by Fred Reed: Slouching
read frequently among the lesserly neuronal of the supposed honor
of soldiers, of the military virtues of courage, loyalty, and uprightness
that in an age of moral decomposition only the military adhere
to principles, and that our troops in places like Afghanistan nobly
make sacrifices to preserve our freedoms and democracy. Is not all
of this nonsense?
Honor? A soldier
is just a nationally certified hit-man, perfectly amoral. When he
joins the military he agrees to kill anyone he is told to kill,
regardless of whether he has previously heard of the country in
which he will kill them or whether the residents pose any threat
to him or his. How is this honorable? It is cause for lifelong shame.
It is curious
that so many soldiers think that they are Christians. Christianity
is incompatible with military service, if any Christianity is meant
that Christ would have regarded with other than repugnance.
of course lies in the soldier's moral compartmentation. Within his
own tribe or pack, these usually being denominated countries,
he is the soul of moral propriety doesn't knock over convenience
stores, kick his dog, or beat his children; speaks courteously,
observes personal hygiene, and works tirelessly for the public good
in the event of natural disasters. A steely gaze with little behind
it and a firm handshake amplify the appearance of probity.
with foreigners, he will burn, bomb, rape and torture indiscriminately.
His is the behavior of feral dogs, which humans closely resemble.
GIs do not make sacrifices. They are sacrificed, sacrificed for
big egos, big contracts, for the shareholders of military industries,
for pasty patriots in salons who never wore boots. They fight not
for love of country but to stay alive, and from fear of the punishments
meted out to deserters. If you doubt this, tell the men in Afghanistan
that they may come home on the next plane without penalty, and see
how many stay. Troops are as manipulated as roosters in a cock fight,
forced to choose between combat and the pot.
understand the bloody absurdity of the military, bear in mind the
primitive, overriding instinct of mankind to form packs and fight
other packs. It is the only drive that can at times take precedence
over sex. Thus we have tribes, football teams, Crips and Bloods,
religious wars, rabid political parties, and patriotism, this latter
being far the worst. Men in particular live primed to form martial
herds and rush mindlessly upon other herds, waving slogans, arguments,
forty-yard passes from scrimmage, swords, naval artillery, or white
phosphorous. Dogs. Ants. Soldiers. Humanity.
high moral pretext for war will be contrived, embodying saccharine
goodness and nauseous piety. We kill them to make them free, butcher
their families because they must be democratic. The race has accumulated
just enough fragile decency to want a noble pretext before burning
children. Yet the pack's hostility to outsiders remains the primary
drive behind wars, with reasons hung on later like Christmas ornaments.
wars are not about anything. They are just wars. Aggression trumps
substance. Note that in politics, the content of debate often matters
less than the visceral pleasure of antipathy as, for example, when
greens and capitalists exchange irrational insults like savages
working themselves up for battle. The posturing is just foreplay.
nations, have to have enemies. Since our instincts seem wired more
for single combat, for bar fights more than for sprawling industrial
wars, soldiers invariably seek the atavistic adrenal satisfactions
of a quick and smashing victory. They are almost always wildly optimistic
about the likely outcome. Thus the belief in decisive battles, cakewalks
and such, even when experience counsels that there won't be one.
The military wants to fall upon the bastards, any bastards, and
give them what for, to settle things once and for all in brutal,
exhilarating, simple combat. Agincourt, Picket's charge, Themistocles
in the Saronic Gulf, that sort of thing.
If you don't
think that exhiloaration is a factor in military affairs, you have
never watched night flight ops with a carrier battle group, Tomcats
trapping ker-wham! rising howl of huge engines, thirty-knot wind
whipping across the flight deck, smell of burnt kerosene, the focused
dance of men cooperating in something complex and dangerous in the
wilds of the Pacific. It is a drug. This is much of why we have
And it is why
the Pentagon is repeatedly surprised when after the swoosh and scream
of the jets over Kabul, or Quang Tri, or Baghdad, angry men with
rifles creep from their holes and begin killing and there comes
a losing uncomprehended disaster of ten years. Practicality matters
less than the spirit of the thing.
Armies of the
First World have made this hormonal miscalculation time and again:
The French in Vietnam, the Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in
Afghanistan, the French in Algeria, the Israelis in Lebanon, the
Americans in Iraq, the Americans in Afghanistan. Militaries don't
learn. They can't.
learn because soldiering is directed as much at maintaining a desired
mental state as at practicality. A thick layer of romance has always
lain over matters martial. The rush of a low-level pop-and-drop
bombing run in an F16, the legions wintering on the Rhine-Danube
line, pennants, charges, the poetry and intensity of it all. Oo-rah!
Death from Above! The most dangerous thing in
the world is a Marine with his rifle. Crush their skulls
and eat their faces. Feel-good slogans, suitable for children
of the excitement of a high-school basketball game, bright lights,
tense expectancy, cheerleaders twirling and emitting exhortations
to invincibility. Hey, hey, whaddya say, let's get that ball
and go! Ricky, Ricky, he's our man! If he can't do it,
nobody can! Oo-rah.
Those who train
and arm the soldiers are less delusional. Behind the curtains the
butcher's trade is an ugly one. In my days of covering the military,
I remember efforts to invent blood-red plastic shrapnel that would
not show up on x-rays, to make it difficult for the enemy to save
his wounded. A tac-nuke manual spoke of how to keep soldiers fighting
after being lethally irradiate by a nuclear explosion. Shortly they
will die, puking and stumbling, but how does one get a bit more
combat out of them? This manual used the evocative phrase, terrain
quickly come to hate their assigned enemies, as do fighting cocks,
they also know that what they are doing will not play well back
home. The entrail-dripping gut-shot, a woman deening over a mound
of red mush that is no longer precisely her child these could
interfere with the flow of contracts. Consequently militaries try
furiously to suppress photographs of those they torture and mutilate,
to package routine atrocities as isolated incidents,
to keep pictures of garishly altered soldiers off the pages of newspapers.
The extreme sensitivity suggests moral uneasiness, oo-rah or not.
During Vietnam, the damning photos poured out. The controlled press
of today poses no similar problem.
If this is
honor, I'll pass. Oo-rah.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest
book is Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit
© 2011 Fred Reed
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