A Day Late And A Dollar Short

Posted on by clint thrust and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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. 

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28 Responses to A Day Late And A Dollar Short

  1. Guy Fox says:

    notions that appeal to the noblest aspects of the human condition like honor, integrity, loyalty, and achievement
    Are they noble because of good intentions, because of good effects, or because they feel good when you ascribe them to yourself (or let someone else do it for you)? They might not be erasing your identity, they might just be offering you an upgrade that they suspect you’ll like much better than the one you have.

    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.
    How do you distinguish, in advance, an ideal from a scheme/fantasy/lie? If you failed to identify it correctly, was the act still courageous and worthy of commemoration? Do dupes deserve monuments?

    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.

    • clint thrust says:

      In the context of my point, the good feeling associated with identifying as noble would be most salient, though least accurate in the abstract. They don’t erase your identity, they do break it down prior to upgrading it, though I would argue their reasons for doing so have far less to do with suspecting you’ll like the upgrade than they do with knowing they will be able to make use of it whether you like it or not.

      How to distinguish between ideals/schemes/fantasies/lies may be a bit too expansive a question to answer in a comment reply, but as far as dupes deserving monuments, I would say that depends on the nature of the monument. Human fallibility does not negate the heroism of sacrifice, I was advocating for greater scrutiny of how heroism is sold/exploited. Pat Tillman was awarded a Silver Star, his own father said he didn’t deserve it as it was based on a lie. Granted, the Tillman family sets a mighty high standard to live up to, but what if more people tried?

  2. How one is remembered has a lot to do with who won. “History is written by the victors” is a popular phrase, but a more accurate one is “history is ultimately written by the victor’s apologists.” It sounds like where you are coming from is honor in the service, but doubt in the cause, and we remember the fight against the Nazis as honorable and Iraq as questionable, and you may be right; but we should also admit that much of the honor in fighting against the Nazis was encouraged by explicit calls to “Otherness” (e.g. kill the Krauts/Japs) and that made it easier to sell the war. These modern battles are being fought without those explicit calls (accepting that there are subtle clues). Instead of defining the enemy, most of the energy is spent in defining who the enemy isn’t.

    So while the fight against the Nazis was the right one, I would bet that if America was allowed to think of “Muslims” the way they thought of “Germans” or “Japanese” during WWII, the war would be an easier sell. I’m not saying this is a good thing, only making the observation.

  3. JohnJ says:

    One of the bad things about recognizing bias (or propaganda) for what it is is that you think you’re the only one who does. Most soldiers recognize the propaganda, but they choose to serve their country because they love their country. Propaganda and media bias aren’t as powerful as most people think. We attribute them unnatural power because it’s a convenient explanation for why everyone disagrees with us. “It must be because I’m smarter than everyone else is! That’s the most reasonable explanation!”

    • JohnJ says:

      More succinctly: It’s a small mind that believes propaganda exists on only one side of an issue.

      • clint thrust says:

        Agreed, but are you claiming that the propaganda on the other side of this issue is anywhere near as pervasive/effective?

        • JohnJ says:

          Of course it is.

          • clint thrust says:

            So most soldiers are exposed to as many messages vilifying the military industrial complex and decrying the futility of service to a corrupt, indifferent organization, as they are ones lionizing the notion of brothers in arms protecting and loving America? Seriously?

          • JohnJ says:

            Moving the goalposts, I see. But still, if we include the time of a soldier’s life before s/he becomes a solider, I would still say that most are exposed to both types of propaganda, although the one decrying military service is probably far more common. It’s definitely way more common for those who aren’t part of the military.

            However, my point is that most soldiers see both types and recognize both types for what they are. And they still make the decision that military service is honorable and right.

            But soldiers tend to be both smarter and more educated than non-soldiers. It shouldn’t be surprising that non-soldiers are more susceptible to pervasive anti-military and anti-American propaganda.

          • operator says:

            But soldiers tend to be both smarter and more educated than non-soldiers.

            The non-soldier class includes individuals who could never pass qualifying tests.

            … non-soldiers are more susceptible to pervasive anti-military and anti-American propaganda …

            … but that is an extraordinary claim – where is your extraordinary evidence?

          • clint thrust says:

            Goalposts stand dude, I was referring to soldiers during the course of their life prior to entering the military. Between public school education, ads for the Marine Corps during every sporting event and the fact that even anti-war films portray soldiers’ gallantry and heroism, where exactly are they seeing soldiers portrayed as chumps? Or are a lot more poli-sci students at UC Berkeley signing up for the armed forces than I’m aware of?

          • JohnJ says:

            The fact that you believe that colleges are the only place where anti-military propaganda is prominent says more about your own bias than anything else. I’m just gonna refer back to my original comment. People don’t recognize propaganda that supports their own perspective, and they attribute unnatural power to propaganda from the other side because it makes them feel superior by rationalizing those who disagree as weak-minded fools. “They’re not as smart as I am because all of them have fallen for the other side’s propaganda, whereas I am completely and totally objective.”

