor of those that count the most. Let’s not forget that the Norse pantheon is not composed of the warrior Aesir alone, but also consists of the peace-loving Vanir, who could fight, but only did so when necessary.
And on the Christian side of things, let’s not forget that Jesus Christ was a proponent of peace, and would never support pre-emptive wars over money, let alone vengeance, glory, or the building of empire. In fact, Christ was crucified as the result of the policies of a waning world empire, and I don’t think he would go for seeing the United States follow the path of the Roman Empire.
“Thank you for starting another one for me, Mr. Obama!
“When are you going to invade Iran? I’m getting impatient!
“And when are you finally going to put me on your flag? Muah-hah-hah!
“And those right-wing Christians seriously think it’s that guy on the cross they’re actually worshiping? Bwah-hah-hah, I love it!
“Please thank Mrs. Clinton for all she’s done in my honor too!
“And to think I worried I would miss Mr. Bush’s administration! Hah!”