"Thanks for Your Service?"
By Laurence M. Vance
"There is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces." ~ George W. Bush
The debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid." ~ Harry S. Truman
The idea that U.S. military personnel are serving the country just by virtue of being in the military is so ingrained in American thinking that being in the military is simply referred to as being in "the service."
Callers to some radio shows who identify themselves as being in the military are thanked for their service. Well-wishers in airports thank returning soldiers for their service. Signs outside of churches on the Sunday before one of the three military appreciation days (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day) thank veterans for their service. Signs outside of businesses thank the troops for their service every day of the year. Even postal clerks thank military personnel for their service.
This "military service" mindset leads to some absurd conclusions, like this one I received from a critic: "Enjoy your right to express such intellectually bankrupt ideas. It is through the sacrifices of veterans that you enjoy this right. I just suggest that you exercise it a bit more wisely." Or this one: "They continue to stand guard for us, so that if someone comes to take away your freedom to write your nice little remarks about them, they stop them dead in their tracks." Or this bumper sticker: "If You Can Read, Thank a Teacher. If You Can Read in English, Thank a Marine." Or this one: "If You Can't Get Behind Our Troops, Feel Free to Stand in Front of Them."
According to the Department of Defense, there were 155,754 Americans who joined the military during the most recent fiscal year. All four branches of the military exceeded their recruitment goals, as they did the previous fiscal year. Additionally, there were 100,654 Americans who joined the Army or Air National Guard or the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps Reserve.
Are these men (and women) who recently joined the military serving "us" or just getting a paycheck? Oh, they may be serving Uncle Sam; they may be serving an evil empire; they may be serving the president; they may be serving a rogue state; they may be serving themselves--but they certainly aren't serving "us."
My problem with many in the military, and many more chickenhawks and armchair warriors out of the military, is not just that military personnel are the president's personal attack force or that they are a global force for imperialism or that they help maintain an empire or that they fight senseless foreign wars or that they help carry out an evil, interventionist foreign policy or that brothels flourish wherever U.S. military bases are. My problem is the charade, the masquerade, the subterfuge, the deceit, the scam, the ruse that is military "service."
Military service is a job, nothing more. Forget all the nonsense about duty, honor, country, the flag, the few, the proud, patriotism, 9/11, terrorism, and service. The military is an employment program. If those in and out of the military would just come clean and drop the service pretense, then I wouldn't pay any more attention to them than I do clerks who work for the Social Security Administration--except, of course, when they unjustly kill for the government.
Why are people looked upon as a special because they "served" in the military? What need in society have they met? What is something productive they have done? Because the military does everything but actually defend the country against real threats, the answer is very little if anything at all. Military personnel should be viewed as just another faceless government bureaucrat or clerk.
So, to those in the military, and to those who moan incessantly about the troops not being appreciated for their service, I would just say this: Stop the deception; end the ruse. The military is an employer. The troops don't defend our freedoms. When they die overseas they die in vain and for a lie. They don't protect my right to write anymore than they protect your right to watch television, walk your dog, or play poker.
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from central Florida. He is the author of The Revolution that Wasn't, Rethinking the Good War, The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom, and Social Insecurity. His latest book is War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism. Visit his website.
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