Military Fraud - The Myth of Automatic Virtue
By Steve Gillman
This is about a military fraud. It isn't the usual story of
soldiers tempted into enlisting by unkept promises, nor of cover-ups
of failed or immoral operations during war. It is about the cultural
mythology that has been created in the United States, which makes
all soldiers into "heroes."
"I want to go to Iraq," he told me. He was thirty-nine
years old, and he added "I always liked guns and the idea
of going around fighting and blowing things up with a group of
other guys." He also likes the idea of the $30,000 bonus
the army was promising him. I suggested that he might get killed,
but he mentioned that it's better than the job opportunities
he had around town.
I certainly won't claim that this is a typical recruit. People
join the army for all sorts of reasons. Some join for adventure,
some to travel, some for the money and educational opportunities,
and some for reasons they'll never know. Some even join because
of a desire to serve their country.
Let's be honest about that last one, though. Notice that very
few young men and women who are making a great living doing something
they enjoy choose to quit that in order to "serve the country."
This and close attention to what those who enlist say suggests
that this supposedly "noble" intention is rare at best,
at least as a primary motivation. Maybe as much as 10% of the
total join primarily to "serve their country."
Looking at it this far, already the idea that there is some
special virtue in those that join the military is suspect. But
what about that small sub-section of soldiers who do want only
to serve? Do they deserve automatic praise, or some special respect
or admiration? Many people think so.
What if they are engaged in wars I disagree with? More to
the point, what if what they're doing is actually against our
interests? Whether they actually serve some real value should
have some relevance, right? Those who killed Native American
children in the 1800s or the few mis-guided soldiers who slaughtered
innocent Vietnamese in that war are not honored just because
they wore an American uniform - even if they were just following
So what makes soldiers worthy of some special respect and
appreciation? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps they are normal human
beings like the rest of us, who are sometimes courageous, and
sometimes cowardly, sometimes well-intentioned and often confused.
To the extent that we assess their character, shouldn't we do
this on an individual basis like we do with everyone else? Isn't
this a more realistic and objective view if we are honest enough
to look plainly at the facts?
Sometimes, in some places, soldiers may actually protect those
who live in the U.S. - although it's getting harder to find actual
examples of this as time goes by. And there are incredible acts
of courage in individual situations - just as there are among
all people in all places. But in the end, these are men and women
hired to do a dangerous job, and they do it largely without regard
to whether it needs to be done or in any way protects human rights,
because once they sign up they have no choice.
They are used and abused by elements of society which convince
them that it's their "duty" to die for various purposes.
They are deceived about the nature of the "work" in
order to get them to risk their lives. The entire "let's
honor our soldiers" custom is just another way to keep the
game going, to convince young people to throw away their lives
for the political and economic purposes of others.
What is it about killing people who have not attacked us (the
majority of war causalities) that makes it more worthy of praise
than than a millionaire creating a thousand life-sustaining jobs,
or a teacher opening and enriching the minds of thousands of
This is not a rant against soldiers, nor against defense.
Those in the armed services are our brothers, mothers, fathers
and friends. They do a dangerous job that sometimes protects
us, and they do the best they can according to the understanding
they have. But they chose that job, and for their own reasons.
If they think that part of their payment is my praise, I am announcing
here that I offer none. When we are attacked we fight to defend
ourselves and our families - no outside praise or other reward
If we perpetuate this pretense that it is heroic to fight
regardless of the cause, and that stated intent deserves praise
regardless of the outcome, we encourage the support of bad causes
done in the name of good, and of killing in the name of peace.
And if we perpetuate the myth that a scared kid who wanted to
get college paid for is a hero because a stray bullet kills him
in a foreign land while he happens to wear the right uniform,
we will have more innocent and scared young men dying for no
To potential soldiers: Go to war if you feel you must, and
I will not condemn you, but you'll also get no automatic praise
from me. Your choice will have its consequences for yourself
and many others. Make that choice without looking back to see
the cheering faces of those who tell you your duty is to do what
they are not doing for purposes you may not know nor share. Think
for yourself and let your own satisfaction be your reward if
there is one. There is no automatic virtue in joining a cause
just because others happen to call it noble. This myth is a cultural
and military fraud perpetrated on young men and women to encourage
them to risk their lives and souls for purposes which may or
may not be of any value.