            Good luck with that.

          • clint thrust says:

            Re: college campuses, I was using levity to make a point. I’m willing to be convinced that there is an entity with equal resources to the U.S government, major industries, etc. that is matching their marketing expenditures and instead providing messages which inundate the mainstream that America is rubbish, not worth defending, and that those who do so are suckers, and that I’m not noticing it, just asking for evidence.

  4. Fifi says:

    Beautiful post clint, it is powerful in its gentleness and lack of showboating (by that I mean that you seem to be focused on presenting what you want to express in a way that is about the ideas and not just a flamboyant internet persona).

    TLP – “So while the fight against the Nazis was the right one, I would bet that if America was allowed to think of “Muslims” the way they thought of “Germans” or “Japanese” during WWII, the war would be an easier sell. I’m not saying this is a good thing, only making the observation.”

    “Allowed to think”? OMG, it’s a liberal plot to prevent Americans being great by not “allowing” them to dehumanize Muslims. Seriously TLP, there was plenty of anti-Muslim propaganda to try to sell the war on Iraq and there’s ongoing propaganda vis a vis Iran (Bush even called the war on Iraq a “crusade” FFS). It seems that you’re not “making an observation” but a suggestion of what you’d like to be true and you’re increasingly trying to present your subjectivity as objective.

    • clint thrust says:

      Thanks, both for the kind words and for making the point that plenty of dehumanization has gone into the promotion of current wars. Though I would add there was a significant difference in how the Japanese and Germans were regarded during WW2 (internment, strong pockets of Nazi sympathizers and so forth), a fact which I think detracts from TLP’s point.

  5. operator says:

    It is […] the height of tragedy to die for a politician’s scheme, an ideologue’s fantasy, or a cleric’s lie.

    It bears mentioning that, some 80 years ago, the cause of (and the solution to) this problem occurred to a decorated war veteran…

    A few profit — and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.

    Major General Smedley Butler in War is a Racket

    • clint thrust says:

      Not saying that Major General Butler is entirely wrong, but I would suggest that if the cause/solution to this problem was really so simple, it would have been discovered and applied well before he came along.

      Bugger, I did not intend for that to rhyme.

      • Fifi says:

        Just because the solution is simple doesn’t mean it’s simple to enact. When Eisenhower warned about the dangers of a military industrial congressional complex in 1961 (50 years ago), it had already been quite well established. Even America finally joining the allies during WWII had an economic aspect – it wasn’t purely outrage at Hitler’s atrocities. IBM was already counting people for Hitler so the military industrial congressional/governmental complex is how the powerful adapted to industrialization. We’re going through a similar shift vis a vis computers but it’s one that was already in place in WWII. There’s a lot of very powerful people who get very very rich off of war, including those in congress, it’s a matter of wanting to get rid of war and that’s not going to happen as long as there’s so much money to be made (both legally and on the black market) by people who think killing children is “collateral damage”. Greed gets in the way of rational social policy all the time – for instance, drug policies are irrational (unless you’re profiting from them legally or illegally, and its very often the same people who benefit from a war on Iraq as do from a “war” on drugs).

        • clint thrust says:

          I concur, except with the notion that it’s possible to entirely get rid of war. Suggesting that greed/profit motive is the only substantial obstacle to eliminating conflict is myopic at best, dogmatic at worst, and either way interferes with achieving a level of understanding of the problem that could result in deeper, more comprehensive solutions that are less vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences.

          • Fifi says:

            We’ve never collectively tried to get rid of war so how do you know it’s not possible? We’re already moving towards less wars (Pinker presents some interesting statistic and ideas about violence and war – it may SEEM like there’s more violence because we’re exposed to so much in the media so we’re more intimately aware of the violence of all kinds that does occur). You seem to equate conflict with war, conflict doesn’t necessarily entail war – it can instead involve diplomacy and treaties. Conflict will always exist but conflict is not in and of itself war – it’s conflict and can be resolved in a variety of ways. We are always vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences, that’s what the “unintended” part is always about – you can’t plan ahead for things you don’t know are going to happen (contingency plans are for undesirable but foreseeable consequences). And why assume that an unintended consequence is always going to be negative? It can just as easily be positive (though people are more likely to claim they intended the consequence when it’s positive – unless they’re an artist or scientist and comfortable with uncertainty, unintended consequences and experimentation).

            Also, eliminating conflicts and eliminating war are two entirely different things. I find it interesting that war and conflict seem synonymous to you. When you find yourself in conflict with someone, do you escalate that conflict into war or do you look for other means to defuse or resolve the situation?

          • clint thrust says:

            Trying to reply to the reply below, which doesn’t have a reply button next to it for some reason.

