Monday, June 04, 2007

THEY WORK FOR US

Over on Counterpunch there’s a multi-author article about the military and its relationship to civilians (“The Can-Do Troops and the New Anti-politics”, www.counterpunch.org/chowdhury05262007.html.)

It asserts, and not inaccurately, that “since the draft was abolished, the military has re-branded itself as a collection of experts”. Yes. “The model of the citizen-soldier no longer applies, because citizenship is no longer linked to military service.” Also yes.

And worse: the Reagan-era gambit was to enshrine ‘the military’ not only as an embodiment of the American spirit, but as the best embodiment of the American spirit.

‘Citizen’ became a title of second-class status. ‘Citizen’ became ‘civilian’, the latter term delivered with a deprecating or self-deprecating lowered voice.

But this is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Surely at Gettysburg – of all places – Lincoln could have enshrined the ‘soldier’ as the acme and epitome of the American spirit. Surely, the fact that he didn't was not due to absence of mind. Instead, he was profoundly grateful for their service and their sacrifice, but he placed that splendid and genuinely glorious gift of their toil and their blood and their lives in proper context: as a service to and a gift to The People, upon Whom the Union and the Republic ultimately rest.

And indeed, he saw those soldiers as citizens who would, one day, doff their uniforms and once again take their place fully among the citizenry. He would then no longer be their commander-in-chief but would revert to being their employee, the employee of The People. He would be answerable to them. That was the natural order of things in the American ethos. It was to preserve that ethos that they and he found themselves at Gettysburg. Lincoln saw that. And accepted it. And acknowledged it.

The military of the immediate post-draft era took its cue from the powerful example set in the New Deal, in the massive organizational mobilization of the Second World War, and was even then in the ‘70s exploding into the civilian sphere through the administration of the Great Society and the revolutionistic implementation of the agendas of the several Advocacies: the ‘experts’ are the only ones who really ‘get it’ and are the only ones who really ‘can do’ it. The People must simply accept their status as distracted if not also backward ignoramuses in need of leading. Indeed, it became a classic trope of every Advocacy’s founding ‘emergency’ that The People or a sizable chunk of The People were pretty much the problem … the oppressor, the perpetrator, the (fill in the blank).

And so the ‘experts’ (and thus the government that employed them) flowed in and swelled up, and – it appeared at the time – with huge success and the unstoppable momentum previously ascribed to ‘historical inevitability’ or ‘God’s will’. It would have been, one might say, negligent of the military not to adopt such a winning gameplan. Anyway, the vast (by American standards) citizen armies that waged the sustained, up-close and personal combat of the Second World War would no longer be required. We sure as hell weren’t going to engage the full panoply of Soviet or Chinese hordes on the Eurasian landmass. Hi-tech armor and air strikes and atomic cannon (yes, we had them) and a lot of other countries’ ground troops would do the trick, if the Commies were ever crazy enough to try it. The chances of Elvis ever actually having to ship his guitar to the rear and get right with a rifle and a bayonet were slim to none. He and the rest of the ‘kids’ over there could get some exposure to Europe on the government’s dime; the grown-ups would do the heavy diplomatic and economic lifting.

But then ‘expertism’ and ‘government expertism’ got a second and more insidious wind in the massive domestic intrusions occasioned in the ‘60s and the ‘70s back here. And in a hugely ill-advised effort to find William James’ “moral equivalent to war” the Advocacies and the police on all levels reported the need for ‘war’ … on this or on that.

And that lead to what the article quotes from a Texas (!) State Senator: that “we (We!) are all soldiers in the War on Terror”. Apparently the so-named War on Terror does not require The People, but rather that all people be ‘soldiers’. Surely, that firm conviction explains the Administration’s assaultive pruning of the no-longer necessary constitutional and democratic processes and its hurt feelings at any dissent from the programme. ‘Soldiers’, after all, don’t get a say in what happens to them; their generals and leaders do not work for them – rather, ‘soldiers’ take their orders and do what they’re told and die when it’s their turn. And thus the Administration’s insistence – echoing every drill-sergeant in every army in every age of history – that ‘this isn’t a debating society’.

