This cartoon is tendentious and carries a dangerous message:
We do not owe everything we have to the military. Our rights, benefits, and living standards are not bestowed on us by the Pentagon. In fact, constant warfare and a bloated military establishment are the most direct and dire threats to constitutional government there is, as Madison famously pointed out: “Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of all the others.” We should honor those who have fought and died in wars, but we should do so from an honest perspective. We do not need not to distort history or succumb to militarism to pay tribute to the victims of U.S. wars. I don’t wish to give offense, but no American soldier has died defending our freedom since World War Two. Ho Chi Minh, Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein posed absolutely no threat to our “freedom.”
Terrorists may threaten our physical safety, but they have no ability to subvert or destroy our liberty. Homegrown flag wavers are chiefly responsible for doing that. Sharia Law is not coming to America and never could, not because of the military, but because of American popular culture, which is totally antithetical to fundamentalist Islam. The burka is no match for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, not even close. Our crass stupidity will save us from Muslim theocracy, brothers and sisters, count on it.
The invasion of Afghanistan may or may not have been just retribution for 9/11, but our freedoms weren’t threatened by the Taliban and their medieval beliefs. None of the grubby little skirmishes we’ve engaged in over the last half century had anything to do with preserving our freedom. All they did was enrich a few privileged industries and make us hated everywhere in the world.
This constant, uncritical praise of the military is deeply unsettling. It creates a category of individuals — soldiers — and an institution — the military — that are effectively beyond criticism. This is pernicious in the extreme and characteristic of fascism, not democracy. It is also reflective of deep insecurity: It’s not a coincidence that all of this hyper-inflated soldier love is occurring while the U.S. is in palpable decline and losing wars.
Our exaggerated military worship is just one more gaudy extreme in a culture full of gaudy extremes, and stems from the same source: Our inner emptiness and moral bankruptcy. Almost everybody, I think, senses on some level that there is something seriously askew in America. Ever since Bush the country has had a slightly eery, slightly alien feel to it. If you are poor or working class, which I have been most of my life, there is a distinct atmosphere of hostile condescension that wafts down from every American institution. You are treated like complete shit and quite deliberately held down. You experience the utter hollowness and bullshit of our national rhetoric. You live the gap between how we talk about ourselves and what we really are.
You are ripped off by government, you are ripped off by business. You are ripped off by your insurance company, ripped off by your bank, and ripped off by your boss.
One day, you wake and realize that every goddamed institution in the country is ripping you off, and they are not delivering the goods anymore. The trains aren’t running on time. You don’t get rewarded for hard work. The quality of everything feels diminished, and there is precious little that is wholesome or virtuous. You can’t even eat at McDonald’s for under eight bucks anymore, and that shit is practically inedible, and the little plastic and nylon flags you buy on the Fourth of July are made in fucking China!
So what do we do? Start looking for someone or something to believe in. We start groping around for heroes. But who in this increasingly ugly country is heroic? Banks and corporations are run by out and out thieves, none of them even remotely loyal to the country. Our politicians are low-grade non-entities completely in hock to said thieves. The few who actually grasp the hellish situation we’re in show little inclination to do anything about it because we are not their concern. Athletes are venal, grossly overpaid cry babies and felons; lawyers are lawyers, astronauts are dull, and most celebrities are vapid twits. Who’s left? Soldiers, and, of course, first responders. That is to say, cops and soldiers. This is not healthy. This is ominous.
I maintain that a healthy society of mature grown-ups doesn’t have a compulsive and childish need for heroes, and that it wouldn’t fetishize authority figures.
I have students who have never been alive when the US wasn’t at war. I’m happy to report that many of them display a healthy cynicism about it and occasionally make sarcastic quips about Amurrica! (I have nothing to do with this. I never preach political viewpoints to kids). Nevertheless, this soft core militarism has been the permanent background music of their lives. Bombing, flag waving, drone strikes and sticky soldier worship is the norm for them. The idea that peace, not war, should be the normal state of affairs in our foreign policy is basically unknown to them. It’s just not part of their calculus. They do not necessarily support war, nor do they feel compelled to oppose it. It just is and they accept it, just as you accept smog and traffic jams, work, death and taxes. This is mission accomplished.