It is quite simple, whether my Marine acquaintance or any other military person is serving the country depends not on their noble intentions but on the intentions of the President who sends them to one war after another. And the documentation shows that for the most part, our troops are sent not to serve our nation but to serve our "national interests," which simply means our business or corporate interests. All that is needed to show this point is to read the writings of former Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler, or socialist and activist, Helen Keller. Both of them point out that the major beneficiary of our wars and their "service" is business (Butler on interventionism, Butler on war, Keller on war).
We might note that their antiwar musings were prior to WWII. What about afterward? We need only to consult the writings of historian William Blum (see his book entitled Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II) or John Pilger (see his book entitled Freedom Next Time: Resisting The Empire). Pilger's book is especially informative regarding how we create, court, and support questionable parties for economic benefits who later become our enemies. His accounting of our affairs with the Taliban up to the 9-11 attacks, our affairs with members of Al-Qaeda during their battles with the Soviet Union over Afghanistan, and with the Northern Alliance today are most troubling. While we were told that we were liberating Afghanistan, what actually happened is that we gave control of most of that country to the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance is nothing more than a group of warlords whose treatment of women is more brutal than that of the Taliban. That the president we installed in Afghanistan has ties with Unocal, an energy company that now operates under a different name, indicates the same old same old of American interventionism. The concern in Afghanistan is mostly about pipelines that could carry Central Asia's oil and gas resources into our control as was shown by our pre-9/11 courting of the Taliban.
A similar story can be found in Iraq where Saddam Hussein was fully supported by our government even in the building of WMDs that were used on his own people. Hussein was considered to be an important ally throughout the 1980s until he invaded Kuwait. But even afterward, the sanctions imposed only strengthened Hussein's position within his own country and the U.S. gave him permission to put down the Shiite rebellion in 1991. Troops that could have been used to truly liberate Afghanistan and capture Bin Laden were held in reserve for our invasion of Iraq. Though Hussein could be easily and legitimately demonized for his treatment of his own people, our government regarded him as a monster only after his invasion of Kuwait. Then after our invasion in 2003, our troop movements showed that we were more concerned with protecting Iraq's oil resources than with preventing Iraq's arsenal from being looted or its cultural treasures from being stolen. Today, American and British oil companies are vying for contracts to control Iraq's oil reserves.
With a rich history of using the military to support or protect business ventures, we must ask how is it that our troops are automatically serving our country when President sends them?
There is another problem with thanking our troops for their service to this country. Since when does serving involve murder, mayhem and torture. Why is shooting a gun at civilians from other countries service to our country when one wears a uniform but the same is considered criminal and immoral when one is wearing certain colors on our own streets. Doesn't real service consist of running health clinics for the uninsured, working as social workers, teaching children, and so on? Perhaps we have conditioned our society to believe that such selfless helpful actions are not service to our country when the recipients are our own poor and needy. At least we can all agree that the police and firemen do serve our country.
In any case, being conditioned to thank our troops for their service is a way of managing society into not to questioning our President's use of the military. The valor of our troops is constantly being used as a moral shield to protect our foreign policies from serious questioning. And this is done despite our history of interfering with both other people's rights to self-rule and our habit of creating future enemies by using those who are morally and, sometimes, mentally insane as today's allies.
But does not thanking our troops for their service imply we should spit in their faces? Certainly NOT! Just as our troops valor does not imply that the president's policies are just, our unjust foreign policies do not imply that our troops have no valor. Many of our troops have noble intent and their willingness to risk their lives, even when there are no battles to fight, is honorable. They deserve respect for that. However, their willingness to unquestionably follow the orders of their Commander In-Chief should be questioned as well. So I said to my Marine friend, who also had a similar religious background to mine, did he know that one can paraphrase Augustine's 4th chapter of his 4th book from his City Of God by saying that a nation without justice is nothing more than a gang. Again this goes back to why the troops are sent in the first place. If our President sends our troops into action for some economic benefit, then it is the President who is relegating the actions of our troops to be nothing more than gang warfare. One should only note the correlation between motorcycle gangs and ex-military personnel. One should also note the sense of honor and camaraderie that gang members feel as they go into their battles ready to protect each other. So whether our nation's battles are nothing more than gang warfare does not depend on the noble intent of our troops but on the real reasons why the President sends them.
In addition, I told my Marine acquaintance that once one is put in a war, anyone of us is capable of committing atrocities. That applies to peacenics like me and to Marines with noble intent like him. War can so quickly change us because it can so easily overwhelm us. We can all too soon find ourselves in impossible dilemmas for which the survivor from a battle can suffer for years and years from the psychological and moral scars caused by his or her actions. This is a point that Chris Hedges all too clearly makes in some of his articles (see Chris Hedges on War and Amnesia and War is a hate-crime). At this point, none of us who work for peace can pretend to be better than anyone who is in the military. Given the horrors of war, any of us could turn into crazed animals.
The last thing I said to my Marine acquaintance was to keep safe. Each of our troops is a person who is made in the image of God just as each of us who work for peace. They deserve respect and care simply because they are people. Though we might disagree with their missions and actions, we should want them to be safe. I told my Marine acquaintance that two times. Once at the close of our first conservation and when I was leaving the reception. My hope is that he does keep safe and that he rethinks what he is doing in the Marines.