Earlier in the week some guy named David Masciotra writing at the failed group blog, Salon, garnered a lot of attention and page views for himself and his employer by trolling the internet via a diatribe titled You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy. Once you dig through the obligatory, leftwing gibberish (stuff like “frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism” which could originate in any Women’s Studies program in any private liberal arts college in the nation) he has a few points that deserve serious consideration.
The English speaking world has always had a schizophrenic relationship with military service. In 1632, the English poet Francis Quarles made a trenchant observation on how England viewed its soldiers and God. The original writing is unfriendly to the 21 century ear, so I’ll quote the modern rendering:
God and the soldier, all men adore
In time of danger and not before
When the danger is passed and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.
This relationship was transplanted to the Colonies though without the social tradition of sending second sons into the Army which has always led to a certain level of disdain for anyone who would engage in the profession of arms. The young republic was nearly overthrown in a military coup (the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783) and only saved by the personal intervention of George Washington. One of my ancestors did not receive final payment for his service in the America Revolution until the early 1850s (it being a moral victory for him as his suit was pressed by his second wife). Civil War veterans were hastily demobilized and newspapers and popular fiction featured the opium addicted, criminally inclined veteran in a rather stunning preview of how veterans were viewed after Vietnam.
Up until World War II, when the massive draft of manpower necessary to defeat fascism made it more likely that the average citizen knew someone who had military service, the verb “to soldier” meant to loaf. If you want a great look at the sociology of the “old” Army before it was forever swept away by World War II and the Cold War you can do much worse than James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.”
Indeed, the modern place held in society by veterans is something that is very new to America and reflects the experience of World War II. Before WW II there was no GI Bill, no VA Home Loans, no job protections for reservists, to veterans preference in Civil Service hiring. Even the patronage machine that was the Grand Army of the Republic was never able to install a system of care and benefits for military veterans vaguely approximating that which bloomed in the aftermath of WW II.
As near as I can tell Masciotra makes three points.
The military, and the people serving in it do not protect his, or anyone else’s, freedom.
This is patent nonsense. You would have to be some kind of feminized hipster douchebag to think that living in an age where our nation is not under direct threat is an accident. Though there is a burgeoning industry in academia right now intent on convincing everyone that the Cold War ended because of some slip of the tongue by an East German apparatchik, the fact is that the military has an integral role in preserving not only our personal freedoms but ensuring a stability in the international system that allows goods, services, and people to be used most efficiently. For Masciotra, history begins sometime around 2003 and because we are under no threat from the Taliban then the military is useless.
The military are not heroes.
I don’t have a problem with this, mostly. Rudyard Kipling, in one of the half dozen or so poems I have committed to memory, observes:
Well, we aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
We’re just single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
I think the generic referral to members of the Armed Forces as “heroes” cheapens the meaning of the word and makes heroism something that isn’t earned but rather acquired by simply showing up, sort of like a participation trophy. The men and the women of the Armed Forces comprise most of the types of people you run into in daily life. The good, the bad, the diligent, the lazy, etc. Putting on a uniform doesn’t change that. By the same token, the things that Masciotra calls out as heroic, being a anti-American dipwad in a anti-war protest, being a teacher, or being a social worker can never really rise to anything approaching heroism (though they could be examples worthy of emulation) because, unlike a soldier (sailor, airman, or marine) they will never, ever, be called upon to actually place life and limb at risk as a part of their duty.
On the other side of the coin, real heroes don’t need the acknowledgement and adulation of people they don’t know and their feelings don’t get hurt by the comments of people they don’t respect.
Leftwing gibberish thrown in to make a word count for his editor.
What Masciotra represents is that frustrated sector of the American left that reflexively wanted to spit on US soldiers and call them “baby killers” in 2003 and thereafter. When they saw this was not going to be accepted by the public they were forced to temper their rhetoric with “soldiers are heroes but the war is bad.” That may be true but it has nothing to do with the military. That has to do with a political consensus, held by both parties, that thinks the Masciotra and the positions he holds are moronic. The military doesn’t make foreign policy. The military doesn’t decide to go to war. In fact, you will have to look long and hard to find any group of people more averse to going to war than the Joint Chiefs of Staff because they realize, in a way politicians never will, the human cost of warfare and the fact that with a little bit of bad luck you can loose a big battle and have nasty books written about you.
In Masciotra’s rather demented little world, he is brave for writing this screed because society is
unofficially imposing a juvenile and dictatorial rule over speech in which anything less than absolute and awed adulation for all things military is treasonous.
This world simply doesn’t exist. If that world existed, Masciotra would be paid for trolling, he’d find himself the object of hatred expressed by lots of people wielding heavy objects.
Many moons ago I was commissioned into the Army via ROTC. One of the worst days of the week was Thursday when the ROTC detachment was required to wear uniform all day. This meant going to class in uniform. One of my friends had a sociology professor who called him “Killer” in class.
Masciotra’s subtext is simply garden variety anti-Americanism that was the state of affairs on American campuses during the Vietnam era and its aftermath. What he’s longing for are the good old days with nice little fascists, like himself, could verbally assault men and women in uniform and receive the plaudits of the low-forehead crowd they played to. It irks him greatly that military service is an honorable profession, in the way being a feminized hipster douchebag never will be. Because so long as a single American is willing to wear the nation’s uniform and to take that risk for the rest of us, everything Masciotra stands for will be for naught.