SO. (By the way, I realized that I nearly begin every single post with that word–and if you think that realization will make me change the practice, we definitely need to become better acquainted because I’m pretty sure they’re ALL starting like that from now on.)
Now, where were we?
SO. Yesterday was Memorial Day here in the States, and as such, I found myself thinking about the military.
Like you do.
And my feelings on the military are somewhat complicated. Call me crazy, but I’m super into the idea of peace because, you know, war ALWAYS sucks. It’s one of a dozen or more reasons I was such a strong Bernie supporter in 2016–he was an actual, bona fide antiwar candidate for POTUS, an extraordinarily rare, nearly mythical beast these days. For all HRC would have made a fine POTUS in the vein of keeping the status quo alive and well, she’s a warhawk, plain and simple, and I don’t support that worldview.
Now, that being said?
I fucking LOVE military and war movies. Like, A LOT. Black Hawk Down is an absolute favourite, as are Saving Private Ryan and Fury. TV shows? Fuck yes. I’ve probably watched Band of Brothers through close to a dozen times, and military-based sci-fi like (the newer) Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse (based on the book series by James SA Corey–READ IT) are totally where it’s at for me. Military history? You betcha. War documentaries like The First World War and books like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin are things I watch and read because I find them absolutely fascinating. Horrifying–but fascinating. I’m super stoked to learn about literally anything to do with warfare–the history of warfare, the psychology of warfare, tactics, scenarios, strategy, technology. Alllllllllllll of that.
So what the fuck, right?
And this is actually something I’ve thought a lot about recently, how to square the fact that I’m actually a peace-loving progressive in real life, yet obsessively consume stories and details of warfare, past, present, and future/speculative. But setting aside the fact that I’m someone who reveres knowledge (especially historical) in general as a tool for understanding humanity, and warfare has always been a powerful driver and decider of the human condition and the fate of our species, I honestly just think it’s really natural to be drawn to war.
Now, what do I mean by that precisely? Do I mean that we’re all just violent, bloodthirsty barbarians at heart ready and willing at any moment to crush our enemies, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentations of their women?
No. No, I do not.
However, I do think we’re all (surprise!) human, and that tribalism, the inherent need to discern “us” from “them” in an attempt to safeguard the continued flourishing existence of ourselves and those and we love, is just a natural part of being animals. A mother doing anything to protect her baby, a father doing anything to protect his family, a leader doing anything to protect his community, a ruler doing anything to protect her country. That deep-seated urge we have as humans to protect the things that are most important to us is why we have such an emotional attachment to the idea of heroes, why we so honour those who fight to protect us–and it’s precisely what gets stoked and ultimately perverted by propaganda in an effort to keep us complacent about our modern state of perpetual war. The very worst, yes, but also the very best of humanity is on display during times of war–the sacrifice, the cooperation, the faith (in humanity), the emotional bonds, the determination, the ingenuity, the relentlessness.
It’s super fucking powerful stuff.
But those inherent inclinations get preyed upon by politicians and civilians benefitting from our massively influential military-industrial complex, because, make no mistake, war makes a lot of people a lot of fucking money. So we’re encouraged to fear “others,” mostly just brown people, who are ready and willing at all times to come kill our babies and burn our homes and utterly destroy any and every last vestige of our “way of life.”
Because, you know, freedom isn’t free and all that, amirite?
Except, about that…
Being that taking or seeking to take our neighbour’s land/resources/people by force seems to be a very human MO, having personnel and equipment dedicated to protecting ourselves and our people and our things sounds totally reasonable, right? Okay, now think of it in terms of modern US military intervention around the world–how are we actually, truly protecting the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of our own citizens by waging wars all over the godsdamn planet? Well, the answer is that we’re not–we’re literally making ourselves less safe and less secure through these actions.
Because, sure, there are absolutely some people in this world who would really, really, really like to slaughter Americans. Yes. But in the vast majority of cases, actually looking at the history of our own involvement in undermining the sovereignty of other countries should quite naturally and logically lead one to a much greater understanding of how the principle of cause and effect comes wayyyyyyyyyyy into play in these scenarios. I mean, you notice we don’t really get involved militarily in places that don’t possess something, generally natural resources, that we’re determined to have for ourselves, right? There is a method to the madness of US hegemony around the world, and the consequence of those methods is a growing list of enemies, whose existence we then use to justify waging even more war.
Now, are there times when military force is justified? Yes, I do believe, in this iteration of reality, that physically fighting in defense of a righteous cause is, tragically, necessary. Obviously the World Wars come to mind. But sadly, those are the outliers. The vast majority of military endeavours we Americans undertake–and we’ve basically been in a perpetual state of war our entire existence as a country–are to promote and protect US hegemony around the world (and really, if not precisely why we entered the war, this ended up being a huge benefit of our involvement in WWII). We want to make sure there are governments in power favourable to our wishes in the myriad countries in which we have, generally, economic interests.
And perpetuating war is itself an economic interest of ours. US arms manufacturers sell over $217 BILLION worth of weapons per year, which accounts for well over half of all arms sales the world over. Our defense budget is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $600 BILLION a year, which is more than the next seven or eight countries’ expenditures COMBINED. And the faster we use up supplies, the faster we can design and create new stuff and relegate the leftovers to domestic use.
But that couldn’t have anything to do with why we’re encouraged to love war so much, right? Or why we’re characterized as unpatriotic for literally anything less than complete and total worship of the US military and the American flag, which, as a symbol, seems to almost solely represent the military these days? It’s a necessary and good cultural obsession, right? Not, like, a manufactured one specifically designed to tap into the inherent fear for and love of one another we naturally possess as the social species we are.
Listen, war is exciting, I get it. It’s way more fun to shoot things and blows things up than it should be. Military tech is super fucking cool. Strategizing and running scenarios is endlessly fascinating. It feels epically good to flex power and outsmart an enemy. It’s awe-inspiring to muster an overwhelming force on the field. Just as it’s awe-inspiring to become victorious when all the odds were against you.
I GET IT.
But we need to stop already with the rah-rah nonsense. We can appreciate bravery and honour sacrifice while also questioning the purported need for so much of it. We can recognize and value the camaraderie formed through adversity and still hope fewer bonds are made that way. We can respect and admire preparedness but wholeheartedly disavow the use of excessive, unnecessary force.
We can do these things.
And we should do these things.
So there you have it. These are the things I think about on holidays. And then I share them here so that you may also think about them. Because thinking is good.
Let’s collectively do more of it, yeah?