Well-Deserved Recognition or More Glorification of the Military?

Today we have the debut post from our newest Peace Tree contributing author, J.C. Shakespeare.

J.C. e-mailed me requesting to join us here and included the post you are about to read as his one submission for review. When I read it , I was struck by the coincidence of our shared experience over the holidays. I struggled with the same thoughts on my flights. I said nothing.

I thought about my own exeriences of having been in the boots of a soldier coming home from a war. In my own return home from the first Gulf War, my Air Force SAC (Strategic Air Command) Hospital Group was greeted by 5,000 people at a hero’s welcome home at the Bangor Maine airport stopover on our way back to Ft. Worth from Germany. The event was quiet shocking; the people there were in a complete state of frenzy and repeatedly asked for my autograph. I was then required to march in a victory parade in downtown Dallas.

I was not a hero and it felt so bizarre participating in that. When I told friends, I did not feel I was a hero they actually got pissed off at me for saying that…made me wonder whom they were really thinking about.

I wondered…if the soldiers on those flights felt that way too. I was watching their faces when they made those announcements and I thought, just maybe they did, then again…maybe not.

I agree with J.C. we should be able to speak of and examine this dynamic in our society. Welcome aboard J.C. and thanks for having the courage to ask the question....

Well-Deserved Recognition or More Glorification of the Military?
J.C. Shakespeare

I came up against another one of those internal edges while flying American Airlines over the holidays. At the end of each flight, the flight attendant would add on to the "Thanks for flying American" spiel to thank the members of the military on the plane. It usually went something like this, "We're honored to have brave men and women flying with us today who are currently serving in the United States military, and we want to extend our special thanks for their brave service and sacrifice that keep this country free."

On the one hand, I try to respect the choices that other people make, even when I disagree wholeheartedly with those choices. I understand that we have to have a military, and that without volunteers, we wouldn't have one. That might leave us defenseless and open to attack. I understand that men and women require bravery to make the decision to enlist and to fight, and that they and their families make sacrifices. I get that.

By the same token, if people would stop volunteering, it would be a lot harder to fight ill-conceived and, dare I say, immoral wars like the current occupation of Iraq. It is a nice surface theory to "support the troops," but what does that mean underneath it all? That I support killing civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? That I support the kinds of inhuman violence that have taken place at Abu Ghraib, at Haditha, at countless other sites where our military men and women have forgotten that the people on the other end of that rifle, that machine gun, or that bomb are real human beings as well? How does one support the troops without supporting the violence of war?

In Resistance to Civil Government, Thoreau characterizes soldiers thusly:

The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones, and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw, or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens.

As usual, I find Thoreau a bit extreme and inflammatory. However, when corporations such as American Airlines are instigating applause for these folks, it irritates me. This past summer I took my daughter to Sea World, and the Shamu show was practically dedicated to the military.

Our culture, by glorifying what the military is doing, is placing, in my opinion, far too much value on the inclination of some "brave" citizens to simply follow orders, even when those orders take them into harm's way for reasons that have been misrepresented by our leaders. Frankly, I would rather give a standing ovation to someone like Stephen Funk, who refused to fight in this dirty war, or any of the other hundreds of conscientious objectors who have had the guts to JUST SAY NO.

On the last leg of our flight, as we pulled into Austin, I heard the spiel for the last time and blurted out, "We have some teachers on board, too." My wife punched me in the arm and told me to shut up, and that I was being disrespectful. But why should soldiers be pointed out for special recognition, when teachers, doctors, nurses, doctors, social workers, clergy and other helping professionals never are?

So my question: Am I just being cynical, or are my perceptions of this cultural glorification of the military as bad as they seem? How can we separate the human beings from the government's policies?

I would really like to find the internal tranquility to be able to put aside the lenses of my perceptions when our servicemen and women are being publicly recognized, and just thank them as human beings who are acting on what they believe is right. After all, isn't that what we are all trying to do?

JC Shakespeare is an English teacher in Texas. A former professional comedian and actor, he has been head-butted on Walker, Texas Ranger, lit himself on fire in the animated film Waking Life, and voiced characters in numerous video games. His particular areas of interest include transcendentalism, contemplative Christianity, creative resolution, and creating a peaceful environment within his circle of influence, in hopes that it will spread.

Visit J.C. at his home blog.


Peace y'all


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