The “warrior class” and our narrow national discourse surrounding the military

The LA Times has a moderately interesting piece today about the supposed “separation” of members of the US military and their families from the rest of the US population. The following points are made:

  • “Less than one-half of 1% of the U.S. population is in the armed services today–the lowest rate since World War II”
  • “As many as 80% of those who serve come from a family in which a parent or sibling is also in the military”
  • “[Service members and their families] often live in relative isolation — behind the gates of military installations such as Ft. Bragg or in the deeply military communities like Fayetteville, N.C., that surround them”
  • “49% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the U.S. are concentrated in just five states”

Some notable excerpts include the following:

“I am well-aware that many Americans, especially our elite classes, consider the military a bit like a guard dog,” said Lt. Col. Remi M. Hajjar, a professor of behavioral sciences and leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“They are very thankful for our protection, but they probably wouldn’t want to have it as a neighbor,” he said. “And they certainly are not going to influence or inspire their own kids to join that pack of Rottweilers to protect America.”
[…]

Yet only a 65-mile drive north of Ft. Bragg, in the college town of Carrboro near Durham, the military is a universe away. Many there have no connection save for the brief moment of gratitude and embarrassment they feel when they see a man in uniform at the airport, missing a leg.

“We glorify the military in this country in a way that’s really weird,” said Eric Harmeling, 21, a Carrboro-area resident who often argues with his father, a politically conservative minister, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s like the Roman legions…. It’s like we’re being told to kneel down and worship our heroes.”
[…]

“So many people give you lip service and offer fake sympathy. Their sons and daughters aren’t in the military, so it’s not their war. It’s something that happens to other people,” said Phillip Ruiz, 46, a former Army staff sergeant in Tennessee who was wounded twice during three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Douglas Pearce, a former Army lieutenant who fought in Afghanistan and is now a marriage and family counselor in Nashville, said civilians seem to think they “can assuage their guilt with five seconds in the airport.”

“What they’re saying is, ‘I’m glad you served so that I didn’t have to, and my kids won’t have to.'”
[…]

A 2013 survey by three West Point professors found that the estrangement between the military and civilian worlds is especially pronounced among young people. Many civilians born between 1980 and 2000 “want no part of military life and want it separate from civilian life,” according to sociologist Morten G. Ender, one of the study’s authors.

On the other side, military recruits in that age range had become “anti-civilian in some ways,” the survey found.

“I am irritated by the apathy, lack of patriotic fervor, and generally anti-military and anti-American sentiment” of other students, an unidentified 20-year-old ROTC cadet told the authors. “I often wonder if my forefathers were as filled with disgust and anger when they thought of the people they were fighting to protect as I am.”

So we are presented with a social divide between the supposed “warrior class” and the rest of us. We are presented with some of the same cliches about a civilian population that knows little about sacrifice and takes the men and women who fight on their behalf for granted. Yet the article overwhelmingly buys into the notion that the US military’s main focus is on defending “us”–the American people–and moral objections to going overseas to kill people in order to preserve American global dominance (which is the real reason for most US military expeditions these days) are non-existent.

If people object to the US military, the implication is that they are classicists of a sort. Deep down, all these weak-kneed liberals acknowledge the necessity of the US military but don’t feel any real connection to them or even look down upon them. I am sure that this is true in many cases. But the article neglects to give a voice to those who would identify the false premise underlying the entire spectacle of American Troop worship: that the military is primarily there to protect us. In the current global reality the American homeland is safer then it has ever been from any type of direct military assault. The military serves as a means of upholding a global system of capitalism in which the US has the last say. Regimes and political movements that fight for an alternative system of economic development are systematically isolated, sabotaged and assaulted (e.g. Vietnam, Cuba and Nicaragua) As we see now, even counter-hegemonic regimes and movements that do not pose a direct threat to global capitalism but to US dominance of global capitalism find themselves under attack as well (e.g. Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Syria).

The article also totally ignores the suffering US military interventions induce on foreign populations and any related ethical dimensions to this. It doesn’t even acknowledge those inconvenient feelings of guilt US soldiers and veterans often have about killing and injuring people. It’s bad enough the article doesn’t address the ethical objections to starting and fighting US-waged wars, it’s inexcusable that it doesn’t even address the brutal means the US fights its wars.

Pieces like this are misleading in that they portray a cultural divide where there should be a moral one. I have no doubt there are liberal elitists who look down upon US soldiers for all the wrong reasons while benefiting from the US’ global dominance enabled by the military. But there are also those who recognize the US military as both the main tool for US-led imperialism and plunder and a killing machine that utilizes massive, brute force on behalf of US capital.

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