I grew up in a military family. My father is a retired, decorated, Air Force Colonel and Command Pilot. He literally flew tens of thousands of hours during his career. 128 of his missions were in combat or combat support over South East and South West Asia in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Iraq. I also grew up in the 60's and 70's in an era when it wasn't cool to be in or associated with, the military. By 1972 our country was already reeling from an unpopular war. Anti-sentiment for the military and the people serving in same was at an all time high, perhaps even its apex. Although I never served in the military, I know first hand the animosity and distrust many Americans felt towards the armed forces because I spent the vast majority of my childhood living on and near Air Force bases throughout the United States. To me this is a scary thought: That our country reached its apex of anti-military sentiment so long ago.
Although on the surface, it may seem as though I am anti-military, based upon the above statements, the fact is, I am not anti-military. For one, the military payroll put food on the table in the houses I grew up in, put clothes on my back, and a roof over my head. Today, the military provides my parents with a comfortable pension. The military has a role and a purpose, I get this, I understand this, and I respect this. But what I don't understand is what has become, in my eyes, a nation of people who put the military on a pedestal and treat it like a deity. Something is wrong and I can't quite put my finger on it. I have my suspicions. At the forefront of my thinking is my stanch belief that our nation is afraid. We are afraid of terrorism, we are afraid of "the smoking gun of a mushroom cloud" over one of our cities (thank you George W Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Bremer, and most members of the 107th Congress) If I didn't know any better, I'd say our "government" has us right where "it" wants us, scared and afraid of that which might do us harm. It seems preposterous, yet for all I see and hear, I have no better explanation for the reasons why we have come to hero worship our military as we do. I do believe there is a correlation between our fear of what might happen and our military's ability to prevent all things bad. Simply put, our country is in love with the military. If you don't believe me, watch any sporting event on television for 30 minutes; rest assured, some form of praise, some act of gratitude, some reference to our men and women in uniform, will air within that span of time.
Although I have held certain beliefs regarding how the vast majority of the nation's citizenry, today, view the military, I had a clarion moment not too long ago, which crystallized my position. I attended a retirement ceremony for a co-worker. It was a typical event, a hosted lunch, some drinks, warm and thoughtful speeches of thanks to her for all the hard work she has contributed on the job over the years. And then, something really odd occurred when it came time for the guest of honor to speak. She did a great job reflecting on her career, her family and friends and coworkers, and how much she had enjoyed working with all of us. She then mentioned that she was a child of the sixties, and I thought to myself "ok, that's cool"""..but where is she going with this". What happened next was truly remarkable. Not so much for what she said, but why she said what she said. She asked everyone in the room who served in the armed forces, to stand up and take a round of applause. They did and all in attendance applauded, myself included. This, of course, is a very nice gesture; we as a nation, should always remain grateful to the men and woman who serve our country. We owe them a debt of gratitude and they do in fact protect and defend our freedoms against tyrannical governments and those who mean to do us harm.
But her words resonated with me for a very different reason. It occurred to me our nation has lost its sense of balance in how we view our military. If a one-time peace loving hippy (and that is indirectly what my coworker implied she was) is willing to take time out from her own retirement party, to thank those who she might genuinely have loathed some 40 years ago, it speaks volumes about the shift our country has made regarding the United States Military and how we perceive and value them, societally. It seemed to me she was giving thanks to those who served, out of a sense of guilt about the way she had felt, so long ago. Although I felt compelled to tell her not to feel guilty about how she once felt about her government, her country, and the military, I did not. She did, however, really open my eyes to the love fest that has taken hold between the general population and our military.
In 1975, when I was 12 years old, the United States government, after almost 16 years of military presence/occupation in some form or other, withdrew its last remaining troops from Vietnam. From 1975 to 1990, the Cold War notwithstanding, our country lived in relative peace. For those old enough to remember this time period, have you stopped to reminisce about what it was like back then, back in the day when we weren't in a hot war? You know, it wasn't such a bad thing""""peace. I'm not a dreamer, I'm not a pacifist (and that's the part that really scares me-that I believe how I believe now, about this issue, given my general "I'll kick your ass attitude" about the world in which we live) the world wasn't perfect, the U.S. had its share of problems then, as it does now, but at least we weren't off killing people in other countries, for reasons that seem to me, to be less than justifiable. A lot less. We weren't a bully nation. Well, least we weren't as blatant about it then, as we are now. More important, we didn't have then, what for all intents in purposes and which borders on societal lock-step support, "our military can do no wrong", dogma, that suffuses today. I'm not comparing my beloved country today, to 1937 Germany, but our adoration of the military is disconcerting, to say the least. We seem to relish being the world's butt kickers without thinking about the consequences for the safety of our country in the long run. The end game.
