Thursday, May 26, 2011


     In America, our sacred cow is our "courageous, noble, selfless young men and women in uniform."  We have been indoctrinated to support our troops blindly, passionately, stupidly, and self-destructively. It has become our national religion. Stray from it, and you'll have hell to pay. 
    And now, as of May 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is launching a $70 million program to study how electrodes implanted in our troops' brains might improve their moods and their ability to tolerate traumatic events, and allay their anxiety about what they're doing. The new program will fund development of high-tech implanted devices able to both monitor and electrically stimulate specific brain circuits, according to a May 27, 2014 NPR story. Does that sound like a good thing to you? How can anyone object to more efficient killing machines?

     In India, one can be sent to jail for killing or injuring a cow. 
    In America, you will be assailed and despised if you attack or even question our beloved warriors. They mean everything to us. They deserve anything we can give them -- including (according to the New York Times) Lobster Thermidor and the coolest, most expensive sunglasses ever made.
    Never in my life have I witnessed the peer pressure, the imperative to conform, that this issue has imposed on the American public. Politicians of every stripe, media commentators and historian-analysts, and normally outspoken celebrities don't dare to utter a word of criticism about our "heroes." Every mention of our darling defenders elicits standing ovations and tears.

    We are so deeply hungry for heroes that it constitutes a sort of mass personality disorder. Or maybe we just portray them as heroes to assuage our guilt at sending our children (actually, it's usually someone else's children) off to fight our asinine battles, instead of making the lofty generals and creaky politicians who dream this stuff up go over there and do the dirty work themselves.

    Even the most ardent opponents of our wars feel compelled to add, "Of course I support our troops 100 percent."

    How do you support our troops if you oppose what they are doing -- if you are cognizant of the chaos, terror, anguish and mayhem they have wrought?

    I do not support our troops.

    If I were acquainted with them individually, I would probably support most of them as human beings. From what I've seen, many of them are great kids, but I refuse to support them as the cogs in a monumental machine of death and destruction.

    I oppose our troops.

    As a nation, we understandably continue to feel guilt about the way we treated veterans of the Vietnam War. There is a "never again" sensibility that indicates we actually do learn occasionally from our mistakes.

     But the Pentagon, the politicians, the media and the massive complex of vested interests that benefit from war have exploited our guilt in an appallingly callous and manipulative fashion.


     The heart-rending fantasy of noble youngsters willing to make the "ultimate sacrifice" to "defend our freedom" is so ridiculous that even most of the troops don't buy it.

     Very few of them actually enlist to "serve their country."

     Recruits  freely admit that they joined the military because they needed a job, they believed it would help them to "stay out of trouble" or they "wanted to see the world." Most of them say it seemed like the best way for them to secure a college education. Many of them acknowledge, quite poignantly, that they were yearning for a "family," a place where they belonged and a cause that was bigger than  themselves. Many are attracted for the same reasons that some men gravitate toward police work:  thrill-seeking, a desire for dominance and power, and an attraction  to violence. In fact, many admit that they enlist in tour after tour because they become addicted to the violence and the danger -- addicted, in essence, to adrenaline. Regular life back home just doesn't cut it anymore.

    Less than  five percent of our current fighting force claim to have enlisted for patriotic reasons or to defend America.

    Very few  freely enlist. They are aggressively recruited -- bribed is a better word -- by service people who hang out where the economically disadvantaged kids are. These agents have quotas to fill, and they've been caught over and over again using deceptive sales practices to get those signatures on the dotted line. What the recruits are buying is the allure of big-time economic rewards -- including an immediate signing bonus of $10,000-$30,000 -- as well as free higher education and the enticing notion that service will transform them into formidable human beings who will walk the Earth for the rest of their lives with an aura of confidence and competence.

     Recruiters portray military bases as a sort of Club Med, with the finest health-club equipment, state-of-the-art gaming, big-screen TVs and regular phone and video contact with their families, who are also eligible for benefits. Unlimited Coke and pizza, "surf and turf" and chocolate cheesecake are also mentioned.

     Even so, the military must go to desperate lengths to retain troops. Tens of thousands of medals are parceled out, most of them simply for being wounded. Even the few that are for heroism are questionable, since most of the recipients admit that they acted on instinct. They generally speculate that if they had had time to think about the risks of what they were about to do, they may well not have done it.

    Our suitcases filled with money don't just go to corrupt Afghan and Iraqi officials. They also are used to maximize "continuity" among our forces. We are bribing people to stay. We have lowered educational  and physical standards for enlistment, and have even loosened the ban on those with a criminal history, just to keep the ranks filled.

     One young wife, interviewed last year after the death of her husband during his fourth tour of duty, said, "He wanted to come home before even the first one was over, but the money was too good. He was doing it for the baby and me."

     We cannot afford, morally or financially, to wage hideous wars for her baby and her.

     We need to acknowledge the flaws in our economy and culture that gave these good people few viable options to make a decent life for themselves other than to join a hideous, hell-bent, almost unimaginably savage enterprise.


     But we also need to stop idealizing people who did what they felt they had to do for their own self interest. We need to stop putting on a pedestal those who are willing to kill in order to get a  free college education.

    That isn't heroism. It's pragmatism.

    It is amoral, if not immoral.

    And they can't legitimately escape responsibility for what they are doing, unlike those who were drafted into the Vietnam War and forced to kill, to destroy a magnificent ecosystem with fiery, poisonous chemicals, and to terrorize and dislocate millions of kind, generous, innocent people.

    Today's kids have made a deal with the Devil. Give me what I need, and I will slaughter, explode and decimate whatever you tell me to.


