Fuck the Troops
--Marquis de Custine, 1843
"...the worst outgrowth of life [is] the military system. I feel only contempt for those who take pleasure marching in rank and file to the strains of a band. Heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism...how I despise them all!"
--Albert Einstein, 1922
Soldiers, throughout history, have earned their poor reputations. Whether the war in question is a dynastic meatgrinder like the Thirty Years' War, a struggle for liberation like the American Revolution, or a secret war like the ones the US fought in Laos and Cambodia during the 1960's, one consistent attribute of these conflicts is the occasionally appalling behavior of the troops towards each other and towards the surrounding civilian populations. Even in the best of circumstances, soldiers can be large marauding forces, devastating landscapes with their appetites just as readily as they can with artillery. The Civil War of 1861-65 was the most recent example in American history of vicious, protracted war fought on our soil. When compared to the vicissitudes of history suffered by nations like Poland or Vietnam it seems that the US has gotten off rather lightly in the register of historical horrors. All of the conflicts indulged in by the US since the Civil War have been of the overseas variety, which has minimized the US population's contact with that most frightening of humans, the hungry and heavily armed soldier in full bloody fury, remorseless and full of hate.
Soldiers are not heroes to anyone except other soldiers. The longstanding view of the happy and motivated soldier sacrificing all to save his or her country's freedom from nasty people and nastier ideologies is a deceitful cartoon that leaves out much of the reality of life as a soldier. Whether they are being sent thousands of miles away to murder people at the behest of their superiors or being asked to defend their homeland to the death against invaders, many soldiers cannot rationalize the suspension of the laws of humanity that occurs during warfare with their tightly-controlled upbringing in societies that base themselves on strict laws and customs. Youth and inexperience make them susceptible to propaganda, which then blocks their remaining humanity from ever developing. The resulting disconnection between their military reality and their moral, human self is often too large to successfully navigate, and this disconnection can manifest itself in explosive and amoral episodes of violence. The terrible experiences of combat never leave the psyche of the soldier who lives through it; oftentimes the intensity of combat drives the soldier insane. This insanity can show up immediately or years down the road; countries ranging from Britain after WW I, the US after Vietnam, or the USSR after Afghanistan have all had substantial problems with their veterans' readjustment to so-called "normal" society after the guns of war went silent. All the more reason to keep US veterans away from the political arena, despite our country's disturbing penchant for equating military service with the ability to govern a diverse and complex society.
Much is made in the US of how we must try to sympathize with our military brethren overseas, fighting a war to protect our freedom. The word "hero" is tossed about like a five-dollar chip at a casino. Yet the recent conduct of our soldiers in Haditha, combined with the recent arrest of 5 US soldiers for rape and murder, shows that the same moral impulses that resulted in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib are still directing the conduct of US troops in the field. These people are not heroes--they are assholes; they are murdering, sadistic fucking scum who would not be out of place in a medieval army. They are living examples of the depths that human beings lower themselves to when they feel unencumbered by the restraints of everyday morality. I know all the arguments made on their behalf--the military consists of lower-class kids who needed an opportunity, it's not their fault that they have a job that requires them to kill people, etc., etc.--but I ask people to consider that the current edition of the US military is a volunteer force. Nobody drafted these unfortunate people; they chose to pick up guns and risk their lives for their country, right or wrong. This act in itself does not constitue heroism, not by a fucking long shot.
It's also worth remembering that governmental oppression is always enacted by a government's military. The rapists and murderers of the Sudan, Israel, Serbia, and Iraq are not lawyers or preachers or cab drivers--they are soldiers. The ethnic cleansers of the American West were not working in accord with America's manifest destiny--they were soldiers. The killers at Tiananmen Square in 1989 or in Prague in 1968 were not actors or musicians--they were soldiers. Fuck them all. They are the basest form of predatory human existence. Shooting someone with a rifle is a crime. To pretend that it is a glorious act of national heroism is a grotesque lie--and the power of this lie to deform the human mind is constantly on display.
Say it with me now--FUCK THE TROOPS! No more killing for peace!