I’m more comfortable being openly atheist than openly against the US military

I’ve never been shy about being an atheist. It’s not something I bring up among coworkers or acquaintances. But, if asked, I’m very comfortable talking about it. People close to me know and are respectful. There are other things I believe, however, that I don’t really like talking about.

Four American soldiers were killed in Niger, a country most Americans never heard of and even fewer could point out on a map. Many probably weren’t aware we were there in the first place, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. In 2015, the US had more than 800 bases in 70 countries. Somewhat hilariously, the senate has little idea of where and what our benevolent global police force is doing:

“Senator McCain is frustrated, rightly so, we don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said, adding that with McCain’s system: “We’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.”

Dead soldiers rarely warrant more than a few days of media coverage. However, the dumpster president fucking up what should have been a simple condolence call has kept the story in public eye much longer than normal. Not that anyone really cares about what the US is doing in Niger. The media (damn you MSM!) isn’t particularly interested in giving us a nuanced, comprehensive look at the recent and historical geopolitical ramifications of US intervention in the Sahel:

The media’s efforts should have been devoted to exploring — really exploring — why Rangers (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media’s explanation.)

That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it’s all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country — no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story.

But maybe we should just accept the obvious reason we’re in Niger: to teach them “how to respect human rights.” I, for one, can’t think of a better teacher.

The first paragraph was written to contrast my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) with my feelings about the military. While I’m fine being an open atheist, I go out of my way to not bring up my feelings about the US military, specifically the people that eagerly join. Most people I associate with on a regular basis, very generally-speaking, fall somewhere on the left side of the spectrum, somewhere between Clinton and Sanders. But most would not take kindly to questioning the valor, sacrifice, and altruism of the troops. Critiquing US hegemony is mostly fine, but that’s where it ends. Criticism of the humans who provide the muscle is not socially acceptable. I get why this is. So many people have friends or relatives in the military. It would be pretty shitty telling them that their loved ones shouldn’t have joined. Only a monster would tell someone dealing with the loss of a loved one that the dead soldier “knew what he signed up for,” even if it’s kind of true.

It’s easy to blame the leaders of the American military-industrial complex, but soldiers are a huge part of the problem. They are not a force for good in the world. There is no causal relationship between a person joining the military and my or anyone else’s right to free speech. Dead soldiers are not automatically heroes. Maybe some have unequivocally done heroic things outside of their role in US hegemony, but anything in the service of it is not heroic. Our collective deification of the troops is infantile, and made even more pathetic by how the US government treats them when their service is ended.

I’ve had a few friends serve. I hoped very much that they would be safe and not do anything shitty to the war-ravaged inhabitants of the places we conduct unwinnable wars. But I always kept those feelings to myself. At any rate, I’m glad I have this blog to serve as an outlet for expressing something I’m uncomfortable talking about verbally.

As I wrote above, it’d be pretty fucking rude to give my spiel to anyone that’s been negatively affected by a loved one’s service by death or PTSD. Maybe some of you read this and think I’m an asshole for impugning individual soldiers. That’s fine. I would point out, though, that I support soldiers remaining alive by wishing them to not be in the military.





  1. says

    I agree with you; I’ve been reluctant to criticize soldiers, while I’ve been pretty aggressive about bashing the policy-makers who send the soldiers out into the world.

    We cannot deny the soldiers agency – some of them didn’t have much choice, and it’s a good job with benefits and stability. That’s by design, of course: it makes being a soldier attractive compared to flipping burgers or driving an Uber. There’s a basic marxist critique that can be made here; the soldiers don’t control the market for their particular labor and are being exploited by their employers. So, they made a choice, but it’s a bad one.

    America has become so militarized that criticism of soldiers provokes a strong response. A few years ago at DEFCON I was approached by someone who was raising money for the “wounded warrior” foundation. I am generally supportive of anything that helps people with a medical problem, but when I chose not to give, the other person got verbally aggressive: “what’s wrong with you? don’t you support the troops?” people started to stare. I had to launch into a long explanation that the companies that the troops were serving should be supporting their medical costs and not pushing those costs onto the country as a whole. You could have heard a pin drop.

