7/08/2009

The American Standing Army...

This Independence Day I was again struck by the fact that the celebration of the founding of our nation and the iteration of our national ideals in the Declaration of Independence was once more turned into a military holiday that was little more than a celebration of all things military and violent.

I wrote the following note on my Facebook page. As expected the response from our professional soldiers was to accuse me of everything from not knowing history (my forte is 18th Century politics and Colonial American politics in particular) to suggestions that I "get off (my) ass and volunteer." Needless to say that would not be an option because I am gay.
Last night we went to downtown Tucson for the fireworks. We parked in the lot at the Convention Center where we could hear the music and announcements for the event.


As the time approached for the fireworks, the announcer began to talk about Independence Day and the 233rd "birthday" of the United States. But after one or two words about that he immediately began to talk about our military. He spent several minutes talking about the sacrifices of the military and how this holiday was a celebration of our military "protecting" our freedom. He then led the crowd in a "moment of silence" for "our military heroes."

This was followed by music celebrating our military might. From the themes of our branches of service to a rather maudlin taped speech about our military history that led into, of all things, "America the Beautiful" the overarching theme of the evening was America's military might.

Why is that? Why, across our nation has Independence Day been turned into a military holiday more in line with the old Soviet "May Day" rather than what our Founding Fathers envisioned, a celebration of our love of freedom and liberty? After all, one of the biggest fears of our Founders was a standing army! Yet, not only do we have a standing Army and Navy and Air Force and Marine Corps but we also have a standing military-industrial complex whose well-being and profits trump the welfare of our people.

So, does it make sense that we have turned Independence Day - a celebration meant to remind us of our revolutionary and egalitarian roots into a martial celebration requiring conformity of thought and opinion and tacit approval of all things military including killing, preemptive war, and violence?

I doubt we will ever see a day when our Independence Day is celebrated as the day a small band of visionaries looked at the monarchist model of European government and said "We can do better." I doubt we'll see a return to the celebration of quiet heroism of people willing to create a whole new system of government that radically altered world politics for the remainder of history. I am sure we will not see the day celebrated as the idyllic promise of equality and justice that began in 1776 and still remain unfulfilled today 233 years later.

Instead, we will celebrate militarism. We will celebrate conformity and might. We will harken back to the Middle Ages when might made right. We abandon our Enlightenment Age forefathers (and mothers) who debated the fundamental rights of man in favor of guns, jets, and super-nationalism.

For my part, I'll refuse to allow myself to celebrate Independence Day as a military holiday. I will continue to celebrate the brilliance of those people who laid the foundation of our country and who passed down to us a nation founded not on might and aristocracy but on the principles of equality, justice, and freedom.
So, there you have it. In the comments I even linked to an academic paper on the history of standing armies and why celebrating an army that drains 54% of our national budget annually seems rather strange on Independence Day since that drain means we are continually indebting ourselves to other countries and undermining our own independence.

A new friend on Facebook linked to that paper as well. The response from current members of the military was swift there too. The refrain of "freedom isn't free" was the usual chorus. After all, bumperstickers always make for informed political and historical debate. However, one response struck me particularly. This soldier, who is heavily invested in the "I am a hero and I am protecting you from evil terrorists" mindset said the he "volunteered" to go to "shitholes" and "free them from oppression."

Now, how freeing someone in a foreign land from oppression without their consent is protecting me I have no idea. But beyond that, the brainwashing evident in the past 50 years about our military was evident in the response. The idea that our military is "volunteer" has been used to link the ideal to the original concept of armies at the beginning of our country. However, what we have today is not a "volunteer" army in the historical sense but a professional army of over 3 million people (total) who are assembled for war 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - even when there is no war.

This is the crux of the early debates on standing armies. Originally, armies were to be called up when needed to defend the country. The basis was the militia and during times of war they would be mobilized and a regular army assembled until the crisis had passed. The Founders even limited the ability of Congress to call up the army for two years at a time!

Now, we have a huge force who is always waiting in the wings for war. This force must be constantly supplied and paid for their service. After all, despite the claim of the soldier that he is a "volunteer" he does not forego his pay, his benefits, nor his pension for love of country. In fact, he claims that we should use MORE of our budget to give him MORE benefits and pay. So, he is not a volunteer at all. He is a professional soldier whose career is warfare. In order to justify his job there must be war, there must be threats to "freedom" and we must always be afraid.

Of course, I'm sure he does not consciously realize any of this. He has simply been brainwashed by the miltiary complex and the corporations that now run our military as more or less private security firms for their international interests. Honestly, if Iraq did not have oil would we be there? No, it would be the same disdain we have shown Dafur which is a much bigger humanitarian crisis. It would be the same cold shoulder we have shown Tibet whose people are systematically wiped out by the Chinese government. It would be the same "restraint" we show with North Korea whose people are starving while a nut retains complete control.

Freedom may not be free but that's because there has to be some monetary gain in pretending to grant it. After all, since we "freed" Iraq GLBT Iraqis are being murdered in huge numbers. Meanwhile, our soldiers who "protect freedom" don't seem to notice what is happening under their noses. If it were oil workers do you think for a moment an offensive would not be launched to put an end to the violence?

In the end, we have given up on our enlightenment era skepticism of war in favor of a super-nationalistic state that celebrates all things military. No longer are we allowed to express any opinion that calls into question this militaristic view. While our government might not silence that dissent the brainwashing of the public and military makes it very difficult to express any contrary opinion without reprobation, name calling, and assertions that unless you are a professional soldier you are by definition a "coward." There is no greater censor than a public unwilling to consider debate and unpopular truths.

If our country were invaded tomorrow, I would happily take up arms alongside my neighbors to defend it and not ask a penny. However, defending one's country from invasion is very different from taking up war as a career choice to follow a government blindly into invading foreign countries to secure economic interests. Patriotism is an emotion, it is not a job that pays a 401K.


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