Saturday, August 06, 2005

On War and the 'Bravery' of Our Troops

Chickenhawks supporting chickenhawk politicians often only have one rhetorical tactic to employ against those who have actually done time in the military - that is to attack the person for choosing to do that time. I don't think this is necessarily the most honorable tactic for a chickenhawk to use, but I don't expect much from chickenhawks, who I deem to be particularly detestable humans in the first place. Nothing the chickenhawks do seems to shock me more than their primary goal and success, which was and continues to be to send young kids into war zones to kill for the elites of our society. That these chickenhawks then verbally attack those kids whenever given the opportunity just doesn't shock me or disgust me as much as their initial pushing of those kids into the warzone in the first place.

With that said, anti-chickenhawks (such as myself) have often used the rhetoric 'our brave young men and women in uniform' to attempt to inflict political damage on the chickenhawks for ripping on soldiers who have actually served, unlike the chickenhawks themselves. But every time I heard a usually-Democratic person come to the defense of some current or ex-soldier getting Swift-boated, the defender would utter that phrase - 'our brave men and women in uniform' - and I just thought....something ain't right here. That phrase didn't ring true for me.

I knew that cops wore uniforms, and they sure as heck weren't brave. I knew that prison guards wore uniforms, but I knew they weren't brave. I knew the stewards and stewardesses on our airlines wore uniforms, but I didn't think of them as being particularly brave. The janitors at most of the schools I attended all wore some type of uniform, but I never thought of them as brave. So, why was I supposed to believe that our armed forces folks were brave? Because someone said so? After all, I read enough about war to know that 'our men and women in uniform' were probably no more or less brave than the next joe shmoe on the street. Many soldiers have admitted to pissing their pants, being too scared to crawl out of a foxhole, or being too afraid to point and/or fire a gun. Are those symbols of bravery? I think not. Similarly, regular people on the streets, be they stewardesses, computer programmers, garbage men or pencil pushers often act cowardly in the face of frightening circumstances they may enounter - like backing down from a physical fight not on moral grounds, but on fear-of-injury grounds, or running in the other direction when witnessing someone getting beaten, raped, or murdered. It happens all the time. We're all just imperfect individuals - doing our thing - ideally looking out for each other, but we're imperfect - we're certainly not all brave - and our military forces are certainly not all brave.

This post is not about knocking people who decide to serve in the military, or in the police force, or as airline personnel, or as computer programmers - it's about making the point that we all need to start thinking for ourselves. The subtle rhetorical devices employed by the wingnuts are also used by the lefty pols when they want to score political points. It's up to us, then, to make sure that these politicians don't do our thinking for us. We have to be ever-vigilant of jingoism - like the phrase 'our brave men and women in uniform'.

Just because one straps on a uniform does not make one brave. Wearing a badge does not make one a good person. And choosing 'school teacher' as a profession does not bestow intellect or knowledge upon someone.

We need to challenge the over-the-top rhetoric of the left and right. Our soldiers are brave is they demostrate bravery, else, they're just like everybody else. If we let Democrats or Rethugs or any party whip us into a nationalistic fervor, we can only do damage to our own best interests, those of our childen and our country. We need to think for ourselves - we need to challenge everything that comes out of the mouths of our elected leaders.

Why not get rid of the rhetoric? There would be absolutely nothing wrong, for instance, with saying 'our men and women in uniform'. Why do they have to be 'brave'? Can't they be just like the rest of us - trying to earn a paycheck and carry on normal, hopefully happy lives? Would it be so bad for politicans to talk about soldiers and cops and teachers and garbage men as if they were all cut from the same cloth, all deserving of the dignity that all humans should be afforded? The rights and respect that every U.S. citizen deserves? Isn't it enough that they're human beings and they're, for the most part, American citizens, and we should never have them sacrifice their well-being and that of their families unless we absolutely, positively, must ask them to? Isn't that enough?

