Monday, May 28, 2012

De Morituris

I have a post that has been my standard for Memorial Day for years. But this year I'd like to think less about those gone than those still here.
Since 2003 the U.S. seems to have slipped into a bizarre schizophrenia. Our attitude towards the expeditionary wars we have ginned up since the end of the punitive campaign in Afghanistan has varied between a cynical resignation to a hesitant distaste. Meanwhile, our attitude towards the ridiculously small, self-selected group of people who have fought them "for" us has varied between a sort of passive bumper-sticker patriotism to an exaggeratedly disproportionate "gratitude". Charlie Pierce has a fairly good summation of this;
"Now, for the veterans of the two wars of the past decade, we're giving them all kinds of favors and goodies and public applause, and maybe even a parade or two, overcompensating our brains out, but, ultimately, what does all the applause mean at the end of the day? We are apparently fine with two more years of vets coming home from Afghanistan, from a war that 60 percent of us say we oppose. But we support The Troops. Will we become a more skeptical nation the next time a bunch of messianic fantasts concoct a war out of lies? Perhaps, but we support The Troops. Will we tax ourselves sufficiently to pay for what it costs to care for the people we send to one endless war and one war based on lies? Well, geez, we'll have to think about that, but we support The Troops."
The Army I joined, the post-Vietnam, pre-Reagan Army of the early Eighties, had a pretty cynical attitude. We'd seen our brothers, the men who were our platoon sergeants and First Sergeants, used up and then tossed away in RIFs after the end of a war that we tried desperately to pretend that we'd "won" because we were never beaten in the field. We referred to the Army as "the Green Machine" and had a pretty good understanding what the priority of "accomplishing the mission" meant to the "welfare of the troops" if the mission meant that a lot of those troops would die for and in the usual ratio of "pointless" to "contributing-to-the-accomplishing-the-mission".
We understood - because we'd seen it or lived through it - that our "leaders" both civilian and military would "lead" us into unprofitable wars, lie to us about their cunning plans to "win" them, and then toss us aside like used contraceptive devices after the inevitable ugly mess ensued. We had heard the rhetoric about "freedom" and "peace" and knew that as often as those terms meant their face value they were a happy-face sticker for "whatever advances our policy" and "make a wasteland". We were ready to do the things our government told us to do while being pretty cynical about the combination of ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision that determined the way our government would decide what those things were and how they would sell them to the herd.

This stands in fairly dramatic contrast to the current volunteer force, where supposedly: "Six out of seven soldiers and Army civilians, [a new study] reveals, trust their senior leaders to make the right decisions for the Army, and 90 percent of those surveyed remain willing to put the Army’s needs above their own."

This trusting and sacrificing seem both disproportionate and inappropriate after the concatenation of lies, damn lies, and statistics that have characterized the "War on Terror". It would seem to me that having watched one administration lie it's way one war and another continue a second long after it's sell-buy date that it would behoove my country and all Americans to pause on the day we set aside to honor those killed in wars and consider just exactly what it means to "trust" their "leaders" with the lives of their fellow citizens absent any indication that that government, and those leaders, are willing to do the hard calculus to ensure that the exchange of those lives in return for the advancement of the national interest is a transaction that justifies the cost in wrecked lives and shattered bodies.

So. I'd like to think that this Memorial Day that my fellow citizens would do more than just pat the yellow-ribbon magnet on their bumper in a hat-tip to those of my fellow soldiers who went to do their nation's bidding and never returned. I'd like to think that those citizens would remember that the intent of the Founders and Framers was that We the People are supposed to be sovereign.

That it is supposed to be in our names those lives are given or taken, and that if we allow - or, worse, encourage - those who we elect to throw those lives away in the pursuit of lies, or impossibilities, and then once those lies and that nonsense are exposed, do not hold those people and ourselves to account, then we have failed to honor our pledge to them, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
And, hey; I like tradition as much as the next guy.


Leon said...

Speaking about veterans, I stumbled on a recently published book by a WW2 marine with the awesome name of "Sterling Mace". He did an AMA (ask me anything) about his book on Reddit ( and the guy's got a great sense of humour and is pretty damn sharp. Ended up buying his book and am reading it now. I know it's unrelated to your post but I thought I'd plug someone from the greatest generation on their special day.

FDChief said...

Sounds pretty cool, Leon. I think I added a comment on the version of this post that appeared at MilPub is that the biggest difference I see in the guys who served in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam is that they had enemies who were genuinely dangerous - in the tactical sense, at least - and many of them seem to have come away with a sense of humility and some cynical humor about themselves and their experiences (the ones who weren't completely torn apart, that is...)

