I suppose engaging in free psychoanalytic discourse is both errant and perhaps gratuitous. Yet I have often wondered why so many in the military are eager to marginalise and silence those with whom they disagree. For seven years, I have received 100,000s of e-mail, although admittedly much less now than heretofore, concerning my 2002 e-mail exchange with Cadet Robert Kurpiel. This incident led to both a suspension and a written reprimand: the latter no longer in my file. I have published refereed articles, a book chapter, given conferenc papers and many blog posts on this incident. I have spoken to university audiences across the United States on this topic.
Yet the question lingers: why so much anger over one e-mail? Why would so many thousands of military and military-supporters demand my dismissal, castigate me as anti-American and as a “dangerous” threat to America. After all, this is a country that adores its military. We have memorials all over the country. Washington, D.C. is basically a military theme park with statue after statue and open space condemned to military worshipping of battles and victories. You watch, there will be an Iraq war memorial and an AfPak war memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of the fallen without any justice meted out to those leaders, civilian and military, that committed war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.
We have national holidays for the military. Despite near financial collapse of the country, military-war spending increases despite annual deficits approaching 1.6 trillion dollars for FY 2011 alone! The elites know if you challenge the military, the politics of self-preservation are damaged as the world careens toward nuclear devastation and immiseration due to war and greed. Yet, why would military personnel care what I say? Why did my e-mail so enrage the cadet corps at the Air Force Academy in 2002 that they sent the e-mail to powerful media and family networks to silence me? Why?
I think it may spring from a sense of shame. A knowledge that what they are doing is wrong. Training to kill; training to hate; calling it “engagement” with the enemy; calling the slaughtering of babies and other innocents, intentional or otherwise, “collateral damage.” The non–stop conferring of awards, honours, medals, pins, parades, ribbons is not quite enough. Some are affected subconsciously that military service has a darker side of evil and that the organised state-killing of other people whom they don’t know and probably would like if they did know is wrong. Yes they are told it is patriotic to kill. Yes they are told it is “service” to one’s nation to end the lives of others. Yes they are brainwashed into believing that military service is the most honourable of all professions: but are they totally? I think not which provides some hope that humans are not entirely convinced, due to their extreme sensitivity, that the art of killing can be bathed in patriotic glory and stupid pow flags as if WE are the victims of our own imperialistic, genocidal wars.
Turn swords into plowshares.
I think many are enraged when verbally attacked because they know the criticism, at least in part, confirms what they wish to deny. They are projecting their own sense of shame onto others. They are silencing the critic as if to silence or defer their own capacity to look themselves in the mirror and ask: why do I carry this rifle? Why do I ride a tank? Why do I use a Predator robot to kill indiscriminately in the AfPak war? Why do I pretend this is a profession as if it were teaching, medicine or social work?
Many in the military are accustomed to the society’s general adoration and respect but an occasional voice of condemnation and disgust cannot be ignored but becomes central to their self-esteem. I served in the military and hated it. I found it stupid, a waste of time and totally beneath my sense of purposeful and creative activity. It was boring. It was primitive. It was racist. It was stupid. It served no purpose whatsoever. Yes I do inform the superpatriots that I served because they should know that free thinkers also wore the U.S. imperialistic uniform. Some who served do not glorify war or feel a special loyalty to America but construe themselves as citizens of the world or of humanity in general. This is counterintuitive to the exact opposite sentiment of military service which is utterly nationalistic and blindly patriotic for the most part. I also reference my military service not to prove my patriotism–for patriotism as Samuel Johnson noted “is the last refuge of scoundrels”- but to show I am not naive but have some hands on experience about the stupidity and evil of training Americans to kill others in poor, distant lands who are not an existential threat to the vital strategic interests of the United States.
Now before this becomes another incident, but I am ready this time, I recognize and have known folks in the military who are decent people. That is not my issue. The subject here is why some in the military are so determined to silence others while claiming to be the finger in the dike, the “man” on the watch to protect our freedoms. I have publicly praised some at the Air Force Academy who wanted no punishment meted out to me. I also, however, am willing to challenge those in the military who think they are utterly without fault or that their mission and purpose in life is pure and ethical. They need to hear other voices and to rethink military service in a nation that sends so many to die and to kill others for the most venal and illegitimate aims.