    In one of my early postings over at stderr, I proposed that being a soldier is an inherently immoral profession: the soldier is agreeing to reduce their own agency; to follow orders even if those orders mean killing or wounding people that have never harmed them. We cannot excuse it as “just following orders” because even if the soldier declares that they will only obey lawful orders, they are still agreeing to follow those orders in advance of knowing what those orders are. It’s one thing for an iron-worker or a taxi driver to do that (the taxi driver is agreeing to deliver you to your destination in advance of knowing the destination) but their job does not entail criminal activity such as wars of aggression, or war crimes such as area bombardment. If one accepts my argument that being a soldier is inherently an immoral job, then supporting the troops is problematic.

    • says

      I think a lot about wars in human history and who it is that fights and dies in them. I can’t help but feel scorn for the men (of course it’s almost always men) who are compelled by force, the lure of pillage, or misguided nationalism to wage war for their superiors. But I also need to be cognizant of how I’ve never been close to war being anything more than an abstract concept that’s easy to oppose.

      In contemporary American society, though, I do empathize with those who join for a career, either due to no other viable opportunities, or just not knowing what the fuck to do with your life.

  2. says

    I can’t help but feel scorn for the men (of course it’s almost always men) who are compelled by force, the lure of pillage, or misguided nationalism to wage war for their superiors

    There are a few good books such as On Killing and Hackworth’s About Face which argue that the military’s training regime has evolved to be a nearly perfect brainwashing system that makes its victims prone to become instinctive killers. There are combinations of techniques like “othering” combined with fatigue-amplified indoctrination that are used to establish small unit cohesion – the whole “band of brothers” concept – that way, the military is quite sure that if they put a unit of people in a dangerous situation, where the members of their group are threatened, they’ll kill anyone who gets in their way in order to escape. Successful militaries also use this technique to add the final polish of indoctrination to soldiers, often “blooding” them in some pointless battle where they can learn what it’s like, overcome their fear – basically using adrenaline-induced PTSD to produce a violent reaction that can be directed on demand.

    • says

      Thanks for the recommendations. I actually just read Chris Hedges’ War is a Force… and it references On Killing. It was powerful, horrifying and depressing. It evoked a sense of hopelessness in me. In a world filled with angry young men, it will never be too difficult for the powerful and violent to co-opt their rage (which in some, but not all, cases is justified)

  3. jazzlet says

    The effect of all those trained to obedience killers on the society they live in is significant too and as you know causes all sorts of problems.

    One of my neices is married to the only civilian in a family of soldiers and has talked about the feeling of alienation she gets when in the company of the rest of the family. They are officers and openly discuss the breaking down of trainees so they can be built up into good little soldiers who will shoot to kill their fellow men against most of them’s natural instincts. Horrifying stuff.

    • says

      It’s also horrifying that breaking down trainees and building them into good little soldiers/killers isn’t considered a bad thing by the general populace. It’s just how things are and barely worthy of consideration. The military is good and so are all the soldiers in it.

  4. jazzlet says

    I meant to add that I think they are even more despicable than rank and file soldiers who may have very limited options to make a decent life for themselves, they had great educations and could have gone into all sorts of well paying jobs, but chose the military.

  5. agender says

    I am trying to count how often domectic violence by soldiers came up during each of the waves of women´ s movement – none is easily accessible on the web but I remember more than a dozen times.
    (includes draft and professional military forces)
    A saying ascribed to Napoleon is “Women should marry soldiers, they are clean and can cook” – well, reality is better described by “If a woman marries a soldier she can expect to be made to clean and cook exactly to his liking by brute force”.
    And I do not know how much these numbers would be lower if each soldier got his PTSD treatment before going back to civil life.

    • says

      I recently tried to find books on sexual violence/assault by soldiers that places it in an historical context. I have to say it wasn’t too easy. Though I may be wrong, I think it’s an under-researched area of academia. Or at least one that hasn’t filtered out to non-specialists in a readily accessible way.