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Myth of the brave soldier

By       Message Mickey Z.     Permalink
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In a recent correspondence, Adam Engel wrote: "One of the greatest myths about America is that it's the 'home of the brave.' Once, perhaps, prior to 1492. Now, it's most likely the greatest collection of cowards in the Milky Way Galaxy." Engel specifically mentioned our lack of response to losing habeas corpus and to being both "subject to eternal imprisonment for liberating animals from vivisection labs" and "complicit in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Afghanis, South and Central Americans, Haitians etc. etc. etc."

He could've also included our acquiescence in a frighteningly broad range of areas, e.g. access to health care, tolerance for voting irregularities, directly funding the Israeli war machine, and stomaching the groupthink behind saluting a flag. Americans talk the talk but when ordered to remove their shoes before going through airport security, it's "yes sir" all the way.

For the purposes of this article I'd like to highlight another area in which American bravery is lacking...an area I have touched on before: supporting the troops. As John Kerry's recent episode demonstrated, one cannot appear to criticize the men and women in uniform without paying a high price. There are many who identify themselves as "anti-war" who will vigorously defend the troops. Even when faced with documented evidence of criminality, Americans still cannot summon the bravery to condemn the military.

The excuse-making typically touches on these two areas:
1. They were just following orders
2. Those who enlist do so for economic reasons

The first line of defense-whether Americans truly buy that line or not-is a flawed argument. Principle I of the Nuremberg Tribunal (1950) states: "Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment." Principle IV adds: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." And please don't get me started on the Geneva Conventions.

As for excuse #2, a recent New York Times editorial put that myth to rest. Authors Tim Kane and Mackenzie Eaglen "analyzed demographic data on every single enlistee, not just a sample, and found that in terms of education, last year's recruits were just as qualified as those of any recent year, and maybe the best ever. Over all, wartime recruits since 1999 are in many respects comparable to the youth population on the whole, except that they are on average a bit wealthier, much more likely to have graduated from high school and more rural than their civilian peers." They also found that youths "from wealthy American ZIP codes are volunteering in ever higher numbers" while "enlistees from the poorest fifth of American neighborhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the last two years, to 13.7 percent. In 1999, that number was exactly 18 percent."

Are some of the American soldiers in Iraq there primarily for economic reasons? Sure. Did others sign up for a chance to shoot some towel heads? Probably. So, after factoring out these two relatively small groups and rejecting the immoral "only following orders" defense, the question remains: Exactly how are the men and women fighting in Iraq immune from any and all blame?

Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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