The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Remembering Soldiers’ Service

Back in 2008, I covered the US Democratic National Convention on the ground. It was very revealing to me, because it showed just how different American political culture was from Canadian in their military worship and emphasis on the family.

Joe Biden had a long segment on how wonderful a family man he was, and a military man spoke and spoke and spoke.

And it was intensely alien: Your family isn’t a big deal in Canada, and we don’t military worship, though we do make nods of respect.

Americans love to say, “Thank you for your service” to those who were in the military. Good.

But what bothers me sometimes is all the “they fought for freedom” talk.

They did?

When? In Iraq? Afghanistan? Nicaragua? When was the last time the US military was clearly fighting for freedom, either at home or abroad?

The US military exists to do what the President tells it to do (no one else has much of a say any more, despite the Constitution).

I don’t blame members of the US military who went to Iraq, even though Iraq was clearly an illegal war, the sort of war crime that Nazis got hung by the neck until dead for.

After all, I saw what happened to those few who did resist.

But the world would clearly be a better place if the military as a whole had refused the Iraq war.

Bravery, loyalty, and even honor are morally neutral virtues. They make good men better, bad men worse, and men under orders better tools, that is all. Service members are due respect for serving, but they don’t fight for freedom, and while we can argue when they last did, it’s been a long time.

They do, however, fight for the US state, and inasmuch as the US is a democracy, Americans are responsible for what they do, and do owe them a debt of gratitude for their service to the President.

Perhaps one day there will be a time when US soldiers will have to decide based on their oath to the Constitution, but for now, they exist to uphold The US empire, knocking over any states the US wants knocked over.

So, remember your fallen, those who did die fighting for freedom (there are plenty, just not too recently), eat your steaks and ponder, perhaps, when it is right to ask soldiers to fight, die, and kill for you.

So that perhaps they fight for freedom more often, and for war criminals like Bush, Jr. less often.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Trump’s Cancellation of the Korea Meeting Is an Excellent Excuse for Europe and Asia to Break America’s Financial Power


How People Crack or Succeed


  1. Synoia

    They fought for Freedom

    Nearly everything is the US is couched in a marketing message, with twisted emotive undertones, to prevent disagreement or present a questioned as a “bad person.”

    It’s insidious, pervasive and corrosive, as its undermines cardinal virtues, include truth, hinesty, and consideration for others.

    It is deeply hypocritical on many, many levels.

  2. someofparts

    What Synoia said.

    I think the public relations noise here is scaled to the size of the lie. The bigger the lie, the greater the noise.

  3. Hugh

    Support for the military and saying nice things about families are ways to avoid talking about policy. And those who invoke these often have lives and positions that are wildly against both. This is a bipartisan thing. There is no way you can reconcile “support” for the troops with endless deployments in senseless, unwinnable wars and then pretty much telling them to go die in a ditch when their usefulness is done. It also hides the ungodly bad accounting at the Pentagon and multiple outrageously overpriced, gold-plated, poorly designed weapon systems involving hundreds of billions of dollars, of which the F-35 is a prime example.

    Military worship reminds me of the thesis of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers where only those who were or had been in the military were granted citizenship. The fundamental fallacy in this idea is that military service is the sole or most important contribution to a society. It isn’t. All kinds of people make necessary and important contributions to society: teachers, caregivers, the people who pick up your garbage, maintain your roads, schools, and sewage systems, and many, many more.

    Nor are you supporting American families if you are against abortion, contraception, family planning, want to cut medical, food, and housing aid to children and the poor. And related to this is the lip-service to the importance of American workers while supporting free trade agreements to ship jobs to Asia and Mexico, decimating American unions, trillion dollar tax cuts to the rich and corporations (which effectively are the same thing) and having no rational immigration policy (18% of workers in the US are foreign born and if you don’t think this has a devastating impact on wages and benefits you are dreaming). If you want strong families, then offer people good paying, meaningful jobs, universal healthcare, good education, and solid retirements.

  4. In the 9th paragraph, I think you meant to say you didn’t blame soldiers who went to Iraq, not that you didn’t blame soldiers who refused to go.