    A harrowing account in yesterday's New York Times Magazine documented ongoing criminal behavior among our troops in Afghanistan, including rape, numerous murders of civilians that are "staged" to make it appear that the victim is the aggressor, the immolation of villages and the killing "for sport" of entire families.

     Our heroes are "pretty much stoned all the time," one of them admitted. "You trade a porno mag for hash -- it's routine."

     They "love to reminisce about the shit they got away with in Iraq," one of the newer recruits says.    

     And so it goes in Afghanistan. “I think at the end of the day what it boiled down to is these guys wanted some stories to tell when they got home. They weren’t getting the action they thought they deserved. So they went out and made their own action,”one of them told the Times.

    Few soldiers report the abuses, even the ones who wish they could.
    "We just don't care. There’s no excuse for it. . . . But that's Afghanistan. If it happened, you’re like: ‘Hmm, how ’bout that? That’s fucking crazy.’ You give your opinion, and then you go back to the gym, or you go get yourself some damn food, or you watch TV on your laptop.”    
    If we lack a sense of collective responsibility for these more recent war crimes, Stjepan Mestrovic, a sociologist who specializes in war crimes, blames this on our "readiness to believe the lie that such iniquities are aberrations perpetrated by a derelict few, rather than the inevitable result of institutional failures and, more generally, the nature of the conflicts in which we are engaged."


     They are not "our finest." Our finest are helping people, not blowing their brains out. Our finest, if they can't afford college, work their way through or take out a student loan.
    Our finest don't commit sexual assault. There were more than 26,000 in 2012, the Defense Department reports.

    It's like the single mother who says she works in a strip club because she has to buy food for the baby. It is not a credible excuse.

    Our troops are not making a sacrifice -- they are taking a gamble, and the odds are stacked in their favor. They get paid to sign up, and paid to serve and are guaranteed a range of benefits for life. They receive excellent and expensive training.

    The gamble is that they may die or be severely injured. The likelihood is that they will not. They will return to civilian life with much better prospects than they had before.

    The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides up to 4  years of education benefits, plus housing and other subsidies, to those who enlisted after 9/11 and were active duty for more than 90 days.

    The Montgomery GI bill provides up to $50,000 in educational benefits for anyone who has served for two years.

    The Navy offers up to $70,000 in educational benefits.

    In some instances, spouses and children can receive educational benefits as well.

    Moreover, "the military retirement system is arguably the best retirement deal around," according to

    "Unlike most retirement plans, the Armed Forces offer a pension, with benefits that starts the day you retire, no matter how old you are. That means you could start collecting a regular retirement pension as early as 37 years old. What's more, that pension check will grow with a cost of living adjustment each year," the site states.

I sympathize strongly with these young people, many from lower middle-class homes, who aspire to better themselves and need some help.


    Enabling mindless, endless wars is not the way to do it. They are gaming the system, the system is gaming them. They're all guilty. And so are we.

    The intensity of the indoctrination they undergo is frightening. If we witnessed it in another country, we would call it brainwashing or mind control. They are taught, as an official recruiting site blares: "There is still a path for warriors."  Another refers to military service as "The ultimate proving ground."

    "Turn the impossible into reality," the Air Force urges, providing a slew of video games that lure one into the sky blue magic of current military technology..

    The Army is "a world like no other" that will imbue in you "a strength like no other."

   They are taught blind obedience. They are inculcated with a perversely distorted rationale for what our military "adventures" are all about. They are told that they are heroes, fighting for their country.


    I have seen countless soldiers interviewed during the past 10 years about their mindsets during battle. They are amazingly candid when they say they are not fighting for America, and they are not fighting for anyone's freedom.

    They are fighting to stay alive and to keep their buddies alive. All they care about is making it home in one piece.

    The  news is packed with airport scenes of tearful departures and reunions; accounts of devastating injuries and miraculous comebacks, fueled by thrilling strength of character; footage of troops grieving the loss of a "brother" whose empty boots stand as witness to his "sacrifice"; portraits of the sweet young wives, holding up the homefront without their men, having babies while their weeping husbands watch it all on a computer screen thousands of miles away.


     This is propaganda, pure and simple, and the media do it because it sells. We love to be moved, we love character, and we love feeling proud. We are being "played" by these stories to keep us supporting "the best among us," which enables these wars to go on and on with way too little questioning of the basic rationales for wasting trillions of dollars overseas while we rot away back home, bankrupt and losing ground, every day in every way.

    The Pentagon exploits the genuine appeal of these fresh-faced kids, grooming them very effectively to charm their countrymen with their decency, seriousness and honor.

    Their decency, seriousness and honor are not the point. Their critical role in illegal wars and crimes against humanity is the point.

    A few years ago -- during the early days of the Iraq debacle -- I was having Sunday breakfast with my mother, and I mentioned that there was a big antiwar demonstration going on downtown.

    "Why aren't we there?" she asked.

    "Because the war will have no impact whatsoever on either of your precious grandsons," I replied."So we care, but not enough to raise hell, force our way through police barriers, and go to jail to stop the war machine. We're doing nothing. If Ryan and Grason were being forced to go, we'd be doing everything."

     We need the draft to bring us to our senses and to provide a check on the military-industrial complex.


    We are blinded by our affection for our stalwart, wide-eyed sacred cow. We stroke her head and say, "We love you."
    Meanwhile, at her other end, she is making a big, stinky mess that will ruin our economic health and global reputation for generations to come.

    How long can our profoundly bankrupt nation -- with its dysfunctional government, economically devastated populace, environmental degradation, racial and gender inequality, and callously "pragmatic" foreign policy -- continue its struggle to be Dictator of the World and to scold others for not being more like us?