The Cult of Military Service

“America needs heroes,” it is sometimes said, a phrase that’s often uttered in a wistful tone, almost cooingly, as if we were talking about a lonely child. But do we really “need heroes”? We need leaders, who marshal us to the muddle. We need role models, who show us how to deal with it. But what we really need are citizens, who refuse to infantilize themselves with talk of heroes and put their shoulders to the public wheel instead. The political scientist Jonathan Weiler sees the cult of the uniform as a kind of citizenship-by-proxy.” ~ William Deresiewicz

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time.

Recently, after hearing of Leah Remini’s departure from the cult that is Scientology, and how Kirstie Alley – a supposedly great friend of hers – cursed her out on Twitter for leaving.

It reminded me of the cult that is the International Church of Christ, who had a strong presence on the Portland State University campus when I was a student (and included several of my coworkers at the time, inviting me to “Bible study”), and how they weren’t allowed to be in romantic relationships beyond holding hands.

I was thinking about how my philosophy on the military has evolved since I was a kid and recently came upon the blog post by Wise Sloth, The Military is a Cult. It made me think about the rampant sexual assault of women in the military and how these rapists are not going to jail like someone would “on the outside”.  It made me think of the fact that I, as a recruiter, find it hard to suggest jobs to ex-military beyond project managers and analysts for government-related agencies because why?  We know they only have one way of thinking, that innovation and questioning the system isn’t exactly part of the military culture.

“Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.” ~ Howard Zinn

My father was a retired Army captain. My paternal grandparents were both veterans. My brother is a retired Air Force sergeant.  I have friends who served.  People I love. So my thoughts about speaking this in a public forum made me nervous.

But my blog is meant to bring up things for us to ponder, to open minds and to spark thought. And here’s the thing  – it’s got nothing to do with how I feel about them. If they were Scientologists or Mormons or whatever, I’d speak up.  But the society we live in is so insanely fueled by the worship of the military, that I feel like even writing about this will get me a McCarthy-esque blacklisting.  I’ll be told that the twenty year old kid who was lured out of the ‘hood to join the service is there to “protect my freedom of speech” or that my audacity to question the military is “stupid and ungrateful”, that this is the “greatest country in the world” and that without the military, I’d be living under a dictatorship.

“What struck me as I began to study history was how nationalist fervor–inculcated from childhood on by pledges of allegiance, national anthems, flags waving and rhetoric blowing–permeated the educational systems of all countries, including our own. I wonder now how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own. Then we could never drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or napalm on Vietnam, or wage war anywhere, because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children.” ~ Howard Zinn

In the New York Times’ piece, America’s Sentimental Regard for the Military,

“The new cult of the uniform began with the call to “support our troops” during the Iraq war. The slogan played on a justified collective desire to avoid repeating the mistake of the Vietnam era, when hatred of the conflict spilled over into hostility toward the people who were fighting it. Now the logic was inverted: supporting the troops, we were given to understand, meant that you had to support the war. In fact, that’s all it seemed to mean. The ploy was a bait and switch, an act of emotional blackmail. If you opposed the war or questioned the way it was conducted, you undermined our troops.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dragged on, other purposes have come into play. The greater the sacrifice that has fallen on one small group of people, the members of the military and their families, the more we have gone from supporting our troops to putting them on a pedestal.”

The main reason I never joined the military myself is this: by joining, you ultimately agree that you will kill another human being if your country demands it.  Not just die for your country, but kill for it.  Even if you never end up serving in a role that has you pulling the trigger, by joining, your efforts support the death of people you’ve never met.  We all know that if you sell for Monsanto, you know very well that your work supports the poisoning of our soil.  This is no different.

The video below is funny but true, about how cults begin.  Watch, listen, and see how similar it is to the expectation that the military gives its recruits and treats them during their service.  Remember, nothing is black and white. The world is a million shades of gray and this is meant to awaken, to encourage healthy discussion, to challenge convention.

"Every member of the military, from the medic to the mechanic, is trained to fight and to kill."



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