The cultural ritual of ‘honoring’ service members has reached newfound levels of perversion. From football games to political rallies to corporations, all claim to do their part in honoring the service of those unfortunate souls ultimately maimed from their service. Special honors are held for those who die, as we learned during Trumps address to congress just the other night. A booming standing ovation lasting for minutes brought tears to the eyes of the man’s grieving widow with some of the most powerful men and women on this earth.
Trump speaks for the dead soldier as if he’s been to the heavens and says,
Ryan is looking down right now, and he’s very happy because, I think, he just broke a record.
The irony was palatable. The same group of men and women who are responsible for under-funding Veteran’s Affairs, year by year, still have the gall to clap at the men and women they maim and abuse whist shouting ‘god bless our troops.’
The clapping was a deafening. A reminder that those who are partially responsible for the death of this man also has a vested interest in perpetuating the connection between military service and their apparent representative, the US Government. The reason is because if ordinary families believe their loved ones are being thrown away in pointless wars than the entire structure of a volunteer military unravels. Add to this mix our eager media who gains ad revenue by showing the grief and sorrow of the woman in question over and over on web pages and television clips. We have entered a new age of exploitation.
There is a problem here with this dynamic and it’s spread throughout our society, but before I begin I want to clarify my position.
I have no interest in the grieving widow’s actions and pass no judgement on her decision to go to Trumps address. If she found some psychological benefit to the ordeal in helping her cope with the grief of her dead husband then I am not one to judge this decision.
In addition I do not pass judgement on the individual men and women who choose to join the nation’s military. I also do not care or pass judgement on their motivations, whether economic or patriotic. But I will pass judgement on the government, because no matter how many flags they fly in the oval office, how often they proudly shout about honoring our veterans, or how loud they clap at the widow of a dead man; they are still complicit in his death even if they didn’t pull the trigger.
The Military and Our Government Are Separate Entities
Intentions do not justify the ends. Every major sporting event in this country begins with a flag salute and a verbal confirmation that we all support and honor our citizens in uniform. But what does it mean to ‘honor’ someone? In ancient Greece, honoring the gods meant engaging in the cult, doing the motions of the dance, sacrificing the lamb and saying the words. It is only with modern religions that our test for ‘honor’ is deep seated belief. Do you actually believe in god, not just say you do? This question has never mattered till now, but since it is impossible to tell if someone is truly appreciative of the troops, loud clapping and vocal support is used a surrogate. But that’s opening us all up for abuse.
The fact remains that no individual or government holds a monopoly on how to honor someone’s memory. You are not the dead person, no matter how well intentioned the clapping, no matter how much you believe within your heart that the sacrifice was necessary and your appreciation of it is real; ‘honoring’ is a social signal to other people and not to the dead man.
In the best case we are now liable to be lied to and manipulated based on our emotions. Corporations and officials can now use this ritual of ‘honoring’ our veterans as a way of revealing to us a morality of their practice. Would a senator or business man who loves our veterans ever lie or swindle us? However, time and time again we are shown that those who are the most fervent supports of our military are some of the most corrupt, merely using their ardent applause as cover for doing exactly the opposite. So instead of judging a man or woman on his or her merit, we can now spend our time watching who claps less enthusiastically, who salutes less proudly, or who sits down first during the flag salute to find the unpatriotic traitor among us. This is lip service to the people they send to die and last I checked, the VA lines aren’t getting any shorter.
In the worst case we fall prey to the instincts of social bullying and exclusion. A man who voiced a political interpretation of Trumps action lost his job because of the perceived social back lash. This is a sickening trend, people should never be afraid of voicing their opinions about the world around them, we need more honesty in this world and not less. I want less secret racists and by contrast, more open ones. I need to know who believes what and I will never get that by dousing all those who have the courage to express themselves in gasoline.