            Sorry, that should have read *armed* conflict, I certainly don’t equate conflict with war, I just have a thing about reusing words.
            The reason I think war is inevitable is likely the same reason you think conflict is inevitable, human nature, competing interests and such, Pinker himself argues against the belief that behaviors like violence and aggression are socialized. Aside from that, there’s the question of how would any mediated conflict resolution be enforced? As per Maslow, the ultimate of the spheres of influence is violence.
            Also, I would say that when a simplistic solution is applied to a complex problem, the extent of potential unintended consequences is necessarily greater, mathematically speaking, because it limits the scope of what one can even attempt to foresee. As far as the consequences being negative, I don’t take that as a given, just more likely when top-down methods are involved.

          • Fifi says:

            Who says conflict is necessarily a bad thing? What comes out of conflict can be socially constructive or it can be socially destructive, or the results can be neutral. It’s not conflict that’s an issue, it’s how it is dealt with and resolved.

            Arguing “war is our nature” makes no more sense than arguing “cooperation is our nature” and then claiming that our natural state is peace. I find it interesting that you’re arguing against my “solution” when I haven’t really offered one – it’s like you’re committed to the idea of war and can’t even imagine anything else. “We have always been at war with Eastasia.”

          • clint thrust says:

            I apologize if I misunderstood, I thought you were advocating, or at least seconding, the notion that eliminating the profit from war was the simple solution, which was all I was disputing.

            Also, both conflict and co-operation are in our nature, I would no more argue that either are exclusive than I would any other binary reduction of human nature. Destruction is a natural process, I just think that trying to understand that process so we can limit it where it works against us is more productive than attempting to wish it away. And my ability to imagine something is an entirely different thing than whether or not I think it’s plausible.

      • operator says:

        Not saying that Major General Butler is entirely wrong …

        OK, but had you ever heard of him before?

        If you had, you certainly did not receive the standard history curriculum of a public school indoctrination education.

        [I]f the cause/solution to this problem was really so simple, it would have been discovered and applied well before he came along.

        Whose frame of reference are you applying? The real problem: the public must be tricked into going to war and must not dwell upon the profits that are earned as a result. (thus it was decided, likely long before Butler ever donned a uniform)

        Would you accept Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, and Halliburton contracts as a recent example of this simple theory of war-for-profit?

        • clint thrust says:

          I would, and I share your opprobrium towards war-for-profit. My only objection was that profiteering is not the sole ignoble motivation for war, and so eliminating the specter of it, laudable and correct as that may be, is not a comprehensive solution to the problem of spurious conflicts.

  6. HP says:


    First, I need to point out that what you propose to want to do, and what you actually try to do, are different things. You propose to want to separate those who go to war from those who send them; fine. But what you actually do is try to separate those who go to war and the cause for which they go to war, which is a different, more important, and more difficult thing – and you fail.

    It fails because we have an all-volunteer military. Every last one of us voluntarily stood up and said yes, I’ll do this, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. So when you then continue on about how terrible it is all the things we do to the soldiers to make them fight for such terrible causes, you at once denigrate them as individuals, and cheapen their sacrifice.

    If the whole thing is so deplorable and we can only get people to volunteer through all these tricks – then what are these soldiers? Dupes? Idiots? Dishonest with themselves? Willfully malicious, to consciously sign up for such a wrong thing?

    If the cause is so worthless, then what are you honoring at all – getting tricked into serving some politician’s greed? What’s so glorious about that?

    I’ll not complain about having Veteran’s Day (or its corrolaries). But spare me the thanks of scorn, the “thank you for sacrificing so much for the retarded excuse for a miserable illegal war by corrupt politicians” line I hear so often. If you really want to thank me, figure out what made me sign up voluntarily, and work on that issue.

    Because you know what? When you come right down to it, none of us believe the propaganda, and nobody likes the taste of Kool-Aid. We all do it for our own reasons, and for a whole hell of a lot of us it’s this: Bad guys need killin’. There’s such a thing as good and evil in the world, and right now evil people are out there doing evil things. Sometimes the only way to stop it is to kill them, and somebody’s gotta do the killing.

    So thanks for the thought, but I’ll keep on saving the good guys and killing the bad guys because somebody’s gotta do it, and clearly none of you are.

    • clint thrust says:

      First off, allow me to offer some scorn-less thanks. Second, my point was not that military service is a worthless cause or that all who sign up are tricked (though some are, a lot of effort goes into convincing them and if everyone signed on the dotted line absent any reservations, recruiters wouldn’t have to lie, and we’d have no bitter combat vets), rather that we owe those that do volunteer, whatever their reasons, greater scrutiny over the process of sending them somewhere to risk their lives.

  7. lilsheep23 says:

    Clint – Thank you for your eloquent and nuanced argument. It is one of the better arguments calling for greater restraint on the use of war that I have read. Sadly belief in false dichotomies are particularly seductive ways to argue for the case of war.