More on War

What if politicians had to actually fight the wars they waged? And what if we honored actual heroes – both military and otherwise – instead of proclaiming anyone in a uniform, and no one out of one, a hero? Good questions from the authors of the following two pieces I came across since writing my Veteran’s Day post.

In this piece, Frederick Buechner asserts that things might be different if the actual people in power, the ones making the decisions that push young soldiers around like pawns, had to fight too.

And here, David Masciotra asks us to reserve our hero worship for actual heroes, within and outside of the military.

Veterans deserve care and respect from their nation’s citizens, and sometimes – many times in recent years, I believe this includes citizens speaking out against the endless wars that produce so many veterans – and flag-draped coffins – in the first place.

12 Comments

  1. You actually cite David Maciotra writing for the liberal cesspool, Salon to lend support to your view? Really? I don’t think that every military person is a hero either, but this clown’s viewpoint went completely over the top – the only reason he is able to have freedom to write such tripe is because both the military and police directly and indirectly protect him.
    I agree that there are always a certain percentage of bad apples in every profession, but to insult the vast majority of sincere individuals in a job that most of us are unqualified to do, is completely disingenuous.

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for reading and commenting.

      I don’t know anything about the author of the article, or very much about Salon either. I do know that my views tend towards the label “liberal,” so I guess this article rang true with me because I fit the profile.

      I have read Masciotra’s article at least three times now, most recently with your comments in mind, because while I freely admit my biases, conscious and subconscious, I do try to steer clear of stuff that I just don’t find helpful or open to conversation.

      Numerous times, the author states that not all soldiers or police officers are heroes. But not once did I get the sense that he was “insult[ing] the vast majority of sincere individuals” in these professions. On the contrary, he was advocating for veterans to be cared for, for less recruiting of young people, for conversations about foreign policy so our soldiers don’t have to fight, suffer and die in senseless wars.

      And he referred to what he termed the “epidemic” of brutality and abuse happening among police and soldiers. I can see room for debate about whether this is an epidemic or not, but I still don’t see that as insulting the vast majority of people in these lines of work. Again, I see it as a concern that includes supporting actual soldiers and police officers.

      This is tough and important stuff to wrestle with, especially for me as I have school-aged children who I am trying to teach to be both respectful and thoughtful about these things; and as you say, so much about our free and privileged lives as U.S. citizens can be attributed to our nation’s military actions.

      Again, thanks for engaging here; I am always grateful for conversations around my blog posts!

      • Good Morning Julia,

        Thank you for both reading and responding so graciously to my comment.

        As I noted in my comment, I would agree with his main idea that we shouldn’t just make hero’s out of all military and all police because of their profession.

        I also agree with you in that we shouldn’t unthinkingly accept the glorious patriotic, America does no wrong mindset that is presented by various factions either.

        A few years ago, I read a history book written by an Indian author who gave the Indian view of how well America kept it’s treaties, and how they were viewed by the Indian tribes. It was rather eye opening to me, and I realized that the history tripe I’d been blue-printed by in school was not balanced, nor did it give an accurate picture of what happened. It painted a rosy picture of our country that was untrue. But, the book created a nice, tidy package of ‘American history’ that created a false sense of patriotism I think.

        It strikes me that a parallel might be made between an incomplete slanted history and the type religious fundamentalism that synthesizes a nice tidy package of ‘this is who God is, this is how you should believe to be truly spiritual, and acceptable to us good ‘ol boys in the church’ And it would have very little to do with who God is, what it means to relate, believe, understand, and live in the Spirit.

        Random, unrelated comment – you and your hubby live out here in Colorado now I think from your blog? That’s quite a nice change from cold Minnesota!

        Have a great week!

        Kelly

        • Kelly and Julia – As an outside observer, I was impressed with your interaction. You began in an oppositonal posture, focused on broad positions and citing people and their politics. But you quickly came to a profitible discussion and advanced a valuable discussion because you found common ground on which to move ahead. IF ONLY our friends inside the D.C. Beltway could learn from you!

