Brandon Ferdig wants to give conditional, not unilateral, support for the troops. And he wonders if that’s okay.
I have a confession to make: I’m tired of the auto-response with which we’re conditioned to automatically assume an appreciation and respect for the “the brave men and women who keep our country safe”.
It’s not that I don’t respect and honor those who’ve fought and died for the cause of America. I make an effort this time of year to not take for granted this wonderful country we have. It’s that we lump together all the troops and all the missions spanning America’s history, creating a dissonance—between wars of defense and freedom vs. military action for power and corporate gain; between heroic soldiers and ones that kill for enjoyment—that is hard for me to sew together.
It’s a tricky line to walk: being respectful, a dissenter, a supporter, a Good Man.
Conversations about this have been going on for years, but it remains taboo to question the worthiness American soldiers are of our praise, and I don’t think it ought to be off limits.
In thinking about my conditional support, I discovered two reasons why unconditional is an erred notion:
1. Today’s soldiers aren’t our granddad’s soldiers
2. Today’s wars aren’t our granddad’s wars
1. I was in a bar while in college and a fellow from my German class and I were playing pool. He was a soldier and talked about a contest he and his fellow troops were having. It was to see who could sleep with the fattest girl and take a picture to prove it.
An acquaintance of mine recently lived with his girlfriend who is in the service. He found out just a few months back—by reading the sexting on her computer—that she had been cheating on him with other soldiers, and because of that, gave him chlamydia.
A friend from high school, now a real macho soldier who loves working out and drinking beer, was out with my brothers not too long ago when he had a couple too many. He started a verbal altercation with a Native American. In his racist rant, he had to be restrained by many others.
Examples like these began to chip away at the unquestioned gratitude with which I was suppose to address these men and women. Then of course, there are the examples of malfeasance, abuse, and murder detailing horrific cases of rape, torture, mass killings that have only been more public in recent years.
It all got me asking, “What kinds of people are we saluting?”
Me not being alive in the days of my granddad prohibit me to know the true nature of those soldiers. I’m sure things went on amongst them that would appall me, too, that the squeaky clean image we have of them is a residual effect of favorable media and legend. I also need to be careful not to commit the same error that I’m criticizing: lumping all soldiers together. So I know those mentioned above are bad apples or even good people doing bad things. But I maintain, from knowing my grandpa and those in his generation, and by seeing the footage of soldiers shooting civilians from the helicopter on Wikileaks, the photos from Abu Ghraib, and my own personal experience that acts like these didn’t occur then as they do now.
#2. I remember being in 3rd grade and talking about war with other boys in my class. “America has never lost a war”, one said. “Yeah, we’re undefeated”, said another. I went home and asked my father. He offered a slightly modified take, saying, “Well, except for Vietnam. Nobody won.”
Along with false lumping of the troops who defeated Germany with the troops who took Saddam, we mistakenly lump together the act of defeating Germany with the act of defeating Saddam. One was a declared war in America’s past against a clear enemy, the latter is an example of the constant military adventurism benefiting American corporate interests throughout our last 120 years.
Years after speaking with my father, I’d watch a powerful montage of American military adventurism in Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine that would make Smedley Butler turn over in his grave and had me staring in wonder as I realized the same men who we’ve armed and held up as allies and heroes: Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, (and most recent, Muammar Gaddafi) are now ones we call villains.
I looked askance toward the script-shifting; and in mild disbelief that we’re fighting people we’ve armed.
Worse however, was the footage I saw of the innocent death along the way. From our coups in Central America throughout the 20th century, to our involvement in Iran overthrowing their democratically elected leader in the 1953’s, to today’s accidental drone targets blowing up schools and the children inside them.
“What are we doing?” I think to myself. “What are my tax dollars paying for?”
I know I’m just one person totally removed from the theater of war. I know an image and footage–and definitely a montage in a Michael Moore documentary–can sometimes be overly-influential to someone who hasn’t seen war with his own eyes.
But I still have my reason and morals, and I have a right—perhaps an obligation—to speak out if I see something wrong. I have a reaction to seeing a Vietnamese girl running naked burned by napalm. I react to the execution of an American citizen and his 16 year old son without a trial.
Regarding the Saddam and Gaddafi, maybe the support-one-day, killing-them-the-next process is just part of the game necessary to play in our imperfect world. Maybe I shouldn’t expect more from our leaders. Maybe I’m being quixotic in thinking that the U.S. wouldn’t and shouldn’t flex its muscles—cause it’s certainly not as though they couldn’t. And as I learn more about history, the deaths of innocents was so regular an occurrence, maybe one can even applaud the U.S. for limiting collateral deaths via economic warfare and drone strikes.
But I can’t. I don’t believe our country or the world would be worse off today if we hadn’t intervened in the countless regions as we’ve done so repeatedly. And the disingenuous nature with which these missions are wrapped as deeds of freedom, righteousness, and good! Tell us you’re bombing Gaddafi because his attempted hold of power threatened Europe’s oil interests. Tell us you’re going to sabotage the rise of a leader in Central America because it’s bad for U.S. business.
I think the lesson to take away is to honor responsibly. I will continue to stand in awe when I hear and see depicted the kinds of conditions endured, the courage mustered, the lives saved, and the honor exhibited by these men and women throughout America’s past. I was recently taken in, watching a documentary, by the significance, intrigue, and conditions surrounding the oft forgotten War of 1812.
It is extremely unfortunate that the institution that all the historic and honorable men and women have fought for has been tainted by the orders of those who would seek power and profits over people; and that the soldier’s reputation has been tainted by the actions by those among them.
To much of America, a soldier is a soldier is a soldier and a war is a war is a war. This false association keeps us in blind support for men and women who don’t always deserve it either because of their character or because of their missions. This unflinching support doesn’t allow for the malleability that life is—that America isn’t always the good guy, that sometimes there never is a good guy, that as my father said about Vietnam, sometimes nobody wins. Under the weight of this support, we keep supporting a military budget of a size practically incomprehensible and almost certainly unsustainable.
We shouldn’t break the rule that respect is something to be earned, and the degree to which people dismiss what troops have done to truly earn their respect—positively or negatively—indicates the degree to which we’ve lost touch with who and what our troops and military are all about.