And thus this country is a society that no longer debates. The People aren’t supposed to debate since The People have been reduced to a soldiery. And thus The People – long bethumped by the Political Correctness of the Advocacies – are no longer used to debating. And thus the younger generations – hugely distracted from birth even as they are increasingly protected – are increasingly incapable of debating or even of noticing that debating – even more than ‘manners’ – no longer exists. One finds oneself reduced to the plaint of Chester A. Riley: “What a revoltin’ development this turned out ta be!”

Except that few now even seem ‘revolted’ by it. We are ‘offended’ – oh yeah! – by every damned thing under the sun, but We are not revolted by the corrosion and corruption of the Republic that was entrusted to Us. The children of light are getting a little dim.

We are coming to resemble – it can now be said – not ‘The Union’ but the old Confederacy, that military-besotted elitist hierarchical society where there was no middle-class, but only a pretend-aristocracy (morally debased) lording it over a harlequin serfery of ‘crackers’, slaves, and a smattering of mestizos, octoroons, and Indians, and everybody harassed by bible-thumping preachers to accept what-is as God’s will so shut-up and get on with it. No middle-class and no citizenry. And surely, no People.

Have I lived to see the South finally defeated a century later than the history books said, only to then see it ‘win’ almost a half-century after that? As Pogo would say: “Gack!”


The soldier works for the citizen. The soldier is of the People, is raised up by the People, to fight for the People. And will return to the People.

As Washington refused to wear his Revolutionary War uniform when he was President, and as it was insisted that the President be addressed by no honorific title but only as “Mister President” (like even the torture-whores do on ‘24’), so the Citizen’s is far more of an authoritative responsibility than the Soldier’s. In fact, it has probably been one of the toxic results of the militarization of Our society and culture that so many rights of the Citizen and the rights of so many citizens have been curtailed without public alarm: what’s a citizen anyway, or a citizen’s rights? Let’s be patriotic and go shoppin’! The experts know what they’re doing; ‘civilians’ would only get in the way.

We are Citizens, not civilians.

And if We had been doing Our job, then perhaps so many of our soldiers wouldn’t be dead now, or losing their lives, or their minds, or their spirits, or their souls, over there on the eastern front now.

Nor is it sufficient to say: ‘the troops want to stay over there, so who are We to say no?’ It’s Our call, not – bless them – theirs. We are not their commander-in-chief, but then again they are not ‘Presidential’ troops; they are American troops and We are The People. Nor are they ‘Congressional’ troops (and that seems increasingly obvious). And it is a consummation devoutly to be wished that the Supreme Court will not seek to reprise its Election-2000 clusterflok by assuming command of the troops in the field and making them ‘Judicial’ troops.

The People are responsible for the Soldier. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or for worse … And do We wonder why that responsibility has been neglected?

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2 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I am for a return to the draft. Claims that the demands of technology require a standing army of astutely trained experts are bogus. The admission standards and the quality of recuits have never been lower than presently.

The need to draft an army (and raise taxes!) from the civilian population are, when all else fails, THE key brakes (of last resort) on militarism and imperial adventures. They take a miserably long time to 'kick in' but they are our last hope for reining-in a runaway unitary executive.

8:31 AM  
Blogger publion said...

It's interesting that where we once feared that a standing army would be the temptation to overseas adventures and mischief (as well as to domestic erosion of civil rights), I think folks always figured that the smaller the army the lesser the threat, even if the army was 'standing'.

Clearly not so. With an army not only smaller than Vietnam (or Gulf War One) but also hugely weakened in a failing campaign, yet the gummint has still managed to wreak more actual and potential havoc on civil rights and the Constitutional checks-and-balances than any previous Administration since Lincoln's (who, it is now clear, was hugely skilled and iron-willed, but also hugely mature in his office ... as opposed to a President simultaneously immature, incompetent, and compensatorially arrogant and stubborn).

This is not to open the door for the fatuous but well-intentioned argument that everything will be OK as long as there is a mature President in office. Such a blessing cannot be guaranteed; clearly the wise majesty of the Supreme Court cannot be the guarantor, but nor can any other human element or agent.

Justic David C. Davis was right when he opined in Ex Parte Milligan that the country had to rely on the Rule of Law because you never can tell who the hell will get to be President or how the hell s/he will get there.

9:55 AM  

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