During the period I mention above, we most certainly invaded Grenada to purge a military coup from power and restore a Constitutional Government, we invaded Panama to depose a dictator who finally pissed off one too many politicians, and we maintained a presence (not necessarily physical) in places like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, to ensure our best interests were served. All in all, we, the United States of America, lived in relative peace. No hot wars were waged.
Since 1990, our country has stepped into one hot war after another. We had a brief respite during the Clinton Administration, our direct involvement in conflict was minimal (Kosovo and Somalia). I'm not going to argue that any particular war is necessary or unnecessary, just or unjust, moral or immoral. Those arguments have been debated and discussed, and will continue to be debated and discussed ad nausea.
What bothers me, what sits in my gut and makes me wonder what's wrong with our country, is what seems to me, to be a universal, blind faith, almost evangelical reverence to our military machine. Not enough of we the people, are asking questions like: Why are we still in Afghanistan? Why are we now drumming the beat of war in Iran? Can you hear it softly in the distance, I sure can. Why are we spending ourselves into oblivion on war, when so much is wrong here at home?
What happened to the country I grew up in where people were willing to take a stand and say enough is enough? We are so far removed from civil disobedience I'm not sure anyone under the age of 35 knows its meaning. For most people, the thought of any act of civil disobedience is met, I believe, with an immediate thought of police intervention with pepper spray and batons. We are all so feared up about what may happen to us, we are letting our freedoms slip right through our fingers. Don't step out of line and question America's military, because you will be squashed. That seems to be the underlying tone in the United States today.
Some may argue against this article and say, what about occupy wall street? Aren't they representative of some form of civil disobedience? Well, yes, I agree, there is a certain level of social defiance underway. But here's the problem with OWS, it's all about people wanting a greater share of monetary wealth. It is a sidebar of capitalism. It is a safe bet, that same group of people, when it comes to the military, are in line with the beliefs held by the vast majority of our citizenry: the military gets a pass when it comes to scrutiny, mission and purpose. Furthermore, those who control the military, are getting a pass as well.
I am not a rebel rouser, I don't think one should stir the pot, simply to make circles. But the apathy I see and bear witness with my own eyes and ears, is chilling. I think people genuinely believe all of our military causes are just. I'm personally not convinced of this. Yet, it seems to me, today, if one so much as questions our military and the global role it plays, and said questions appear to be in disagreement with a pervasive hero worshipping status quo, you are quickly labeled anti-American. There is something incredibly wrong with this behavior and lack of forethought.
Forget about the cost of our military, forget about the people who serve, forget about all the TV tributes, but don't forget about why we have a military, what its purpose is, and what its original intent was: to defend our country from sworn enemies and to combat actual or perceived threats. We, as a nation, have placed entirely too much emphasis on the role our military plays in our world. Our collective nation's reverence to our war complex is quite frankly, galling.
How we have come to be as we are, is difficult to understand. It does appear to be, the perfect snow job; a calculated, blatant use of propaganda rivaled historically by Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. We are headed down a path which will only serve to destruct the way of life we love. The very liberty we blindly assume our military is helping to safe keep, is under attack. The perpetrators are the media, big business, small business, non-profits, for-profits, youth groups, the old, the young, the middle aged, the poor, the rich, the middle, both major political parties, and the continued dumbing down of not one but now two generations of Americans, who seem to have lost the ability to think and reason critically. It seems there are fewer and fewer people willing to question what is going on in their own Country.
If you give the bulk of Americans: fast food, the latest ipod, a wireless phone, a flat screen TV, a car made in Japan, make sure a Walmart is within driving distance to buy and consume all that is made in China, and a roof over head, the masses are sated.
The American people are sold, lock, stock and barrel (pun intended). War is in, and the military is a cool, popular, hip, institution. The United States Armed Forces should never be anything more than a machine that is used in defense of this country. It should not be popularized and it should not be disliked, it should just be. Yet, collectively, we tout our military like a smash hit on Broadway, we love it like it was a family member, and we revere it like a fresh painted white church on a hill. The military clearly serves a purpose, but it is not, should not, and must not be viewed as the guiding light for our salvation that is seems to me, it has come to represent for many in this country. Dare I state, the vast majority of my countrymen are blind faithed by our military? If all we do is praise and support, without also some measure of scrutiny, question, and how, why and when to use our military, then what we have become as a country, to some degree, is what we have always fought against.
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