        • Thanks for sharing these further thoughts Kelly! It’s interesting to me how both “liberal” and “conservative” thinkers can oppose blind and unthinking allegiance to our government and military, and I think that’s worth discussing across assumed political divides.

          Yes, Nathan and I are Coloradans now! We’ve been here in Loveland for about a year and a half. Loving the sunshine and daily views of the mountains!

    • “The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.”

      This is, of course, the thesis of Mr. Maciotra’s article. It is a solid thesis, and, I think, dead accurate. I don’t know why it is an “over the top” viewpoint. Adding to what I commented here originally, part of what distinguishes the new patriotism, which is concerned with America as a nation (and a nation is something that really only exists in relation to other nations,) rather than America as a republic, is its cult-like attention to military, flag, red white and blue bunting, Sousa, Lee Greenwood, etc.

      You wrote: “The only reason he is able to have freedom to write such tripe is because both the military and police directly and indirectly protect him.”

      Wrong. It is not the military that protects Maciotra’s freedom to write tripe. The First Amendment is what protects this right. In all of the foreign wars during the last 100 years, this right has never seen a single external threat. The only threat to this right has come internally, often from those who seek to stifle citizens who criticize American meddling in the rest of the world. It is a little remembered fact that thousands of critics of the Wilson administration were locked up for exercising their right to free speech.

  2. From the Salon article: “Americans…should do everything they can to discourage young, poor and working-class men and women from joining the military.” It is true that JFK saw combat in WWII, and FDR’s son (sons?) saw action as well, I think Eisenhower’s kid may have fought. Today of course this does not happen. Still, the point is correct that war is a political decision, made mostly by those who will not suffer for it. I wish Americans knew that foreign war is not some venerable old time value in this country. The opposite is true. We did not involve ourselves in the rest of the world till the turn of the 20th century, and this attitude was central to the original idea of the American Republic.

    Received history tells us we were “dragged” into these conflicts, that we had no choice but to step onto the world stage. This is not true. In each case, even WWII, war was a choice. McKinley chose to fight Spain and take the Philippines, thus paving the way for empire and conflict with Europe via China. Wilson, contrary to what scrubbed history says, dragged a kicking and screaming citizenry into WWI. WWII is tougher, I mean Pearl Harbor, right? True, but FDR had been antagonizing Japan all through the 30’s, and began “preparedness” speeches as early as 1936 or 37. We were in Korea because of a rapidly, haphazardly cobbled together foreign policy that declared any Communist success, no matter where, imperiled the west. Vietnam? LBJ promised “no war in Asia,” instead a “war on poverty,” then was reelected and promptly started a war in Asia and abandoned the “war on poverty.”

    W. Bush planned war with Iraq before 911, which had nothing to do with Iraq anyway. Then he began torturing people. Obama, of course, is much better, he doesn’t torture people, he just assassinates them. Oh, forgot that benevolent old criminal, Reagan. Well, another time.

    George Washington’s famous farewell address warned the country against foreign entanglements. Monroe set up an explicit plan to stay out of such entanglements, which the republic followed for most of the 19th century. John Quincy Adams, while extolling American freedom at home, likewise reminded Americans that “we do not go out searching for monsters to destroy.”

    And there is a large point we should notice, that as our foreign policy “exports” democracy abroad, it undercuts liberty at home. All for nothing, except the confused patriotism of our cult of flag and nation, a cult that requires the blood “sacrifice” of “poor and working class” kids. And those of us that don’t die in these conflicts suffer as well, as we are constantly terrified, cynical, angry–but always “patriotic”–beset citizens of American Empire.

    • Thanks for the little history summary. Your comment, as usual, makes me want to read more!

      I remember learning about the Monroe Doctrine in school, and thinking it was a selfish policy. In those years, I was very pro-military, and it was mainly because I heard stories of people around the world suffering, and I thought our big strong military could fix the pain. At that time it was Somalia, and what’s crazy is I can remember writing in my school newspaper that I thought the US should send troops to Somalia to help end the war and famine there – and being called a “bleeding-heart liberal” for my view.