While the people we've fought over the past 40 years might be dangerous to individuals, there has never really been any serious danger of entire units being overrun, of any significant disasters above the squad level. We've faced no artillery, no enemy air. It's been a series of walkovers, and I think it's harder for the guys to be able to put the ridiculousness of much of military service in perspective. Call it our form of "victory disease".

I'll have to check the guy's stuff out...

Leon said...

I dunno Chief, I've heard that the 23rd Taliban Armoured Division is a fairly lethal formation.

Both men. Lethal.

Anonymous said...

I think our enemies in Afghanistan are very genuinely dangerous....but of course only to the people IN country. WWII's enemies were dangerous to EVERYone; Korea and Viet Nam's foes were not going to cross the ocean to get us, either.

But yes, it is all lip service these days and I am tired of it all.

FDChief said...

Labrys: What I meant by "tactically" dangerous is that we had entire units up to battalion size in Korea and Vietnam that were in danger of, or actually, overrun and "destroyed" in the sense that the Chinese, DPRK, NVA or VC troops completely dominated the ground the two sides stood on and reduced the U.S. units' ability to fight to individuals. And, of course, in WW2 the German Army was able to destroy an entire U.S. infantry division - the 106th - in combat.

The U.S. Army has not fought an enemy since 1972 that has had the capability to threaten even a company-sized U.S. element. Individuals, sure. Squads, platoons, yeah, sometimes, when the dice roll their way. Anything more, no.

And you're right that in terms of NATIONAL survival nobody has really threatened the U.S. since 1945 other than in the nuclear threats inherent in the Cold War - in fact, I'd argue that the last time any organized conventional military force had the potential to genuinely damage the U.S. physically was 1863.

So, yeah, I'm kinda less-then-impressed with our hugely facile veneration of this generation of soldiers combined with our unwillingness to pay any actual taxes to pay for them.


Lisa said...

There seems to be a (willing?) confusion among much of the public that presumes all conflicts the U.S. enters are needful, and therefore, their patriotism is a knee-jerk necessity -- part of being a good citizen.

On Memorial Day, I think of the men in particular who fought two World Wars last century, and wonder what they might think of their country today. I think many would be rolling in their graves.

FDChief said...

Lisa: I dunno. The U.S. fought some pretty nasty little wars between 1865 and 1945. The Portland paper had a feature article last Monday on the 2nd Oregon Volunteers who fought in the Spanish-American War while noting that the boys came home before the beginning of the "Philippine Insurrection", perhaps the nastiest of all of these, and outside of a small subset of the American public the general attitude was that our American Boys were doing a hell of a fine job civilizing those fractious little niggers.

The soldiers of WW1, certainly, and to an extend WW2, weren't exactly a bunch of liberal internationalists. They might be more irritated that we didn't nuke those pesky towelheads 'til they glowed then pick 'em off in the dark...

FDChief said...

I think the WW2 guys, though, would be pretty pissed off at the way we've deliberately turned back to the Gilded Age and oligarchy. The sense I get from my parents, and the artifacts of their immediate post-war world are that most white people expected that the "old" ways of elites and the rich/well-born would give way to a more eqalitarian world and especially a more democratic U.S. (minus those pesky Negroes and beaners, but, hell, you how THEY are...). I think they'd be pretty disgusted with the degree to which the Congress is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American wealthy and corporate interests, and the way the American rich are now able to fully insulate themselves from the rest of the common herd; on that, I tend to agree - the guys buried in the war cemeteries in Belgium and on Okinawa believed they were fighting for an America where their kids would get to be doctors, lawyers, senators, and even Presidents. The sight of a couple of multimillionaires fighting it out to be President of the U.S. probably WOULD sicken them.

Lisa said...

"I think the WW2 guys, though, would be pretty pissed off at the way we've deliberately turned back to the Gilded Age and oligarchy"

Yes, that is the sense which I meant it -- the blatant and shameless, unchecked corporatism.

Podunk Paul said...

Back around ’48, a lady said that she had to write in her vote for Henry Wallace, who wasn’t listed on the ballot. She laughed, deep and throaty like Lauren Bacall, and added that the only pen she could find that day was a red one. The Progressive Party did run black candidates.
God, where have people like that lady, like Frieda Kahlo and her friends gone? Instead we have self-obsessed careerists, fragmentary persons who recognize no social obligation beyond that imposed by their immediate families.