In the militarist society in which we live in these latter days of American Empire, all soldiers are “noble heroes” who have signed up at “great personal sacrifice” to “defend our freedoms,” and we are all expected to pay homage and a great deal of our hard-earned money to support them, both in their brutal efforts to subjugate people in desperately poor parts of the world, and (when they leave the service, either to take jobs in the private sector or to live out broken lives if they were wounded) as veterans.
But let’s be honest about all this.
Most of the men and women in the military didn’t join the US armed forces out of any noble motives. They joined because there are no jobs to be had, and the military is taking pretty much anybody who’s willing to sign on the dotted line (they’re begging for recruits). Or they joined because of the promise that they would get trained for a better career, at government expense. Or, like one kid I know, they joined for the excitement.
Just today I got a phone call from a recruiter asking if I was “interested in learning more about the Army.” I don’t know if he was so hard up he was hoping to sign a 63-year-old war resister, or whether he thought he had my 18-year-old son on the phone.
But looking at a Navy recruiting flier that came in the mail the same day addressed to my son, it’s clear that the Pentagon is not trusting to patriotic fervor to lure its new cannon fodder.
The recruiting flier starts out by telling my son that “In today’s Navy what you get out of your job can set you up for a lifetime of success.”
Signed by “Thomas Gelker, Commander, US Navy,” the glossy letter goes on to say, “Don’t take my word for it. Take inventory of what you want out of a career. Then compare your job prospects in the real world to the outstanding opportunities available in the Navy.”
The following list he provides includes:
- Hundreds of high-tech positions in over 60 highly competitive career fields
- Paid training to learn high-tech skills and work with the latest technology
- Potentially, full tuition for college
- Competitive salary with opportunities for promotions, plus potential specialty pay and retention bonuses
- 30 days’ vacation with pay earned every year and free or low-cost travel opportunities
- Generous retirement income after 20 years plus a 401(k)-like savings plan
- Tax-free allowances for housing and meals plus tax-free shopping privileges at military stores
- Complimentary/discounted recreational privileges, including golf, swimming , fitness centers and more
(As an aside, I find it instructive that the very things that America’s business and political leaders are complaining are costly job perks demanded by unions that are allegedly making America “uncompetitive in the global marketplace” are being offered to our soldiers and
sailors as job inducements.)
Only at the end of the list does Gelker throw in:
* The pride of serving a greater cause and being the part of something bigger than yourself.
I don’t doubt that there are some young people who sign up in the military primarily for that last reason, though I suspect they are few and far between, and I have no doubt that many others sign up for the personal benefits and selfish reasons listed first, while also being attracted by the last motivation given. But let’s be brutally honest here: most of those who enlist have been brainwashed for years to believe that what the US military does in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbia, Cuba, Pakistan, and other “trouble spots” around the world, and what it is planning to do in Iran, is all about “defending freedom.”
Clearly it is not about that though. It’s about advancing the greedy interests of the big corporations that run this country. Nine years of US war in Iraq, and 11 years of US war in Afghanistan have left both those countries devastated, their societies riven by civil strife far worse than they confronted before the American military invaded. Neither country, meanwhile, ever posed any threat to the US (okay, there were a few Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 2001, but the Taliban government in Afghanistan was ready to strike a deal to hand Bin Laden over and to close those camps if the US agreed not to invade, and the Bush/Cheney administration ignored that proposal, preferring to put the US into a war).
It’s time we all recognized that the US has been transformed these past few years into a modern-day Sparta, where warriors are uncritically adulated simply for being warriors, and where foreign policy is basically reduced to making military threats or carrying out military actions, covert or overt. Civil society is being starved by an annual $1 trillion spent on war, and almost nobody in politics or the media has the guts to point this out.
We could start by telling the nation’s young people, and our own children, that there is nothing noble about joining today’s military, when its function is imperialism, conquest, genocide and, frighteningly, perhaps soon even domestic repression. As for those “highly competitive career fields” they can get trained in? Many of these involve killing innocent men, women and children. And those “free or low-cost travel opportunities?” They are mostly to far-flung places around the globe where the locals are struggling to throw off US-backed dictators and to wrest back control of their own national wealth from the giant US-based multinational corporations that have been stealing it for years.
My advice: Toss those obscene recruitment fliers into the recycling bin like I did with Commander Gelker’s deceitful missive to my son.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He lives in Philadelphia.