      It’s always hard to stand by and watch others suffer, and I like to think that most politicians, at least early in their careers, have meant well when they’ve sent troops off to war all over the globe. But I also believe that the richer we become as a nation, the more we have at stake, and so we keep pumping money into our military, and we’ve got to keep the machine well-oiled, protect what’s ours – so sometimes we make up – or at least exaggerate – stories about monsters and weapons of mass destruction. (And a Nobel Peace Prize winner assassinates a criminal without bringing him to trial.)

      • You wrote: “I like to think that most politicians, at least early in their careers, have meant well when they’ve sent troops off to war all over the globe.”

        I don’t think so, Julia. At least not “meant well” in the way I think you mean, “meant well.” Wilson is a great example of “meaning well,” so long as you include the idea of being a world savior in your idea of “meaning well.” In our history books we learn that Wilson “tried to keep us out of war.” The truth is there was absolutely no reason to be in that war, and the vast majority of Americans were dead set against it. Wilson suffered from severe vainglory and a lofty, delusional commitment to bring about eternal world peace…and most important in his fantasies was the vision of him presiding over this peace process; indeed, this was his primary reason for steering us into the war: to be the bringer of peace. Did he have visions of world peace? Sure, but who cares. 110,000 young Americans died in the trenches so Wilson could have his League of Nations?

        Of course reality quickly set in at Versailles, and the story of Wilson’s undoing is worth understanding…and as such it has been completely scrubbed from the history books.

        Also instructive is LBJ and his reelection. It is established fact, since the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, that LBJ was planning war even while telling Americans he would not wage war in Asia.

        I’ve probably written too much already, so I wont begin too discuss WHY I think we have waged war (beyond what I’ve said about Wilson’s motives)…but you certainly have guessed I don’t think it has anything to do with “making the world safe for democracy” or alleviating suffering, as you recall yourself thinking years ago regarding Somalia.

        I only hope people, regardless of their politics, will ask that question: why; and that they will look past received cant and apologist history for answers.

        • Actually, I think I would include the idea of being a world savior in my definition of “meaning well.” And I don’t disagree about that being a delusional perspective. But that’s sort of what I’m getting at – a politician deluding him/herself that they are sacrificing armies of young citizens for “the greater good,” whether that’s world peace, democracy, protection of liberty, or whatever else said politician believes (or at least has convinced self) is the ultimate aim of their chosen military action.

          But over the course of their careers, I think at least some politicians, including presidents, may actually stop being self-deluded, and become hardened to the truth of why they are waging war, or why they are allowing the war machine to continue rolling on. Which I am guessing is at least partially about corruption at multiple levels of government, and at the back of all that, a nebulous system of fear and power-grabbing that can’t truly be pinned on any one person.

          What would you recommend for a starting-point for further reading? I’ve had Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States on my shelf for an embarrassingly long time now without having read it. I’m assuming that might be a good start. What else specifically related to Wilson and World War I?

          • Oh dear, Julia, you have asked me to write more, you must tell me to STOP writing…I fear I am wearing out my welcome. If I am ever too emotional, or if I ever descend into insult or ad hominim promise me you will delete my posts and send a curt note…but saying that…

            Howard Zinn’s book is a breeze, worth reading, and most of what he says I generally agree with. Zinn is, of course, considered a complete leftist, so if you tend to those sensibilities the book will unfold easily. It is an overview history, a place to view 400 years of history in a snapshot…but this is fine, as you read you may find places of interest to investigate further. There was an apologist, some would say “conservative” answer to Zinn, called “The Patriot’s History of the United States,” I have it on my shelf but have not read it, only because I no longer read broad histories. But you may want to consider reading them together, to get the whole “political spectrum.” You could also read Jame’s Truslow Adams “Epic of America,” published in the 30’s, the book responsible for the then neologism “American Dream,” a phrase which I saw used anachronistically in Downton Abbey, but I digress…anyway, it is an “overview” history as well, but Adams is a better writer than Zinn and most other such histories I have skimmed.