    Otherwise a great article.

  5. Let us not forget to utter that cliche “Thank you for your service!”
    Grandstanding gestures like those are essential to American culture.

  6. nihil obstet

    We need to punch through the propaganda that glorifies war. Words I use rarely: defense (it’s war), fallen (they’re dead), warriors (OK, that’s what a significant enough minority of soldiers do to keep G.W. Bush and Cheney from getting near a real fight). Is there a real difference between U.S. military personnel and contract personnel? More contract employees, known in previous wars as mercenaries, have died in Iraq and Afghanistan than service members. Do we thank the contractors for their service? When general after general prances into Congress with shit-eating grins and testifies that they’ll win the war with just a little more time and a lot more money, do we think how wonderful the troops are? What about when those retired generals and retired War Department civilians take jobs as weapons manufacturers’ PR men and give their unbiased, experienced opinion on news shows about the need for more war?

    It’s all wrapped in gauzy, emotional indulgence to give us a vicarious experience of deep feeling and especially, deeply felt nobility. When we had been in Iraq a year or two, a group proposed to carry a coffin to the state Capitol celebration of memorial day. I mean, it’s memorializing the dead, right? No. There was public outrage over the disrespect. Flags to remember the fallen are suitably ethereal. Coffins to remember the dead are too real.

  7. Willy

    I feel for those who’ve lost true heroes, who may have to experience the slow realization that theirs was a preventable loss. Yet few want to discuss a “Lessons Learned” about Iraq.

    In other news… Rosanne Barr. Was she always nutty, in that way? Or is the thinking of too many people just that susceptible to outside influences? Maybe this is what happens when virtually all American institutions become dis-respectable or disrespected. In the ensuing vacuum common people will desperately latch onto almost anything.

  8. Hugh

    As someone was saying to me about Barr, it is all about entitlement (of which our upper classes. No care or thought about her coworkers and any effect on them. Just spout and a perfunctory ooops if you get caught out. Really not that much different from politicians. The only difference between her and Trump is with Trump there would be no ooops, just attacks on whoever complained.

  9. jrkrideau

    your family isn’t a big deal in Canada
    Oh, I don’t know. As a Canadian, I can think of a number of family members to be dodged—or am I misunderstanding this?

  10. StewartM

    I do get from some military service people an attitude that ‘you should honor me’ (one objected to my saying “but we’re your boss, you ultimately are suppposed to serve us, not the other way around”).

    But, well, ok, if they actually were in harm’s way. But in WWII, only 23 % of people in the US Army were in combat units, not all combat units were deployed, although admittedly non-combat personnel can be in harm’s way while those in deployed combat units may not. Still, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of those serving are no more in harm’s way than people working in civilian jobs, even in a ‘big’ war like WWII.

    I’ve always wondered if those with a military background who are most gung-ho about fighting were those safely far in the rear, while the George McGoverns, Tom Landrys, and Jimmy Stewarts who *were* in harm’s way strike a far less belligerent pose. Or, as James Dunnigan notes in his How to Make War , you can differentiate the rookies from the combat vets by the rookies talking to the press, while the vets sit glumly in the back of the truck hoping the politicians come up with a last-minute compromise. “Nobody who’s actually been shot at”, he wrote, “enjoys the experience”.

    While I’m not a fan of Heinlein’s military-service-for-citizenship model, I do think that Ian’s suggestion of mandatory military (or at least public) service is a good one. Doing so removes military service as some sort of bragging right or claim to moral superiority, though for reasons of civic health I would sooner draft the 25-30 year olds instead of the 18-21 year olds (make military service an interruption of ‘normal life’ instead of it being more a career field). The claim of military service bestowing some sort of moral virtue points is also weird, given that some pretty unsavory people (Eric Rudolph, plus more) have served:

    A big reason the militia was important to the US’s Founders was to have the defense of the country resting on the mass of the citizenry, so that no ideology or faction ended up armed. We’ve lost that now.

