Today I’m not going to provide my regular update (as if these have taken on any kind of regularity). I’m going to touch briefly on something unrelated that’s been on my mind for the past few days.
Yesterday, Chris Hayes at MSNBC published an article saying he felt uncomfortable calling fallen soldiers “heroes.” The article itself was quite moderate and measured, as is necessary in addressing such a sensitive issue, and even concludes, “Maybe I’m wrong about that.” Nevertheless, he was bludgeoned by conservatives the internet over. Mr. Hayes earned the descriptors “effete,” “fop,” and “commie,” and America’s favorite neo-Nazi Ann Coulter made a comment about him menstruating. (Regardless of your stance on the issue, the misogyny tied to attacks on anti-military speech is noteworthy.)
Attacks also used the old pro-military line of argument that Mr. Hayes is criticizing the military from the safety of the nation it protects and that that’s somehow hypocritical. I could write at length about how a great number of Americans don’t feel many of our recent military engagements are for our protection; on the contrary, they may endanger American citizens by stirring up anti-American sentiment in regions where our interference wasn’t required in the first place. But given that the quote at issue is about fallen soldiers, I don’t want to be irreverent or irrelevant by targeting national strategy. From my position of relative anonymity, I can say plainly what I think Mr. Hayes might have been hinting at.
I have a problem with using the word “heroes” to describe fallen soldiers because I think a more accurate phrase in many cases is “victims.”
I believe, as many others do, that one significant reason wars are fought is for control of resources; this has been true throughout history. If our national decision makers (be they oil giants or Northrup Grumman) decide that a military engagement is profitable, they pull the political strings, and to war we go. And the general populace, whose limited political power to resist such decisions is further undermined by government propaganda, supplies resources and recruits for the waging of these wars.
I’m sure a great many people enlist with the goal of serving their country, but it just isn’t as simple as that. I’ve been courted by recruiters (I took the ASVAB in high school to get out of class one day), and they promise that your college will be paid for, that you’ll be given a great (and safe) position in the service, and that you’ll be better positioned to make it in America when your contract is up. They prey on people who are lacking direction and on those kids who are financially or academically disadvantaged with regard to college. (Conveniently, the military does not publish family income statistics for new recruits.)
If you think this is an unfair assessment of the promise versus the reality of military service, you need only take a look at another, far larger group of victims: our veterans. I see countless of them living on the streets in Philadelphia, unable to even afford medical treatment for physical or psychological injuries sustained on tour. America memorializes its fallen soldiers because sentiment is inexpensive, but we aren’t isn’t half so interested in looking after the soldiers still with us.
The deaths of service members in combat are often heroic on their part, but in the conservative rhetoric, the word is employed to distract from the fact that those deaths are also a monstrosity on the part of our nation at large. There are both heroes and villains among soldiers, I have no doubt, just as there are among police, politicians, and revolutionaries. But when a kid five years my junior dies suddenly in a desert halfway across the world because he thought a recruiter held his only chance at a decent future, the word “hero” seems a distraction from a tragedy we could have prevented.