            But after doing that (and now I will begin to preach), I would love you to consider alternate histories, histories that I think are rooted in objective reality and not ideology or “schools” of philosophical attitudes toward history. What I mean is this: Zinn, and so many others like him, are leftists, they generally understand power in this country as being a question of economics. The “money power” controls politicians, whether we are talking about Wall Street or the Military Industrial Complex, better stated, I think, as the “Permanent War Economy.” These individuals owe a great deal to Marx and his teachings on economic power in a capitalist system as well as his ideas of class organization. Fox News is right, you will find this sort of thinking dominant in universities. Right now I am reading a wonderful, enraged leftist book, titled “History of the Great American Fortunes” by Gustavus Myers. It is valuable for its detailed study of the super rich from the Dutch settlements in New Amsterdam (now New York) up till the early 20th century, when the book was published (it is true, behind every fortune is a crime). Myers is mostly Marxist, understanding wealth as being fundamental to understanding power in American history. And of course we hear this today, with all we know about money invading politics, Citizen’s United, etc. Money dominates politics, right? Everything is bought and sold, right?

            Maybe.

            Apologist history tends to regard the past through a sort of misty nostalgia, understanding the American past as a series of triumphs, understanding growing GDP as the great reason for being in the US. And of course obnoxious ideas like “Manifest Destiny” still resonate, though not said explicitly, in these histories. With setbacks of course, how do you talk about wiping out an indigenous population in an apologetic fashion? Reading my children’s school textbooks, it is true they make obeisance to Native Americans, to slaves, to child laborers, to women, to exploited immigrants…but the narrative is still unfailingly heroic. American leaders, in received history, may have blundered, but were mostly good men doing the best they could.

            Thus the bizarre nostalgia on the right for Bill Clinton…thus Obama’s warm and fuzzy recollections of Reagan’s destructive presidency, not to mention Reagan’s sainthood status on the right. Thus the press’s buzz about W. Bush’s new, almost certainly hagiographic book about his father. May I predict something on your blog? I predict that Obama will finish his presidency very unpopular, as did Bush, and that in a few years historians, culture vultures, the press, opinion makers of every kind, will begin to remember him warmly…he will enter the pantheon of ex-presidents and be worshiped as most of the other ex-presidents are worshiped. There will be photo ops of Obama and W., ostensible political and ideological enemies, engaged in some ex-presidential project. Perhaps they will have dinner together as Clinton and H.W Bush reportedly have done.

            There are different approaches, some that fall into “libertarian” history, some “anarchist,” and you will find endless subsets of these and other classes of history. You could read C. Wright Mills for a compelling argument that there exists a “Power Elite”, a supercitizenry, that controls the masses. Read Marx, and you realize that economics and class explain corruption and misery in the capitalist system. Read Michael Moore or Sean Hannity if you want to understand what people who are not thinking are thinking (I’m cribbing Jon Stewart there, if memory serves, and yes, I regard Hannity as worse than Moore…).

            For me, a turning point was reading a guy named Walter Karp. He was truly an alternative historian, beholden to nobody, and a brilliant writer. He was a radical Jeffersonian, a crazy man who who believed that America was founded to be a republic: that it is the people, via representative government and subordinate to the law, that are sovereign. And he judged political history solely based on the recorded deeds of powerful men…he did not “interpret” history through some philosophical or ideological lens. After reading him, the two-party system fell apart in front of my eyes…I no longer “waste my vote” on either of them. After Karp I read stuff that Karp read: Jefferson and Madison, Henry Adams, Thucydides, Gibbon (Gibbon in pieces, of course), many more. The key, Julia, I think, is to determine where power comes from. Karp has an answer that resonates no matter what time or place I am reading about: collusive politics, not money, determines events. His is a thrilling thesis, and I have never read the newspaper the same since chasing down his thought. I just reread Karp’s “Indispensable Enemies” as a refresher, and in order to put the recent midterm elections in perspective.

            It is also possible that the Illuminati control everything, what’s up with the one dollar bill?

            All right, enough of this, thanks again for indulging me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s