Monday, May 28, 2012


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.


Victor said...

America's an "Exceptional" nation.

And Exceptional" nations need to kick the asses of some unexceptional nations every once in awhile, just to show how truly "exceptional" and superior they really are.
And we are the 'Exceptionalist' nation that ever was!

And I happen to agree with Hayes. We overuse the word "hero."

Not that there aren't any in wars, like he says - "there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, and things like that."

But not everyone serving in the military, with or without a war, is a hero - sorry.

In an all-volunteer military, "service to your country" is often the result of bad economic circumstances, and few, if any, other job opportunities; and "doing your duty," is doing the job they signed on for.
And they had to know that shooting, wounding, and killing, and being shot, wounded, or killed, were all possibilities - it was there in the fine print, if it wasn't stated to them openly.

Someone who had no desire to 'serve,' and who was drafted against their will into the military, has a much greater claim, in my book anyway, of being a "hero," than a person who volunteered (but I quibble).
And sure, many of the volunteer's were lied to, and told they'd never see action - but after all, they knew they were joining the US military, and not The Peace Corp, so the possibility was there.
Check the fine print.

I think we overuse the word "hero," hoping more people will want to be 'heroes' in this, our "Exceptional" nation, when we again go to war to show how truly exceptional we are as THE most "Exceptionalist" of all 'exceptional" nations (my point being that EVERY nation, and EVERY people, think they're exceptional).

But then again, we are now a Fascist nation, and in a Fascist nation, everyone who serves the Fascist state, is a "hero of the people."
"Hero," sounds so much better than 'fodder,' to the rest of us in the Fatherland.

In the meantime, this Memorial Day, I'll honor the memories not only of those in the military who were killed in war, but of the civilians killed, too.
I suspect that there's a lot more 'heroism' involved in trying to survive, than in trying to kill.

And I'm sure I'll be blasted for writing this.
And maybe rightly so.
But that's my opinion.
The opinion of someone who's family was lucky enough to survive the killing fields of Europe during WWII, and whose father and uncles served in the US Army.

Danp said...

The word "hero" is overused in such a way that it glorifies war. It should astound all of us that people would put a yellow ribbon on their car, but never ask why we invaded Iraq.

Never Ben Better said...

Have you noticed how the word "fallen" has expanded its range over the last decade or so? It used to mean "died in battle" but more and more it's applied to police and firefighters who die in the line of duty. Given the increasing militarization of police forces ever since 9/11, perhaps that's not surprising.

However, I've recently noticed that the anchors and reporters on TV "news" programs are now tending to use it for non-servicepeople killed in non-service-related ways.

That's probably an inevitable drift of the word's connotations, given the tendency of words to shift connotations and even denotations over time combined with the human preference to seek euphemisms for unpleasant realities ("die" is just so blunt, innit?), but I'm sorry to see that useful distinction wither away.

Victor said...

By "wither away," do you mean "die?"


Ten Bears said...

Society has become so permeated with the military mindset we can't even have a fucking memorial service without glorifying War. Even the "lefties".

As a combat veteran, it makes me want to puck.

Never Ben Better said...

Dammit, Victor, I totally missed that! Woulda been the perfect verb to end that usage rant with.

joseph said...

If we have Memorial Day, why not a Jeannette Rankin Day?


Unknown said...

I wish I could believe that we don't like ware as much as we think we do, but to my eyes, the "sacramental militarism" of the American civil religion is just getting stronger, and the increasingly careless use of the word "hero" is just one symptom of this.

Frankly, our attitude towards "the troops" is idolatrous, and serves neither them, nor us, nor God.

Anonymous said...

I think part of our almost cult-like admiration of our military stems from our involvement in the First and Second World Wars, especially the Second. The Second World War was a noble cause and our involvement was necessary, but it also added to the mythos of our riding forth to save the day as it were.

Dark Avenger said...

"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

The governments of the great States have two instruments for keeping the people dependent, in fear and obedience: a coarser, the army; and a more refined, the school.

Friedrich Nietszche

Remember the 'peace dividend' we were suppose to get once the Berlin Wall was down and there was no CCCP(USSR in English) to pose an existential threat to us anymore?

Me neither.

Freddie said...

As long as you are applying your laurels to undifferentiated masses of people, it can't be real praise. There is no such thing as praise without discrimination or judgment. The very idea is insulting.