So this is going to be a bit of a tightrope walk for me. I have to balance reverence for the fallen comrades of some of the soldiers that I’ve trained with during my travels, with being a total contrarian wiseass. You see, I find it difficult to reconcile supreme respect for those willing to give their lives for a principle, with utter disdain for those who send others to their demise for cavalier and unnecessary reasons. What does one have to do with the other? Well, yesterday was about honoring soldiers, how about today being set aside for loathing the powers that be and their profligacy with the lives of others?
Here’s the thing, marching off to potential death in a foreign land is not, on the face of it, an attractive proposition. Natural objections based on a sense of self-preservation must be overcome. Since we no longer live in an age where this can be done by offering soldiers the spoils of war (after all, Halliburton’s got dibs on those), it is instead achieved by callow psychological manipulation. The first layer of this is nationalistic and patriotic propaganda. The next, is imbuing military service with notions that appeal to the noblest aspects of the human condition like honor, integrity, loyalty, and achievement, while minimizing the practicalities like the breakdown of individual identity and instilling of unquestioning obedience, neither of which are particularly noble.Of course in all this, the powers that be cannot just gloss over the fact that you may lose your life in service to your country. They can, however, appeal to high ideals yet again, this time the virtue of sacrifice to a higher principle, secure in the knowledge that your passing will be honored, glorified, and remembered by a grateful nation, by decree, on a day like Veteran’s Day, or Remembrance Day, if you died for the Queen, Victory Day if you died to keep the Nazis out of Russia so you could continue living under Stalin’s benevolent stewardship, etc, etc. Hence my ambivalence about these days, for they are part of the apparatus society employs to incentivize a course of action that places the lives of honorably motivated young men and women in the hands of, at best, people blinded by ideology or willing to compromise their principles in the pursuit of power, and at worst, people awash in corruption, whose only principle is the pursuit of power.
To risk, and ultimately, to give, one’s life for an ideal, is a courageous act, it is a staggering display of the power of the human mind, worthy of commemoration. It is, however, the height of tragedy to die for a politician’s scheme, an ideologue’s fantasy, or a cleric’s lie. I just hope more attention is paid to the formation of the ideals young people are asked, convinced, or compelled to die for, because I believe that if more of us understood the true nature of the things we fight about, we would be unable to find cause to do it so much. And that, perhaps, would truly honor our soldiers, not just in death, but in life.