Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why I don't "support the troops"

This article originally appeared as an op-ed in the March 2010 issue of The Four Marks.  For more information on The Four Marks, please click here.

Some weeks back one of the speakers at a conference I was attending told me over a meal that his son was heading into the Marines via ROTC, and he wanted to know what I, as a former Marine and as someone who had attended Officer Candidates’ School, thought about his son's military aspirations.  I did not have encouraging words for him.

I had a conversation about this subject with one of my former students some months ago. I have taught hundreds of students, but only a few students become friends and keep in touch with me for years after we have stopped having a tutoring relationship. This young man, who had taken advantage of every opportunity to grow and learn about himself, and already a mature gentleman when I first met him at 17, wanted to enter the military, specifically the Marine Corps.

He was attracted to the Marines for the same reasons that I was, when I first enlisted in 1999. The Marine Corps is the most elite branch of the military. Sure, there are the Rangers, and the SEALs, etc., but they are special forces of various branches, whereas “normal” Marines guard our Embassies and the President, apart from having the longest , most demanding boot camp of any of the armed forces, and are always looked to as “first in” in major conflicts. If he was going to be in the military, he reasoned, he wanted to be in the best branch. I couldn’t disagree with that.

We started speaking about the military as a profession and came to the discussion of how empty the notion of "supporting the troops" is.  I’ve always been troubled by the red-meat phraseology of “support the troops” because it is a disingenuous, provocative, and loaded phrase. Supporting the troops precisely means caring about the troops.  It doesn't mean rah-rah jingoistic victory cheers in the worst tradition of "my country, right or wrong," but rather it means you are willing to support them, make sacrifices for them, encourage and ask them to make their own personal sacrifices, all on behalf of our nation if our cause is morally just and legally true.  Such "support" cannot be given in this period of our nation's history.

Indeed, it has become impossible to “support the troops” given our current unprecedented militaristic overreach. We have over 700 known bases in more than 120 countries around the world. The mission of the United States military is to maintain a constant forward presence which helps enable sales of our most important export: weapons. The government, since the War of 1812 (which as the 200th anniversary approaches we should be ever mindful of), has entangled the American people in unnecessary wars through prevarication, provocation, and propagandistic misinformation. As Chalmers Johnson once said in the essential-to-watch documentary, “Why We Fight," "the defense budget last year was $750,000,000,000 and profits went up 25%...when war becomes that profitable, you are going to see more of it.”

If you join the military today, you are not signing up for honorable military service as millions of young men have, willingly or no, throughout millennia; rather, you are signing up for, among other things:

* Illegally occupying countries like Afghanistan and Iraq
* Unnecessarily basing troops in countries that have not been warlike in two generations, like Japan and Germany
* Torturing people in a sitzkrieg called the “War on Terror”
* Continual provocation of China by our schizophrenic stance towards Taiwan
* An outdated warlike footing of NATO based on irrational Russophobia
* An Israel-first policy that is not only harmful to American interests and Americans, but accepts as a priori the legitimacy of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israel in 1948 as well as the ongoing treatment of Palestinians in the tradition of the Nazis' treatment of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.

There are skills that the military teaches that used to be the demesne of local militias: sustained outdoor living, weapons marksmanship, close order combat. These are skills that, without the military, might be lost among my mostly militia-less generation. Yet I must advocate that these skills, needful to men in general, and more than ever as our country heads off the cliff of a major economic collapse, must be learned, however we can manage it, because I told my former student the same thing that I told that professor some weeks ago: that I couldn’t encourage any young man of worth to enter the military today. It is impossible, both practically and legally, for one man to stand up against the behemoth that is the military/industrial complex. One cannot, in good conscience, join the US military of today, engaged as it is, in numerous unjust missions worldwide.

The moral implications of potential deployments to assignments of unjust purport and purpose aside, the military is no place for a stable family to be raised. Children are uprooted every few years, and spouses are subject to sometimes long and painful separations.  Entering the military is not only an acceptance of our warlike sham “defense of democracy and freedom,” it is an acceptance of a nomadic lifestyle that is not only inimical to the raising of a stable family, but to the peaceful rootedness of even a single man.

We already have on our shoulders the massive social sins of keeping a government in power that murders civilians in other countries, babies in our own, all while stealing our future through devaluing our currency. We should not encourage our fellow citizens to take up arms to “support and defend” those projects.