Universal Soldier

Anybody else tired of hearing about the “blood and treasure” we are spending in Iraq?

What’s that all about, anyway? Is that supposed to be some sort of euphemism, so we don’t think about the dead and broken bodies and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are swirling down the drain? What’s a little blood, after all? Everyone’s cut themselves. No big deal, right? And treasure. Oooh, you mean like in “Pirates of the Caribbean” Yeah, pirate’s booty, not the pallets of cash, shipped literally by the ton in C-17’s, only to disappear down the Iraqi sinkhole. This happy talk is an extension of the U.S. policy of not showing pictures of military coffins as the dead are brought back, and the policy of not allowing cameras in the hospitals where the wounded are being treated. Sure it’s dishonest, but we’re talking about the Bush Administration, so what else is new?

And why is every military person, especially the grunts, now called a hero? Most of these kids didn’t know what they were getting into when they joined. They thought it was a good way to get out of their boring hometown, or they thought they’d learn a trade so they could later get a good civilian job (ha ha, the jobs are now in China), or they were packed off to the Army to get some discipline into their lives. Some of them were deluded into thinking they’d be defending freedom, or making the world safe for democracy, or liberating an oppressed people, or avenging the terrorist attacks on New York and DC, or [plug in the hyperpatriotic bullshit phrase of your choice]. Sure, now that they’re in, they’re doing a tough job and performing well, but who wouldn’t if the alternative was death or dismemberment? I’d like to see more of them stand up and say “This is wrong and I’m not going to take part in it.” That would be heroic. That would be taking a moral stand against overwhelming opposition.

In the sixties there was a bumper sticker that read “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It was expressing the foolish idea that if we stopped lending our bodies to take part in the depraved militant fantasies of greedy old men, there would be no war, because there would be no one to fight it. We assumed that the politicians and generals wouldn’t do it themselves, and I don’t think we were wrong about that. And it recognized the reality that we — you know, The People — have the power to change things. All it takes is unity, across social class and national borders. If we stand up en masse and say “This is wrong and we’re not going to do it,” it’s over for the depraved, greedy old men who move us around on their chess board map of the world, “sacrificing” a thousand of us here, a million of us there, destroying whole countries, dislocating entire populations.

I’m not stupid enough to think anything like that is going to happen. I can’t say why, but it seems an impossible dream. Most of us will say we want peace on earth, but we stand ready to join up and kill our enemies, even though most of the time the enemy is us.

(Click here for the soundtrack to this post.)

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8 Replies to “Universal Soldier”

  1. During the years of the Vietnam War my mother often wore a label button that read: “I Didn’t Raise My Son To Be a Soldier.”

    Not enough mothers seemed to agree.

    As if most people really care about killed or damaged young soldiers and mangled vets. They volunteered, right?

    Our so-called leaders have come close to perfecting the art of perpetual war – something for profiteering and something to distract the unwashed from the looting and butchery done in government.

    The older I get the more I wonder, can we straighten out the mess in DC?

  2. Young men and women join the military for a lot of reasons, but few do it to be a “hero.” I’m a veteran, and my reasons for joining up ran the whole gamut. I wanted to see other parts of the world while being paid for it, I wanted to test my skills and find my calling in life, I was an immature patriot and romantic idealist, and finally, I hoped to make my ex-Marine father proud of me. But joining up to be a “hero?” No. It never occurred to me.

    Calling all of our military members “heroes” is a nefariously clever and underhanded way to gloss over the cold, hard fact that soldiers often end up maimed or dead as they fight under the cynical delusion that they’re defending their country. The war in Iraq is only the latest and most shameless example.

    Like you, I remember the 60s and 70s bumper stickers and posters that said “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” and “What if the government gave billions to eduction and the military had to hold a bake sale?” or something along those lines. As a long-time idealist, I want those concepts to work. I want peace in our world, and peace for all the generations to come. I want to think that humankind is better than this, and that good is stronger than evil.

    But also like you, I no longer believe it’s possible, Larry. My idealism is pretty tarnished. It seems that human nature is equally as violent as it is peaceful, and we’ll always face the specter of violent conflict and war. In my opinion, religion (and I don’t care which one) is almost always the root cause for conflict, and greed runs a close second. Can we take steps to do away with them? I don’t think so. Even unified, there is always a faction that won’t go along, rotting the ideals of the group from the inside out.

    I want our soldiers out of Iraq. I don’t want to see another person on either side killed for Bush’s oily backers. I want the ones who lied and manipulated us into this war prosecuted for war crimes, and I want us all to learn the hard lessons we’ve been taught through our actions. But do I believe it will happen?

    Painfully, sadly, I don’t.

  3. Bill – A corollary to Jones’ Law #1 (Bullies always win) might be “The venal end up making policy.” I’m still working on it. But if it’s correct, then we can’t clean up the mess in Washington, or Beijing, Tehran, Moscow, London, etc.

    Wren – Thanks for your thoughtful comment. My post was written out of frustration and a sense of powerlessness, but I don’t want to live my life that way. I want to believe that the world can change. Also, I hope you know that I don’t think most people join the military to become known as heroes.

    kStyle and Narya – I can’t believe you guys did that. Stop your giggling and see me after class.

  4. Ron – Don’t know what to tell you. There’s a “Play” button on my screen, just to the right of the word “here.” Maybe it doesn’t appear in the RSS feed (Bloglines users). Anybody else having trouble with this?

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