  11. Hugh:
    You need to reread Starship Troopers. Service in the military was not the only avenue, and citizenship was not what was at issue. What was at issue was franchise, the right to vote, and it could be earned through any form of federal service, including civil administration.

  12. Hugh

    From the Starship Troopers’ wiki,

    Heinlein scholar James Gifford has argued that a number of quotes within the novel suggest that the characters within the book assume that the Federal Service is largely military. For instance, when Rico tells his father that he is interested in Federal Service, his father immediately explains his belief that Federal Service is a bad idea because there is no war in progress, indicating that he sees Federal Service as military in nature. Gifford states that although Heinlein’s intentions may have been that Federal Service be 95 percent non-military, in relation to the actual contents of the book, Heinlein “is wrong on this point. Flatly so.”

  13. Wyoming

    StewartM PERMALINK
    May 29, 2018

    Hmmm. I find that the ‘honor me’ sentiment is very rare. Folks just want to be recognized as having contributed their part mostly.

    But it is worth remembering that there is no either/or or black/white about attitudes and feelings of entitlement as any large group of people will exhibit the full range of possibilities. Some are asshats and some are saints and almost everyone somewhere inbetween.

    In WWII everyone was a target from front line combat personnel to civilian women and children sitting in their homes. IF we or they could find a way to kill them we did. My mother as an example was an army nurse who lost 5 of her women classmates in combat in Europe (mostly artillery). The vast majority of those who died in WWII were, of course, civilians.

    As to who is gungho and who is not I would say once again that if you really look you will find again the whole range of attitudes. I know some who survived just marginal combat who were devastated by it and forever screwed up. And others who saw the most horrific combat and would return to it over and over again as being near death was the only time they felt really alive. Mr Dunnigan is just wrong.

    While I don’t think military service should be mandatory I do think every one who wants citizenship should have to serve in some acceptable fashion.

    The prime reason the militia was critical to the Founders was that they did not believe in having a standing army. The milita’s were trained citizen soldiers who were under the command of the local authority and when the country had need of soldiers they would be called to service and then the country would institute the process of assembling a formal army for the duration of the need. And then the army would be disbanded until the time one was needed again. This is what the 2nd amendment is actually talking about and why it was written the way it was. The 2nd amendment had nothing to do with what the NRA proselytizes about home defense and the citizens protecting themselves from the govt. Local militia’s were in existence to ‘protect’ the state not to oppose it as we see today in the right-wing organizations.

  14. different clue


    So Heinlein wasn’t even aware of what he actually wrote? Sounds like a partial split in the creative personality.

    I remember once hearing the following story about Heinlein on TV ( and I hope I remember all the names right) . . . that Heinlein was a loud early supporter of Prez Reagan’s “star wars” concept.
    When Arthur C. Clarke pointed out how silly it was in terms of its alleged purpose of shooting down or disabling incoming ICBMs, Heinlein denounced and condemned Clarke as a anti-American alien, etc. Clarke moved to Ceylon ( now Sri Lanka).

  15. Willy

    Trump obviously believes he’s The Brain Bug, above any petty serving and fighting. It looks like entitlement isn’t just a genetic flaw, that it can also be ‘learned’ (Barr), probably by atrophied life-stress muscles common to the rich and powerful. And then the minions are manipulated into using their protective instinct genetics to protect these self-proclaimed brain bugs, instead of real braininess such as the Founders better intentions.

    Sorry… just saw the CNN report about some Trump rally-goers screaming at CNN reporters. On the plus, those reporters also mentioned that a some rally-goers did privately express to them their support of the idea that a free press = free speech.

    Still trying to figure out how to overcome another’s bug brain tribal impulses though.

  16. Hugh

    Sorry to return to Heinlein for a moment but my impression is that his more expansive view on federal service was revisionist and came years later.

  17. Steeleweed

    My thoughts from a somewhat different slant:

  18. marku52

    George McGovern flew 35 combat missions in WWII (in Italy) at a time when that was very dangerous. At that time to make it to 25 missions over Europe was unusual.

    His war experience may have informed his distaste for the one in Vietnam.

