Can We Please Stop Blindly Glamorizing The Military? It's Giving Would-Be Soldiers The Wrong Idea

"Now don't get me wrong, as another comedian, Michael Birbiglia, once put it, 'I love the troops. Because if they weren't the troops, I would be the troops. And I would be the worst troops. I'd be like, 'You expect me to carry a gun this heavy and run away screaming?'."
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"Now don't get me wrong, as another comedian, Michael Birbiglia, once put it, 'I love the troops. Because if they weren't the troops, I would be the troops. And I would be the worst troops. I'd be like, 'You expect me to carry a gun this heavy and run away screaming?'."
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Two days ago, as my girlfriend and I drove back from a lovely all-American Memorial Day Weekend at the beach, I caught myself staring out the window as we eased along the highway in 30 mile per hour traffic.

"God Loves Our Troops," read a sign in front of a Baptist church about 20 miles off the coast.

"God Bless Our Troops," screamed a giant yellow ribbon affixed to the back of the far-too-chromed pickup truck in front of us.

But it wasn't until a passing McDonald's sign thanking our troops in lieu of promoting some sort of McRibNugget that I finally spoke up. "People around here really love their troops, don't they?" I remarked to Mollie.

"It's Memorial Day, you goon," she sighed impatiently replied.

"I actually almost forgot too," she said a few second later, trying to console me.

"It kind of feels like every day is Memorial Day," I mumbled in reply, but I don't think she heard me.

***

Just watch this:

Louis C.K. is great, huh?

But did you notice that line when he was talking about the soldier?

"This guy is giving his life for his country...he thinks, but that's good enough, that he thinks it. I'm serious! He's been told by everybody in his life system that that is a great thing to do, and he's doing it, and it's scary but he's doing it."

Sure, being a soldier is, at the conceptual level, a "great" thing to be, but is it really the best thing he could be doing for his country?

That country that is in dire need of teachers and nurses -- not to mention skilled laborers, high-tech workers, and "we still do that here?" labor-intensive agricultural positions -- really needs another soldier? The same country whose military budget is $682 billion, a number higher than the combined spending of the next 10 countries behind it combined?

(Because words are hard, here's a visual representation of that "how do we not all just lose our collective shit over this?" stat):

US-defense-chart

***

Now don't get me wrong, as another comedian, Michael Birbiglia, once put it, "I love the troops. Because if they weren't the troops, I would be the troops. And I would be the worst troops. I'd be like, 'You expect me to carry a gun this heavy and run away screaming?!'."

But do I think we need as many as we do? Do I think the amount of freedom we have is intrinsically tied to the size of our military? No.

And apparently I'm not alone.

The Associated Press reports that while addressing the graduating officers from the U.S. Military Academy, President Obama doubled down on his belief that military intervention might not always be the best course of action:

"I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm's way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak."

And just yesterday he outlined a plan to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and pull out the rest by the end of 2016.

Soon we're going to have to start telling would-be troops we don't need them!

Wouldn't that be something? Us trying to convince soldiers not to join?

Well...hold on a minute actually...

Let's try and do a little hypothetical experiment in treason...

***

The government assumes that people enlist in the military because of a very limited range of reasons (once you boil down the "I come from a military family" and "I graduated from Princeton with honors and will be coming in at a high level" and "I have negative dollars in my bank account" excuses to their core): Desire, Duty, and Necessity.

Let's just skip over the Desire one because this thing is already going to get torn to shreds and why even bring up the fact that some people (a very, very small percentage!) who join the military are just fucking lunatics who actively enjoy the thought of killing another person...

So now we're at Duty, and we can totally do something about this.

This is that kid that Louis C.K. saw on the plane.

This is the guy from the small town fulfilling his "patriotic duty" because he has been told by almost every source of knowledge he has in the world that that makes him a hero. Immediately.

This is Pat Tillman, the NFL player who left his professional career and enlisted in the United States Army in June of 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

But what if we actively started rebelling against that Duty narrative and started telling our kids that the military should be a last resort? That anyone who does join definitely deserves our gratitude and a going away party for the ages but not necessarily the jingoistic excitement we hurl at them.

