Talking about soldiers

If there’s one thing Americans are still allowed, and even socially required to be, reverent about, its “our brave men and women serving in the armed forces.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that (except for the part about women, of which we should be ashamed); it’s a healthy patriotic sentiment.  However, we’ve lost the language to express this sentiment properly.

First of all, there’s this strange resort to euphemism.  People in the military are often referred to as “servicemen”, people in “the service” or at best the “armed services”.  Isn’t this unnecessarily vague?  After all, the teacher and the mailman “serve” too.  It’s not like what our “servicemen” do is something shameful (like our “alternative lifestyle” practitioners or our “choice” excersisers).  The word for their profession is “soldier” or “warrior”, and it’s the most esteemed and valorized profession in most cultures.  There is great honor in being a good soldier.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s any honor in being a politician who expends their lives thoughtlessly.

The thing that really annoys me, though, is the motivation we always ascribe to our soldiers.  We always hear that they’re fighting for “our freedom” or “to defend our freedom”.   All this blathering about “freedom” makes our soldiers sound like rebellious adolescents.  Hippies and anarchists fight for freedom.  I doubt that there are too many of our warriors who are so deluded as to think that that’s what they’re accomplishing.  The truth is, of course, that our soldiers are motivated by the same noble impulse that has inspired warriors of all ages:  to defend the patria, to win security, recognition, and glory for the Fatherland.  The U.S. military is an expression of the collective will of Americans to survive as a sovereign nation-state.  One could call this “American freedom” if one wants, but it does not refer to securing the freedoms of American individuals.  (It could be that a foreign conquerer would give individuals more freedoms.)  Ultimately, this “American freedom” refers to the authority of the state, which to my mind is a good thing.  I can’t understand why anyone would lay down his life so that his neighbors could do whatever they pleased.

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