Tag Archives: soldiers

While We’re Talking About Patriotism…

Among Monday’s Fourth of July reliable pieties were many exhortations to “support the troops.” We heard little or nothing about what really supporting our troops would look like.

A commenter on my Fourth of July post advocated reinstitution of the military draft; the comment reminded me of a book review I read awhile back, so I dug it out. In the New York Times, Matthew Crawford reviewed Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. Junger had previously directed two well-received documentaries about an American platoon stationed in a small village in Afghanistan. In those films, Crawford tells us, we see

…the recalcitrant realities of killing. We see the joys and depravities of a cell of men released from the neutering moral regulation of American society. That society has a mission for them to do, but it cannot avow the means by which it is to be accomplished and must avert its gaze from the appalling maleness of it all.

In Tribe, Junger asks: how do you return home from such an experience, an experience where the qualities demanded of soldiers, the qualities cultivated by war, are “fundamentally at odds with our public principles”? How do you reintegrate these young people into a society largely indifferent to and unaware of the nation’s foreign entanglements, let alone the realities of combat?

In his review of the book, Crawford points out that the problems of re-entry and reintegration into society in countries (like Israel) where the burdens of national defense are widely shared–and much less remote from the collective consciousness of the general public–are much different from the problems faced by returning American soldiers.

There are strengths and weaknesses to a volunteer army. I would suggest that the weaknesses are significant–and corrosive–and that they outweigh the strengths.

Our “volunteers” are mostly recruited from marginalized populations and those who have few other educational or employment options. To be blunt (and not “politically correct”), that reality–and America’s extensive use of “contractors” (aka mercenaries)– makes it easier for lawmakers to authorize military actions. They need not come back to their districts and face constituents whose sons and daughters have been conscripted and sent into danger.

I have previously written about the negative consequences of “outsourcing” patriotism. In the concluding paragraph of his book review, Crawford underlines several of my concerns.

The self-deceptions of contemporary society that Junger elaborates run too deep to be relieved by exhortations to “support the troops.” The conclusion one reaches upon finishing Tribe is that we should bring back the draft and have universal, obligatory military service. It is hard to think of a public policy reform that would do more to heal the growing chasm of social class, affirm our shared destiny as citizens and at the same time discipline our foreign policy. A nation of 320 million will never be a tribe, but if after such a reform we still have enthusiasm for putting “boots on the ground,” those boots will belong to “us” rather than “them.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Supporting (some of) the Troops

As most readers of this blog probably already know, a gay soldier asked a question about gay service members at a recent GOP Presidential candidate debate, and was roundly booed by the audience. The Tea Party members who were present in large numbers in that audience—and the candidates who remained silent then and afterward—evidently saw nothing inconsistent between wrapping themselves in the Stars and Stripes and dishonoring a citizen who has put his life on the line for them.

In fact, it has been interesting to see just how far the Republican base has strayed from its previous “support the troops no matter what” posture.

Recently, Republican Representative Buck McKeon, the Chair of House Armed Services Committee, publically announced that he is willing to see the entire defense authorization bill fail if Congress refuses to pass his proposed provision preventing military chaplains from marrying same-sex military couples.

Think about that for a minute. A Republican who is the Chair of the Armed Services Committee is saying that he would hold up the funding for all our military men and women, including troops now in the field, just to keep military Chaplains from performing same-sex weddings.

Even in the wake of repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Republican Presidential candidates are insisting that they will re-instate the ban if elected. I’m waiting for a reporter—assuming we still have some of those—to ask these critics who are oh-so-picky about who can be a soldier just how they intend to fill the ranks without a draft. Enlistments are down, and it isn’t exactly a secret that recruiters have been bending the rules, taking enlistees with low IQs and felonies—but not gays, heaven forbid!—in order to make their quotas. (Somehow, I doubt that the “patriots” will step up to fill the gap themselves.)

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that the GOP talking points included accusations of treason against people who just wanted to trim some of the Pentagon’s more wasteful budget requests?

If hypocrisy smelled, we’d all be suffocating these days. The troops are “our boys” and we owe them so much—unless they’re gay, in which case we don’t even owe them constitutional equality.

It isn’t only on GLBT issues, of course—look at the reactions to the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators. Right-wing commentators on Fox and elsewhere are waxing positively hysterical over the chutzpah of the lefties who dare to criticize corporate greed. Current front-runner Herman Cain (the self-styled mogul who grew his pizza business into something like the 8th largest chain in the country) has characterized the demonstrators as “too lazy” to hold jobs, and “jealous” of those who have made something of themselves. Lest he be misunderstood, he’s repeatedly said that the jobless have no one to blame but themselves. (Let them eat cake…er, pizza.)

These descriptions of the “hippy” protestors might have a bit more gravitas had the same people not reacted so differently to the emergence of the Tea Party. When Tea Party “patriots” took to the streets, those who now pooh-pooh and disparage Occupy Wall Street as an unruly mob celebrated the folks in tri-corner hats as citizen activists who were taking their country back. The excesses—the hateful rhetoric, the misspelled racist signs, were conveniently overlooked or attributed to a “small fringe.”

We need to work on some new political slogans for these folks. We’ve had “Free Speech for Me, but Not for Thee.” How about “Support Our Heterosexual Troops” or “God Bless the Americans Who Agree With Me”?