At the Super Bowl this Sunday, when most of America will gather to watch our national character accurately represented by a brutal, war-like game (football), controlled by a ruthless, cartel-like corporation (the NFL), selling us mostly disposable, harmful products (automobiles, alcohol, online gambling), you’re almost certain to see an expensive (and weirdly effective) propaganda campaign from the United States Military.
Watch when former American Idol Kelly Clarkson, singing our National Anthem, an ode to steadfastness in the face of bloody battles, belts out the alternate (but compulsory for pop singers) high notes on the word “free.” Although the skies over Indianapolis won’t be visible to the combatants and their audience in the stadium – it’s a roofless dome – some symbol of America’s military mightiness (a “stealth” bomber, a squadron of fighter jets in close formation, Taliban-killing drones) will fly over the site with an intimidating roar. During pauses in the game, like when one of the players gets “his bell rung” in the charming parlance of concussions, we’ll be treated to commercials for the Army and Marines and Navy that will look a lot like the commercials for “Call of Duty 3” or Hollywood movies. There might even be one or two armed forces advertisements that attempt to demonstrate how military service makes Mom and Dad prouder than they ever imagined they could be.
The essential message, implied and explicit, will be that the young men and women who fight our wars are national heroes, each of them doing their part to keep the rest of us free to recline on the couch with a cold beer, wager on the stock market through our home computer, and watch helmeted gladiators do combat on our giant screens.
What we won’t see during the big game, and what certainly will never be mentioned, even in passing, even as a feeble attempt to contextualize the dizzying spectacle of uniforms and armaments, will be any discussion whatsoever of what our military actually does on a daily basis, what it actually costs (both in money and lives) to “defend” our way of life, and what we actually accomplish by spending more on weapons and soldiers than almost all the other countries on the planet combined.
Does the United States of America require robust armed forces? Absolutely.
Do these armed forces accomplish meaningful and important objectives? Frequently.
Are the poorly educated, economically disadvantaged youngsters who comprise the bulk of our military a kind of national hero? No.
They’re victims of a foul system that transforms them into trained killers. Man-slaughterers. Sometimes cold-blooded murderers.
This unpleasant fact made the front pages of the newspapers for a day or two last week when the military trial of Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich came to its upsetting conclusion. Charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of two women and five children in Haditha, Iraq, where, in 2005, 24 civilians were killed (massacred?) by United States Marines, Wuterich was found guilty of “dereliction of duty” and punished with a rank and pay reduction. He avoided jail time.
The Haditha dead included several children and elderly people, who were shot multiple times at close range while unarmed. The killings allegedly were retribution for a homemade bomb attack on a convoy of Marines. The Haditha “incident” recalled the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam, as well as a number of other smaller-scale encounters during armed conflicts in which our putative national heroes summarily executed non-combatants. Last year the New York Times found secret transcripts of military interviews from the investigation into the Haditha deaths. In these interviews Marines described killing civilians on a regular basis and one sergeant testified that he would order his men to shoot children in vehicles that failed to stop at military checkpoints
War is hell. War is bad. Good people do bad things. You can’t understand until you’ve been there yourself. Etcetera.
All true, one gathers. And in the perverse code of conduct that governs war and “rules of engagement,” what happened in Haditha may or may not have been justified. The families of the victims surely believe one thing and the families of the Marines another.
But, really, the sickening nostrum of “support the troops” (even if you don’t support the war) is another way of unquestioningly accepting the propaganda and blithely sublimating the lies. Just because they’re our killers doesn’t change the truth: they’re killers. That’s what we train them and pay them to do on our behalf. We feel better about all the murdering when the victims are “the enemy” wearing uniforms and toting weapons. But it’s still nationally sanctioned murder.
If we were to collectively reject the propaganda and be honest about what a soldier is and what function he performs on our behalf for meager remuneration, we would likely be more inclined to view our dedicated mercenaries as a kind of necessary evil, a powerful expression of our ugliest instincts, not brave adventurer-seekers vanquishing bad guys in the real-world equivalent of a multi-player video game.