How America screws its soldiers

Andrew J. Bacevich writes:

Riders on Boston subways and trolleys are accustomed to seeing placards that advertise research being conducted at the city’s many teaching hospitals. One that recently caught my eye, announcing an experimental “behavioral treatment,” posed this question to potential subjects: “Are you in the U.S. military or a veteran disturbed by terrible things you have experienced?”

Just below the question, someone had scrawled this riposte in blue ink: “Thank God for these Men and Women. USA all the way.”

Here on a 30 x 36 inch piece of cardboard was the distilled essence of the present-day relationship between the American people and their military. In the eyes of citizens, the American soldier has a dual identity: as hero but also as victim. As victims—Wounded Warriors —soldiers deserve the best care money can buy; hence, the emphasis being paid to issues like PTSD. As heroes, those who serve and sacrifice embody the virtues that underwrite American greatness. They therefore merit unstinting admiration.

Whatever practical meaning the slogan “support the troops” may possess, it lays here: in praise expressed for those choosing to wear the uniform, and in assistance made available to those who suffer as a consequence of that choice.

From the perspective of the American people, the principal attribute of this relationship is that it entails no real obligations or responsibilities. Face it: It costs us nothing yet enables us to feel good about ourselves. In an unmerited act of self-forgiveness, we thereby expunge the sin of the Vietnam era when opposition to an unpopular war found at least some Americans venting their unhappiness on the soldiers sent to fight it. The homeward-bound G.I. spat upon by spoiled and impudent student activists may be an urban legend, but the fiction persists and has long since trumped reality.

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6 thoughts on “How America screws its soldiers

  1. BillVZ

    Andrew J. Bacevich

    Memorial Day-Memorial Day is not actually a day to pray for U.S. troops who died in action but rather a day set aside by Congress to pray for peace. The 1950 Joint Resolution of Congress which created Memorial Day says: “Requesting the President to issue a proclamation designating May 30, Memorial Day, as a day for a Nation-wide prayer for peace.” (64 Stat.158).

    –However, as we are well aware, people and politicians alike found a way to ignore that by exalting those Americans actually choosing to serve in uniform in order to ensure that the brutalizing aspects and effects of war will be played down.

    “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known”
    “the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world” and “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.”

    Award winning films take awhile to be shown in the country of my residence.I Found that it was particularly fitting that HBO chose this weekend to show the moving film “The Hurt Locker’ here.
    As a war film ‘buff’, in my thinking, this was a film that certainly challenged the myth of war being heroic theater by exposing the brutalisation of war and its partisapants. – A great film and one that clearly drove the view of writer and cultural historian Louis Menand home:

    War,”is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers.” When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of their destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior.Heroes, after all, don’t commit atrocities.
    ”Still and absolutely, those serving are to be honored for their service. They need to know that they are appreciated ,Just don’t call them heroes.”(Wm Astore)

  2. AMeshiea

    Actually, I cannot agree that the Hurtlocker is much of an improvement on the usual glorification of violence flicks or the Vietnam redux movies of the same style. Watch the movie again and watch how the Iraqis are portrayed, its a despicable. Also what is the lead if not the embodiment of the new war mentality, the drone warfare with boots. The adrenaline junkie who does it for the rush.

  3. Brooklyn Grange

    I believe the mene of Vietnam War protesters spitting on soldiers is an urban myth. Are you aware of any actual incidents? Check it out. You might find it’s another successful bit of jingoist propaganda.

  4. Colm O' Toole

    Agree with Meshiea on The Hurt Locker not much of an improvement on the war genre. In fact most of the Hollywood War Movies from the Vietnam era onwards seem designed to trigger sympathy for the main character and his personel anguish no reflections or sympathy is offered for the native populations in any of them. Not just in Hollywood (the Israeli made Waltz in Bashir also promotes this view).

    All these war movies seem to have a main character who is a young male soldier who gets disillusioned by what he sees around him in an attempt to generate sympathy.

    The truth of the matter is that soldiers are no better than Mafia gangsters. Both kill people for money. If you sign up to join the US Military you know that you will probably have to kill people and that you will get paid around 23,000 dollars a year for murdering other humans. If you sign up knowing that you deserve what you get.

    Have sympathy for the innocent civilians had the bad luck of being born in the wrong country. But no sympathy for the scum that sign up to murder foreign people.

  5. Paul Woodward

    Colm — if you ever get a chance to see a few hundred American soldiers at close quarters, I think you’d have a hard time likening them to Mafia gangsters. I happen to live in a part of the US where a disproportionate number of these kids come from — and yes, they’re mostly kids, some as young as 17. Many come from small towns and before getting shipped overseas might not even have traveled outside the county they grew up in. The images that have shaped their view of the world mostly came from Fox News. They join up because they’re making a choice between a job versus a dead end. A few of them might be on a mission to wipe out “ragheads”, but most of them are hoping to stay out of trouble and then get paid to go to college after they’ve served their time.

  6. BillVZ


    The kids whom you speak of that are recruited as early as middle school of course are offered great monetary and other rewards to become a member of the finest. In this present time what else is there? They are from the lower social class levels and serve the same role as canon fodder as a majority of the on the drafted on the ground military did in Vietnam.

    When they enter basic training their individuality is broken down and become moving parts of the ‘whole’. What are they trained to become? You know as well as I do it is not to stay out of trouble and win the hearts and minds of the occupied and insurgents. And once in a combat situation their main goal is to protect themselves and their comrades to make home intact and safely,at least it should be.

    All films are open to subjective analysis. I agree that it was a film that glorified violence but not just another of the same style. Just how, unless one were there,would you like to have the Iraqi’s whose country and population is being ravaged by a foreign force and have been trained to regard them as the lowest of the low; be portrayed? One of the finer points of the film was that it did not trigger sympathy for the main character, his personal anguish or try to elicit reflections or sympathy for the native populations who were just as brutal as the good guys.It portrayed a career soldier in a highly dangerous job who was successful time and time again in staying alive until the next adrenaline high presented itself. The circumstances are different but history shows that that there are many special forces in the military that always thrive on like situations.

    But like I say films and there intentions are subject to the views interpretations, mine was it offered a new and direct insight into US forces in combat.

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