If people aren't outraged by Hackett/Kerry/Cleland/others getting attacked for serving, then why pretend like that should be the case? I don't glorify cops, firefighters, or soldiers more than I glorify computer programmers (fd: me), school teachers, or garbage men. They all get paid to do their jobs, and they all do their jobs, or they suffer the consequences. These are all voluntary professions. Voluntary.

During my recent jaunt around San Francisco during the San Fran (Half) Marathon, everytime we passed a cop, fellow runners would say 'thank you for being here today, officer' - as if the officer was donating his or her time of the goodness of their hearts. WTF? These cops were there for a reason - easy money. There's nothing wrong with making easy money - if you can do it in an honest way, then I've definitely got your back, but saying 'thanks' to an officer just for showing up? C'mon! Complement them if they're doing a good job, but not just because they decided they should do the job they were being paid to do.

We do not have compulsory military service like Israel. And, though our military folks are not in traditional jobs in the sense that they can just quit when they want to (Stop/Loss), they still had the choice to join that job in the first place. They actually had to apply for that job, just like I had to apply for all of my jobs. They're voluntary.

And those who chose to re-enlist certainly volunteered. It was their choice.

Of course, we must allow for the fact that many kids 'volunteer' for the military as the only realistic way for them to escape the hopelessness of their economically-depressed hometowns. Not much of a choice - join the military or sell crack or flip burgers or whatever. But, still, we have to keep in mind that there are choices to be made. These kids still have self-determination.

And even after joining the military, these kids have choices. They can go AWOL, like thousands of their comrades, they can seek concientious objector status, try to get discharged out of the military altogether by offering ethical or religious grounds for doing so, try to work out a 'down-low' agreement with the military to keep oneself from having to fire on Iraqis, they can even go to jail instead of fighting in this illegal war. There are probably other ways to not fight the elites' war for them, too.

The question here, though, is: Should soldiers be glorified for their 'service to this country' anymore than garbage men should?

I think the answer is 'no'.

In fact, I think the answer is more like, 'no - of course not - that would be totally ridiculous, unless of course, you just wanted to be in the business of glorifying people for going to work everyday and doing their jobs - a la Labor Day, which might be valid, say, once a year or so.'

I think garbage men and soldiers both perform vital services to this country. I think soldiers are, unfortunately, more just playthings for politicians and the elites than garbage men, which is why soldiers are used by both sides for political advantage.

What's important to realize is that glorifying one profession over another in a nationalist, non-thinking fervor, is bad for America. It promotes jingoism, self-reinforces nationalism and racism, and in turn damages our democracy in the long run by allowing politicans to whip up the country into a patriotic/nationalistic fervor for foreign, illegal wars that weaken our civil liberties.

Wars have always been the most useful of distractions for politicians who just can't seem to convince the populace to do what the politician wants us to do - pass their outrageous legislation. With a war, all thinking goes out the window - replaced by jingoism and nationalism - and we allow politicians to do as they please with our liberties and our money.

Let's not be part of it anymore. Let's not be sheep. Let's not just follow the crowd. Let's think for ourselves. Let's demand that all politicians, left and right, start treating us all with respect, by talking about policies, instead of muttering jingoistic, meaningless phrases like 'our brave men and women in uniform'.

Let's not fight any more wars. Ever. They're just excuses for these suits to steal our money and redistribute it to their friends. Every day we're talking about war is another day most of us go without health insurance. Fuck that.

Some things are admirable, some are not. Is it admirable to put yourself in harm's way - that is, to make a personal sacrifice, via military service, because you perceive that doing so will be good for your country, and that is the *only* or primary reason for your decision? In general, I'd give that a 'yes'.

The opposite of this 'generally honorable thing to do' would be the philosophy of the chickenhawk who, despite wanting the U.S. to fight wars, would never actually offer to make a significant personal sacrifice for 'the good of the country'. That is why chickenhawks deserve the scorn generally heaped upon them by honest folks.

Whether you are a chickenhawk or not, the best choice for the future of our country is to refuse to accept jingoism wherever and whenever it is used, and to refuse to allow the U.S. to ever fight another war.

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