by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance
We have too many veterans. We have too many living veterans. We have too many dead veterans. We have too many wounded veterans. We have too many disabled veterans. We have too many veterans who have fought in wars. We have too many veterans who have never fired a shot. Any way you look at it, we have too many veterans.
Veterans Day began as Armistice Day — a day to commemorate the signing of the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that ended fighting on the Western Front in World War I, "the war to end all wars." A few years after World War II, the holiday was changed to Veterans Day as a tribute to all soldiers who fought for their country. Veterans Day has now become a day to honor, not just those who have served in the military during wartime, but those who have served during peacetime or are serving now. It has also become a day — even though we have Armed Forces Day — to recognize all things military.
Why do most Americans hold veterans and current members of the U.S. military in such high esteem? Why is there such a military mindset in the United States?
One reason people feel this way is because they falsely believe that those who serve in the military are somehow defending our freedoms. They are convinced that it is the military that stands between a free society and subjugation by some foreign power. They think that it is because of the military that we still have our First Amendment rights. It is inevitable that whenever I write about the military I receive an e-mail or two from a current or former member of the military who closes his rebuke (which usually argues that I have the freedom to write the "trash" that I write because of the U.S. military) with this simplistic cliché: "If you can read this e-mail, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a Marine." Has anyone ever thought this through? Are we are supposed to believe that the German army that couldn't cross the English Channel to invade Great Britain and make its population speak German was going to cross the Atlantic Ocean to invade the United States and make us all speak German if it wasn't for the Marines? Or was it Japanese that the Marines kept us from speaking? Or perhaps it was Spanish because of the tremendous threat we faced from Spain during the Spanish-American War? Were we in danger of having to speak Russian during the Cold War? Looking at the history of U.S. military interventions, there is one thing we can thank the Marines for: We can thank the Marines for helping to carry out an evil, interventionist U.S. foreign policy. Thanks a lot, jarheads. Semper Fi and all that jazz. Our freedoms, our liberties, and our Constitution that all Marines swear to uphold are under attack by our government. The state is a greater enemy than any foreign country or ruler. If the Marines are to really defend our freedoms, then they should be deployed to Washington D.C. After they oversee the closure of most federal agencies and expel the bureaucrats from the city, they can protect the Constitution (with fixed bayonets) from its daily assault by the members of Congress. In that case I would even say with you: "The few, the proud, the Marines."
Another reason the military is held in such high esteem is that most Americans wrongfully assume that the military is actually engaged in defending the country. They don't know about the hundreds of U.S. military bases on foreign soil. They don't realize that there are thousands of U.S. troops stationed abroad to defend other countries. They have no idea that the United States has troops in 150 different regions of the world. Instead, they think that it is because of the military fighting terrorists "over there" that we don't have to fight them "over here." The threat of a conquest of America by foreign invasion is nonexistent. And if we were attacked with nuclear weapons, even the Marines would be helpless to defend us. Although the purpose of the U.S. military should only be to defend the United States from genuine attacks and credible enemies, it has primarily been used to intervene in the affairs of other countries. When all of the troops come home and start guarding our borders and patrolling our coasts then, and only then, can we say that the military is defending the country. Even the Coast Guard, which actually patrols our coasts, is tainted — thanks to another unconstitutional, unwinnable war that the government is engaged in that is more destructive than the "enemy" we are fighting: the war on drugs.
Still another reason for the military mindset is that members of the military are viewed as "public servants." Members of Congress like to brag about how they have been in public service their whole life. Some policemen and firemen have jumped on the "public service" bandwagon as well. But if you want to be a policeman or a fireman, fine, just don't expect us get excited about the fact that you have a job. And plenty of jobs are just as dangerous. Veterans are looked upon as special because they "served" in the military. It didn't take any special education, experience, or accomplishments to land a job in the military — they just signed on the dotted line. We don't bestow any special honors on bricklayers, mechanics, and accountants; yet, we see plenty of bumper stickers that say things like: "My son is in the Air Force." We never see "My son is a plumber" or "My son is a garbage collector" or "My son is a waiter"? And why not? The people in those occupations don't drop bombs on anyone. They "serve" some important needs of society. Shouldn't we honor them as least as much as soldiers?
It is unfortunate that some of the most vocal defenders of today's military are Christians. It is even worse that churches fawn over current and former members of the military on Veterans Day. In response to my recent article "Should Anyone Join the Military," I was chastised by two detractors.
The first asked if I could read the Old Testament and still say that no one should serve in the military. I was also told that God instructed the Jews and others to destroy people. It is not hard for me to read the Old Testament and still say that no one should serve in the military. America is not Israel, and the U.S. military is not God's army. And telling me that God instructed the Jews and others to destroy people is like telling George Bush that he is the decider. There is no denying that God instructed the Jews and others to destroy people. But George Bush is not God, America is not the nation of Israel, and God didn't command the U.S. military to kill anyone.
My other detractor appealed to Alphonsus Liguori and maintained that as the sword maker has no control over the product, so "the soldier does not commit an actual sin unless he chooses to break a moral law while in the military." It is "the leaders or military officers who sin when they issue immoral orders." Military service is "morally neutral." But what kind of morality is this? It certainly isn't Christian. What kind of morality says that it would be okay to kill someone in an unjust war in his own country who was no threat to you or your country because you are wearing a military uniform? Oh, I forgot: Just don't break a moral law while you are killing him.
It is high time that Americans stop elevating members of the military to a position of honor. It is long past the time when veterans have done anything honorable. We should abolish Veterans Day. And because of our shameful foreign policy and militarism during the twentieth century, we should abolish any Armistice Day celebration as well.
November 12, 2007
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. His latest publication is War, Foreign Policy, and the Church. Visit his website.
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