  19. StewartM


    I can’t say that the ‘honor me’ attitude is common, just that I’ve encountered it in several instances (one person called me on a Memorial Day several years back asking me why I hadn’t called them yet to thank them for their service). What I will say that as a boy, growing up among WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War vets, many of whom *had seen* in combat, I never felt I was under any compulsion to ‘honor them’ and moreover all the cases I have seen it involves younger service people who had never seen combat.

    This just goes to show how the cult of military adoration is more a recent development, a product of the all-volunteer army I would say, and how said adoration can affect the attitude of the common volunteer (and not in a good way, either). One of the things that made the Prussian/German military such a problematic institution insofar as any German democracy was concerned was that said military came to see itself as the elite of its country, which knew best what was good for it. I think we’re inculcating the same attitude today.

    And I’m sorry, it’s simply a fact that the vast majority of most servicemen and women in the US military never go anywhere near flying ordinance. In WWII, the figure was about 1 out of every 16, some estimates in Vietnam are 1 out of every 10 deployed, and today it maybe on the order of 1 %. Yes, it’s true that some non-combatants get caught in action, I said that up front, but on the other hand many combat units are never deployed nor is everyone serving in combat units in a combat role. The comment you made about WWII and civilian casualties are 1) untrue by and large about the US civilian population; and 2) in the countries where it was largely true (Germany, Japan, China, the USSR, etc) that would tend to eliminate any bragging rights about service, wouldn’t it? (If civilians are in nearly as much danger too, then why is military service something so special?).

    James Dunnigan’s (a fairly well-respected military historian) comments on military psychology I think are spot-on, just because it echoes what I heard from nearly every combat veteran I have talked to. The famous portrait of the sailor kissing the girl at the end of WWII in Times Square is by far the overwhelming reaction of relief that “it’s over”. You also see it in the cautiousness at war’s end, by both soon-to-be victor and soon-to-be vanquished alike, in combat; nobody but nobody wants to be the last to die or get maimed in a war that seems already won or lost (you see this in spades in ET in the Western theater, but you see it also in the East, in the fighting in Berlin). Yes, there are the few adrenaline junkies who enjoy combat, but they are a tiny minority and atypical.

    You are correct that the Founders did not want a standing army, but do not go further to ask ‘why’? The reason why was that standing armies very often represent factions of the population who are not representative of the whole and who would owe loyalties to their commander, or their faction, and not the whole (oldest trick in the book in How to Be a Despot 101: set up your own praetorian guard who comes from a faction distinct from the citizenry as a whole, indoctrinate it about how much more noble and superior it is to all those civilian nobodies and boobs, and it will have no hesitation about killing them if the need arises). By contrast, the Founders, recognizing that a military can be the executioner of a democracy, wanted the US’s military to come from a broad swath of the people themselves, who identity and loyalty lay with their civilian counterparts, and who would refuse any orders to move against their neighbors/friends/relatives by any ambitious officer or politician. And I agree, this and not private gun ownership per se is the whole rationale behind the militia (besides, guns were actually rather rare, and Congress often found it had to buy the weapons for the various state militias).

    The problem with the Founder’s model is despite the propaganda about the American farmer grabbing his long rifle to answer the call to arms, militias with rare exceptions usually did not fight effectively as military units (the New England militias were better trained, and did better in the Revolutionary War, most did not; witness Cowpens, where Morgan, knowing that he wouldn’t get any more value from them, asked his militiamen only to ‘fire two volleys then you can run’). I don’t think this fact really sank in until the US Civil War. By 1862-63, most soldiers in the Union and Confederate armies has been ‘veteranized’, so to speak, and saw with their own eyes how badly militia on both their side or the opponent’s fought. In addition, the militia was supposed to be a military force, and advances in military technology priced the weapons of war outside personal budgets. The National Guard, equipped with planes, tanks, artillery and the like unaffordable to private citizens to be capable of fighting a modern war, is thus really what the militia should be, despite NRA propaganda, though admittedly I can buy the argument it should have some sort of universal service.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén