Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Brave warriors fighting for freedom -- maybe, maybe not

History professor and former soldier Andrew Bacevich, a self-declared "conservative Catholic" who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War, discusses the American Memorial Day holiday in light of the death of  death of his son three years ago in Iraq and the United States' history of imperialistic military adventures. As pointed out by Thers, Bacevich says things one no longer expects to see in the mainstream media:
As a non-American and non-veteran, I speak from considerably less authority, but I will tap-dance a little further into the minefield of our current western culture of military fetishization and beatification of anyone in a uniform. Not only are U.S. (and Canadian and British and other assorted Western soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan) not fighting for our--or anyone else's--freedom, I don't think they are necessarily any braver or more virtuous than anyone else. 
Even if you ascribe the best, most virtuous, most noble of motivations to the average U.S. Marine rifleman in Afghanistan -- that is, you assume he enlisted to "fight for freedom" not because he needed money for college or enlisted in a fit of jingoistic enthusiasm or because his father was in the service or just because he thought that "Full Metal Jacket" was a kick-ass film when he was 18 years old - consider his situation. He has been carefully, methodically, expertly trained. He is clad in ballistic armor, equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and nearly unlimited ammunition, hot chow, top-level battlefield medical care, satellite communications, on-call air support, a massive logistics and intelligence infrastructure supporting him with every thing from hot showers to aerial photographic reconaissance. He is likely transported to the battlefield by armored vehicle or helicopter and knows that if he can stay alive, he can go home from the war when his tour of duty is over.
Consider his opponent - the mujahedeen, the Iraqi insurgent or the Taliban. He has a 20-year old Kalishnakov and a spare magazine - maybe even a grenade or two. If he is extremely fortunate, he might even have a decent pair of boots. He eats what he can scrounge, forage or steal in an impoverished countryside. He knows the terrain and local language because he has been fighting a war here for most of his adult life and will continue to do so until he dies, surrenders or wins -- just keeping his head down and running out the clock is not an option for him. Even if you attribute the most heinous of motives to him -- that he is fighting because he "hates freedom" or just "wants to murder Americans" - and presume that he is not trying to repel a foreign invader, defend his religion and way of life from "decadent and corrupt infidels"  or simply following his father (and probably grandfather) into the what has become the family business -- what make him any less brave than his opponent?
 I don't mean this as criticism of those serving in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else the powers-that-be have sent those who volunteered to serve their country, I mean it as a criticism of the blind acceptance that our warriors are somehow morally superior to theirs, that we are better than them simply by virtue of being us or that picking up a rifle somehow makes you a better person than anyone else, that being a soldier is somehow morally superior to being a doctor or a teacher or a farmer.
 Is a suicide bombing of a police station in Baghdad really more heinous than an air strike on a wedding party? If you consider the matter of intention, yes, it is - but that makes very little difference to the people on the receiving end. And in the end, how does either the air strike or the terrorist response make any of us more free? And does anyone doubt that in the unlikely event the tables were turned -- if the wingnut fantasy nightmare scenario of a gigantic Islamic Caliphate superpower somehow came to pass and the Western world was somehow invaded and occupied -- that our tactics would be any less desperate? The history of Israel, of Ireland and of the French and Czech resistance in World War Two suggest otherwise.
 Why are we so sure we are the good guys?

(Those wishing to heap abuse on me for "not supporting the troops" or coddling terrorists or whatever other misinterpretation of my position you wish to make can do so over at The Woodshed, I'd prefer to reserve this comment thread for serious discussion of the questions raised.)

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