Patriotism Doesn’t Heal Anyone’s Wounds But Your Own
So we clap. Perhaps we hope that by doing this we give the damaged men and women who return home courage, remind them of our appreciation, and maybe think we are healing the wounds created by war. But rates of PTSD doesn’t go down because we salute harder at a football game, or give up our seat at a restaurant, or because we wear a ‘support our troops’ pin. The leg is still missing, the phantom pains are still there, and the widow is still a widow. The only person you are helping with this public masturbation is yourself, justifying their deaths under the veil of unassailable patriotism. Because to question this dynamic is un-American; when in reality it’s merely because the alternative is too horrific to contemplate. The government keeps this charade up as long as it is able. And sure, some deaths are necessary, but when the body bags come flying in from distant lands on the nightly news; everyone is reminded once again that the soldiers who die in war are not represented by their government. It’s just sad that it takes so many dead young people before we are reminded of this fact.
People can do what they want. If people want to salute the flag before every football game, or say god bless you on television every time they see someone in uniform; that’s fine. What is not fine is government sponsorship of the practice. Lending military assets to football games, allowing people in uniform to solicit (and lie, in some cases) our children in highschool, or to presume to be god when speaking for a dead soldier as if our president knows how he’d best like to be remembered. This is unacceptable, for one the military has no role in our daily lives, zero, unless absolutely necessary. And the government has no place in acting as its surrogate. The United States of America should not be a military state, our soldiers, no matter how noble and well intentioned, do not belong on our streets; that’s what police are for.
Death in distant lands is often a cold, terrible necessity. It is not something to be applauded or cheered and not something to be made fun of or parodied. This is my opinion, yours is no more valid. War is a solemn necessity, yes, but not a spectacle. I don’t clap for the death of soldiers for the same reason I don’t clap at a funeral. What’s more, I don’t allow other people to tell me what is or isn’t ‘honoring’ someone’s memory because they are not the dead person. They do not hold a monopoly on what ‘honoring’ a life is or isn’t. The perverse ritual of allowing government to influence our decision on how to honor those dying in war is sickening. Government has no place at anyone’s funeral unless it’s written in the will. Worse perhaps is allowing this zeal to shut down opposing opinions and thoughts about war because the longer we let this boot stomping nonsense go on, the more that the essential distinction between the soldier (the fighters in war) and our government (the ones ordering soldiers to engage in war) disappears.
War is not glorious or right, but it’s in video games and television, often with the governments blessing and support. Tales of heroism and sacrifice are all apart of understanding the sacrifice that families make when they see their children sign up with a recruiter in high school; but again the government has no place in influencing how it’s citizens show respect to those who die. The government is not the one who lost a loved one, fellow soldiers are saddened and the families are heartbroken but few senators in capital hill bear that burden.
Within this ritualistic display of submission toward our military (because if I don’t clap then I’ll be socially ostracized), perpetuated by the government, we lose a very important fact about our soldiers and that is that they are humans. William Owens to the nation at large is now known as a soldier and not so much as a man. But unless you intimately know this individual, then you cannot make the leap in assuming that their profession and career is how they would wish to be remembered. At the end of the day, William Owens was a human being and not a soldier. He had flaws, opinions, wishes, aspirations, a childhood, and much else. I do not know him or what he went through, so I will not presume to know how best he would like to be honored. And the government, no matter how well intentioned, has no place in telling its citizens how to remember those who sacrifice themselves for its ends.
The government doesn’t want us to internalize the cost of war, only to support it perpetually. It has every desire to maintain the unquestionable axiom that every man and women who is killed in distant wars was absolutely necessary, and the method in which they convince us of that is to publicly display ‘respect’ and ‘honor’ for those who they send to die. But of course it’s impossible for every soldier to die for absolutely essential reasons, basic logic can be our guide through this fog.
The cult of military service has it’s benefits on a larger social scale but not on an individual one. Praising our troops doesn’t cure them of the scars they hold and I have yet to see evidence that they are psychologically healthier because of it either.
It is offensive to me that the justification for William’s death is being shrouded in this ritual. Show me the facts and offer a calm, rational argument as to why his death was necessary. If the crux of the argument is that by questioning his death I’m a traitor, maybe you should take a look in the mirror and ask yourself why you the alternative case is so unfathomable when you have so little facts to support either conclusion. Until then I don’t care how many unpatriotic jeers I get, I will not keep clapping.