Today is known in the US as Veteran's Day, but before 1954 was known as Armistice Day, the latter honoring WWI veterans and the former a celebration of veterans of all US wars.1 This change came as a result of WWII veteran Raymond Weeks, who hatched the first "National Veteran's Day" celebration in 1947 and led a successful delegation to US President Eisenhower to make the rhetorical change. (source wikipedia)
What I am reflecting upon this year is the notion that veterans of US foreign conflicts are to be "celebrated" at all. What makes this occupation so noble that it is to be honored with three national holidays over the course of the year, and indeed on a daily basis for those who are vehemently supportive of the US military? Anyone who watches sports regularly is indoctrinated constantly with the "support the troops" mentality, as most of these events include military honor guards and sometimes even giant displays of "patriotism." Many times one will encounter a sign in a business to this effect, and more than enough vehicles are pasted with bumper stickers which either say "support the troops" or an emblems which proudly display the branch of the military which the driver or someone they know is working for. Suffice to say, over the course of one's daily life here in the US, it is almost impossible to avoid contact with such propaganda.
However, the question remains: what is it about this occupation which earns it such constant and unquestioned devotion? Why don't we see more bumper stickers which say "support the grocery clerks" and "thank the garbage men"? In fact, try to thank someone who is working at a business you are patronizing for their service, and watch as they give you a blank stare with a confused "you're welcome". Although the services one utilizes in daily life are crucial to a sense of normalcy (having a place to buy food and the removal of garbage) the employees who put forth the effort to make these services available are not revered or honored as heros, much less with giant displays at sporting events such as the photo above. No one sheds tears for the "sacrifice" many have suffered in the service of providing goods and services demanded in the marketplace.
The elephant in the room here is the notion that without US troops engaged in constant warfare, there would be no sense of normalcy. Indeed, the most fervent supporters of the US military often times say that without endless warmongering, "we would all be speaking German"!2 Another popular phrase is "freedom isn't free". Even many who are emphatically anti-war will concede that they support the troops,
especially in light of the bad treatment many Vietnam War veterans
received upon return from that war. However, in order to investigate the validity of the these claims (that without perpetual war and interventionism in other nation's affairs, the US would not be a "free" country- therefore, the troops are engaged in a noble cause and are to be revered), one must sort through this imperialistic philosophy logically and without emotional bias.
In peeling this onion, one must consider the presumption that US military actions are designed to repel enemies who seek to take control and "do us harm". This notion is perhaps as old as time as a plea by rulers to a citizen's sense of security in daily life, thus "protecting the country" is the typical stated justification for those who decide to join the military.3 However, rulers necessarily have a vested interest in maintaining the illusion that its citizens live in the "greatest country in the world" and that any fundamental change in the nature of power would yield undesirable or at least uncertain results. Thus, it is difficult to imagine how rulers could separate themselves from their own interest to maintain power in a benevolent act of purity such as the appeal for the "security of the nation".
Indeed, when discussing matters of foreign policy, intellectuals and leaders incessantly refer to the abstract concept of "our strategic interests and obligations around the globe". This terminology is so pervasive in the rhetoric used by war-mongers to justify various actions, and so rare is the appeal to security of the citizenry, that one must ask, who's "interest and obligations" are they referring to? As those who are mere citizens do not typically oblige themselves to matters in other nations, it is apparent that the power structure of the nation has simply postulated this concept on its citizenry. Clearly, when referring to these conflicts, the use of the word "our" is more appropriately viewed as not the citizens of the nation, but rather the powerful interest groups who parasitically utilize the citizenry as a source of funding and cannon-fodder to further entrench their control of resources world wide. The "enemies" who are created to justify such intervention are likely just unfortunate enough to have been born in a geographical area which contains something these interest groups seek to exploit. It is hard to imagine how such dastardly ends could be achieved absent the means of the coercive power of the state to extract and subsidize them with financial and human capital.
So, rather than providing a secure life for the citizens of the nation, the role of the soldier is, in actuality, to provide a secure profit for companies who seek to exploit resources from an area which is currently out of their control. The soldier is also working for what Bob Dylan termed the "Masters of War"- those companies which "build the death plains...(and)...build all the bombs." Committing such atrocities does not "make us safer", rather it increases the likelihood of retaliation by those who are attacked and, thus, is counterproductive in that it makes life in the nation of the warmonger less secure. Soldiers, however unwittingly, are therefore responsible for not only the destruction they participate in while warring, but are in their actions sowing the seeds for future conflicts to arise.
For this reason, those bestowing "honor" on soldiers are really making a mockery of the word. Far more honor can likely be found in the innocent civilians of warring countries, who have been murdered in the hundreds of millions in the twentieth century, and, indeed throughout history by soldiers and their masters. Here's to hoping that in the future, there will be less veterans!
*Published in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in hopes for a peaceful future on this planet.
1. It is of note that the concept of "Veteran's Day" is a redundancy, considering that Memorial Day had been practiced for identical purposes since the mid 1800s. But one can never be too redundant in honoring "those who served."
2. Lately, some trade the word "German" for "Arabic" as an attempt to stay fashionable with the current "enemy".
3. However, many of the enlistments after 9/11 were not embarked upon in an attempt to "protect the nation" from an enemy that was perceived to be a threat to actually overthrow the US government. Indeed, the idea that Muslim terrorists could undertake such an action would have been, even at that time of great chaos and confusion, a silly notion. Rather, many of these enlistments were undertaken to participate for the ignoble cause of revenge.