DO WE REALLY FIGHT MORE BECAUSE WE CALL THE TROOPS HEROES?
There was a kerfuffle yesterday about some things Chris Hayes said on TV about our troops and heroism:
"I feel... uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don't want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that's fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that."
I find it ironic that Hayes would say this at a time when the most controversial tool of the military, at least on the left, is the unmanned drone. Forgive me if I'm sidestepping the question of whether Hayes insulted the troops, but I find myself focusing on the question of whether praise for the troops makes us more bellicose as a nation, and I think the answer is no. If you're the type of person who wants America to go out there and kick some ass, you're happy that we're using unmanned drones. I think you'd be happy to cheer on an all-drone fleet of military aircraft and an all-robot army, just so long as it was smiting the evildoers.
I don't think we're overly eager to fight because we think too much of the troops; I think we're overly eager to fight because of the high regard we have for ourselves. A lot of us think America is a force for good in the world by definition, so we assume that our leaders will always send the troops to fight with a noble purpose, and using noble means. The problem isn't that we call the troops heroes -- it's that we don't question the belief that America is a hero nation.
When I was a child, we were much more irreverent about those who served in the military. I grew up with Beetle Bailey and Gomer Pyle and McHale's Navy. It was OK to treat people in the military as comic figures. Somehow, though, that didn't prevent us from miring ourselves in Vietnam.
I wonder if we're more capable now of decoupling patriotism from bellicosity than we realize. Since 1984, we've elected a saber-rattler president only once, in 2004. (Bush in 2000 actually promised a "humble" foreign policy.) A lot of us like Ron Paul's isolationist rhetoric. The country is ready to be done with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe we haven't been bellicose for years -- maybe we've just deferred to those among us who are most bellicose.
I don't think it's connected with the troops in most Americans' minds. I think we fall for the notion of war, but we don't like it as much as we think we do.