The few, the proud, the suicidal

CNN reported last week that suicide attempts among American military personnel are way up. In fact, they reported that the number reached over two thousand last year. Also, over the last few weeks the NY Times has been running a series of articles about the high level of violent criminal activity among returning GIs, attributing almost a thousand ‘killings’ to the troubled souls. No doubt, it’s a tough time to be an American soldier.

Of course, re-acclimating trained killers into civil society is a problem that’s plagued civilization as long as humans have been cultivating crops – its cultural portrayal can be logged in a trajectory that runs from Odysseus to Rambo.

Reflecting on the current trends, however, I am reminded of another troubling cultural icon: Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. In one of his more memorable monologues (not that they’re not all memorable), he explains that American soldiers don’t have the wherewithal to go the distance and commit the kind of atrocities that are necessary for winning in the war in Vietnam. The problem as he sees it is that the Pentagon is too concerned with instilling a sense of morality within the soldiers that has no place on the battlefield.

To further make his point, Kurtz explains the ludicrousness of the brass forbidding GIs from painting cusswords or other such vulgarities on munitions targeted at the enemy. For example, if John McCain were to write one it might say, “I’ll never stop referring to you motherfuckers as gooks!” But I digress. The point that Kurtz conveys is that war (especially in its modern form) is the greatest form of vulgarity possible, and that it’s ridiculous for the Pentagon to seek its sterilization.

Though Kurtz’s stance is extreme, I find it kind of compelling. In fact, the postmodern ‘morality’ of the American military fascinates me to no end. For example, last year the LA Times reported that more Afghani civilians were killed by American bombs than by the Taliban. When pressed on the issue, the official American military response was that the statistic doesn’t shed a realistic light on the situation because Americans don’t intentionally target civilians. Ta da! Hands clean!

Without going too far off on a tangent, this position – in my humble opinion – encapsulates one of the major problems of the general American understanding of our role in the world. We mistakenly believe that as long as our intentions are ‘moral’ the rest of the world will forgive us when we do things like shoot down commercial airliners, bomb aspirin factories, or launch missiles aimed at the Chinese embassy. Oops – it’s all good, right?

Back to Kurtz and his criticism of American military SOPs: in the aforementioned passage, he is also referring to the confusion and demoralization caused by fighting an insurgency war. Of course, guerrilla (or asymmetrical) warfare has been around for a long time. It’s a natural, strategic response to armies that can’t be defeated on traditional battlefields (symmetrically), and for better of worse, one of the tools of the asymmetrical warrior is terrorism.

An important question remains, however: whether or not terrorism is a legitimate form of warfare. But isn’t the question moot if terrorists don’t care whether or not their enemy considers them to be legitimate political or military actors, as long as they believe themselves to be?

Okay, you’ve been really patient in continuing to read this post, so here’s the payoff: since the American military is singular in power (for example, the U.S. navy is five times larger than the rest of the world’s combined) it will perpetually be dogged by asymmetrical warriors including terrorists. This is simply because none of our enemies will ever be strong enough to face our military in head-to-head contests.

So here’s my recommendation: in order to tilt the scale back in favor of American forces, they create their own terrorism corps. Hell, we already have two thousand soldiers who want to commit suicide, why not hand out explosive vests and point them in the direction of the enemy? Wouldn’t that be a real ‘shock and awe’ tactic? Think about it, none of our enemies would ever expect us to do something so ‘immoral’ – so un-American.

But would it really be so vastly un-American? We honor our ‘fallen’ as those who’ve made the ‘greatest sacrifice’ for our country. Shouldn’t we want more people to be honored? Isn’t honor one of the most important threads of the American fabric? Moreover, we send soldiers off to war knowing that some of them will die, lose a limb, or suffer from debilitating emotional problems. If we have no ‘moral’ problem with this, it seems to me that my policy might have the same result, but be a little less convoluted.

Look people; the bottom line is that if we are going to keep messing up the heads of our youth by turning them into killers, we should at least capitalize on the situation. Why not turn a social problem into a strategic military advantage. Isn’t this the American way? To take lemons and make lemonade, I mean.