What if when we heard about a person joining the military we said, "I'm sorry" instead of "thank you"?

Isn't that what we're all really thinking anyway? I mean, those of us that aren't actually going, "Why? Are you fucking serious? Why in the world would you do that? With all we know about everything?"

What if we started tearing apart the myth that being a soldier automatically makes you a better person than someone who decided to not risk their lives for something they don't really deep down know enough about to make an informed decision on believe in?

But what if that was okay?

Remember those images of hippies placing flowers in soldiers' gun barrels?

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We need to go further.

We don't understand the power of symbolism these days (everybody's natural tongue seems to be emoticon) so symbolic gestures like giving out flowers feel like marketing stunts these days.

We need compassionate action.

Fuck the flowers, we need to form a picket line outside of recruitment centers and give our would-be troops hugs and say, "I sincerely appreciate the offer and you are a brave, valuable asset to this nation just for considering risking your life for what you believe is the right thing, but you don't need to go run around the desert or the jungle with a gun to help our country anymore (and selfishly, we could use some of that humanitarian aid work you're doing over there too). You could do so much more good right here at home."

Maybe this is our Duty? Or maybe we just need to stop saying the world "duty" so much...

*** 

Then all that's left is just the bare Neccessity.

And let's not beat around the bush, this is the sweet spot for recruiters (and it's also the most heart-wrenching demographic of them all).

Do you know how inescapably jealous I am, even for just an embarrassing self-obsessed second, of people who don't have student loan debt every time I see $354.96 direct-deposited out of my account each month? Pretty jealous.

But you know what makes me feel better worse? Realizing that they will most likely have years of physical and psychological trauma to deal with and pay for (because #V.A.Scandal) to balance it out.

But what if these kids -- and let's not forget that we are talking about 18-year-old kids who look like this random child soldier below and who have brains that science has proven are still developing, especially when it comes to assessing risk  -- were all that was left in the military?

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Wouldn't we begin to actually feel bad for the unnecessarily dangerous situations we put them in if we knew full well that it wasn't their "unwavering patriotic duty" that's got them standing in the middle of a desert with automatic rifles in their hands? Wouldn't we be less likely to support endless wars sparked by dubious motives if enlisting felt more like making a plea deal to join the Night's Watch for a few years?

By the way, the AP also reported that Obama was "greeted by cheers from the graduating cadets when he noted that they had the distinction of being 'the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.'"

Hooray for hypothetical possibilities!

***

But ok enough crazy talk; let's do a quick 10 pushups while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance ("under God!") then regroup.

***

I feel better.

In fact, I think I get it now...

Maybe every day should be like Memorial Day!

Maybe every day we should be woken up by a public service broadcast reminding us that as of this moment there are ~1,430,000 -- that would be ONE MILLION, FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND --  active military men and women doing something that costs taxpayers (hey, that's us!) about $2.1 million per troop to be doing it!

Oh and there's another 850,000 some odd reserves too, you know, in case this happens or something.

I don't know if enough people remember that.

And I'm sure a strong majority of those ONE MILLION, FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND think they're doing the best thing they could be doing for their country, political affiliations be damned.

I don't know if enough people remember that.

I mean this is a really complicated issue where you have to at the very least respect those that are by their very existence an intrinsic part of the problem, but ultimately we could show them not only the greatest respect but also the greatest love by telling them it's okay not to want to go to war.

I don't know if enough people remember that.

It's never too late for us to all to decide that we've had enough of this glamorization of military might and prestige, that we're ready to usher in a new era of philanthropy with all the billions of dollars we're spending on military equipment that we will literally never use.

I don't know if enough people remember that.

And it's not even the troops that are protecting our freedoms on a daily basis, it's our Congress.

I don't know if enough people remember that.

And every election cycle, that Congress is completely at our mercy.

I don't know if enough people remember that.

***

Somewhere on the longer stretches of Route 50, a quaint but dilapidated produce market/home goods store had a sign promoting a "Free Memorial Day Yankee Candle for Active Military Members"

"Valid Through 7/5."

Every day feels like Memorial Day.