Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The American Military Machine: a Force for Good or for Evil?

When I was a child, everything I loved was violent. I read and subscribed to multiple military history magazines. Since I was home schooled, I don't remember grades so much as I remember phases of interest, and those I remember with clarity. There was an American Revolution phase, but ever the Anglophile, I didn't like having Britain as the enemy, so I focused on the French & Indian War. There was a World War I phase, an American Civil War phase which lasted quite a long time, and a World War II phase which, arguably, left the biggest impression on me. The only distinct field of interest that could compare to my military interest was of Disney animation.

I will make no guesses why, exactly, but my choice of fiction was usually picked from a generation or two in front of me. I read original Hardy Boys books, Doc Savage, Tarzan and Lone Ranger pulp books and Batman and Superman comic books. I remember that I used to feel frustrated when the heroes failed to kill the villains. They specifically set out to disarm or disable their opponent rather than use lethal force. I remember enjoying Tarzan for his particularly brutal deaths, but those books were exceptions.

I a violence-loving child. Maybe we all are. Maybe that's part of our wild animal heritage. When we got Lux home from the breeder (something I no longer condone, by the way - adopt a shelter dog!) she was only 8 weeks old, and the first thing she did was to pounce on a toy and give it a terrifying death shake. She had very little experience at being alive, yet one of her first instincts was to kill. So maybe it's a part of our DNA.

All of that eventually leads to my main point:

A few days ago I tweeted some dissatisfaction with the military. I felt compelled to retract some of those thoughts, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with my original sentiment. The military may be important and vital in protecting our interests, but it seems to me that our current military has strayed very far from that goal. It is clear (to me it seems more than obvious) that our military is far bigger than it needs to be to simply protect our borders. Our military is expeditionary; it is designed to build an empire.

Do we need a military presence in Afghanistan? Iraq? Libya? Japan? South Korea? Germany? England? No, we do not. To those of us on this side of our weapons, our military is just an industry. To those on the other side, it is an oppression, a threat and a danger. I understand the allure of a strong military, but I sincerely believe that it is completely unnecessary and extremely harmful. This whole idea came from movies, where the military - often even the US Military - is the primary villain. With only a handful of testosterone-fueled exceptions, the military is portrayed negatively in film, and I think that this is a fair reflection of reality. When military force is good, it's because times are terrible and everything else to that point has failed. Times aren't that bad right now. We aren't under attack. In every case, we are the aggressors. We are the villains in other people's war stories.

Now that our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have reached the decade mark, Americans are increasingly unhappy with the wars. Yet there is a strong compulsion to support the troops. I do agree with this - I do not bear any serviceman or servicewoman ill will. I mourn the loss of life, although I firmly reject the idea that those who have been wounded or killed did so 'protecting freedom.' Their sacrifice was for nothing because nothing good has come of these wars.

As I said at the top, I understand the impulse to go to war. I am enamored with the trappings and sexiness of the military, I love the heritage and history, the stories of courage and nobility and sacrifice. Wars may make good stories, but they make a terrible reality.


Ed said...

Nice post, not much to say other than I agree wholeheartedly. Here is a list of countries without a military Of particular note is Mauritius which has invested in social programs and people rather than military, with good results.

Anonymous said...

I am sometimes confronted with the moral question of how to think about my friends who are soldiers.

I find it hard to condone killing someone you do not know, just because your boss told you to.

And even for those soldiers who do their jobs out of a sense of duty, how much difference is there between them and a terrorist? We all have our ideas of how the world should be, but killing someone else is not something you can take back.

And yet, I know many who have gone through the military and still seem like decent enough people. How does one make sense of such matters?