Perhaps you think this proposal would be hard to sell to the American public, but just image what a commercial for the new Freedomwarrior Corps might look like:

(Somber bugle music fades-in) The sun is rising (or is it setting) over a desert ridge – the landscape is unmistakably American (but may be shot in Australia if they give the film company a better deal on the location).

The close-ups of American faces fade-in and are super imposed over the landscape, one after another. The voiceover begins (the voice is deep and racially ambiguous):

“America has always been the land of the free (long pause) and the home of the brave.”

“Americans have always valued honor, valor (long pause) and sacrifice.”

“If you value your freedom, your family (long pause) and your country, you may be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.”

The logo and recruiting phone number for the Freedomwarrior Crops appears across the bottom of the screen.

Voiceover concludes: “honor, valor, sacrifice, freedom.”

Dang! Sign me up.

We can win these little wars against all the disaffected brown people in the world, but we need to have that American, can-do attitude about it. We just need to spin a new yarn of ‘morality.’ We’ve certainly done that before. Remember, before our politicians started comparing Saddam to Hitler, he used to be one of our best buds; in fact, we gave him billions of dollars in military aid – not to mention tactical help in wiping out those pesky Kurds who were rising-up against him. I guess we just didn’t figure he’d go as far as to use the chemical weapons we funded to kill so many of them. Again, oops!

Please file under satire.

10 responses to “The few, the proud, the suicidal”

  1. bryan says:

    I’ve found that Times series to be so disturbing. It’s just so painfully clear that the people who have the most to lost and who fare the worst for all this (on our side at least; I’m not counting the tens of thousands of people “we” have killed over there) are the common soldiers. I can’t believe the campaign hasn’t served to ratchet up anti-war sentiment more than it has. How did all the attention get shifted over to the economy all of a sudden? This election should be about ending this freaking war at all costs.

    I am totally grooving, on the other hand, on Obama merch that features cartoon illustrations of the candidate.

  2. bryan says:

    oops. “most to lost” s/b “most to lose”

  3. Jeremy says:

    At first I was all, OK, I don’t get why this is posted under Literacy-anonymity, and then, whoa, yeah… I see, I see. The “payoff” here is totally disturbing. And your description of the satirical ad seems spot-on, military adverts being pretty unsettling to begin with…

  4. Cynthia says:

    I totally agree with eve find it everybody here so far, especially you Jeremy. I do also find it very disturbing, I have lost three friends to these senseless wars that Bush has sent the troops on.

  5. Literacy says:

    Cynthia, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I was hoping to raise some bigger questions that just these two wars, however. The point is to question the whole concept of warfare in general. Brooke wrote a post a few weeks back questioning the validity of the nation-state system. In many instances, I felt as though he took the words right out of my mouth, as they say. Further, war as I see it, has clearly been little more than a tool of power politics at the cost of regular people.

    In my humble opinion, it is time to see outside of the natural fallacy that war is an inevitable component of the human condition.

  6. I was with you right up until the last line, Literacy. Declaring this as satire blunts the truthful edge of it. Having strapped ourselves to the war machine as we have, what is left for us to do with the wrecked lives of our own soldiers but to use them to try to win the war at all costs? Satire it may be, but you have also expressed the darkest of logical, unspeakable truths.

  7. i love it when sock puppets have their own web pages!

  8. Natasha says:

    Shooting down commercial airline jets, ha? I always wondered about that one. Calling it a satirical piece is the same as posting it under Literacy’s name: it’s being on the safe non-judgmental side, I suppose. It is a great piece, Literacy! You have expressed the sore thoughts and feelings of helplessness, that have probably visited most of us, with great sarcasm which hits the problem under the belt and allows everyone to take some type of a mental revenge. Satire or not, after all, in history, many genius writers used satire to change the mentality of the crowds. Thanks for writing it.

  9. Literacy says:

    Yeah Natasha, I wasn’t thrilled about posting this under Literacy, but I’m going to be looking for a job in the near future, and you know…

    Mr. Swift, perhaps I’m guilty of not giving my readers enough credit. Maybe the last line is a mistake. I’m sorry you felt a little disappointed.

  10. Cynthia says:

    Yeah I just feeel that most of these wars have been senseless. I agree with that this has been used for power