Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Good Soldier

It's hard to imagine watching a more affecting movie than The Good Soldier ... because it may be as affecting a movie as I've ever seen. It took one seemingly simple question—What makes a good soldier?—and reduced the answer to its essence. That being, the ability to kill other human beings. Using the voices of veterans from WWII, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and Iraq, each gave this exact same answer, and they all spoke not only of their guilt and regret, but also of how at some point during their time in the military they needed to kill. Their reasons were different, but the training that gave them the skills and permission was not. I found it both hard to watch and hard to turn away from, and I know I'll never look at the words ‘collateral damage' in the same way again. Really powerful stuff. - Jason Albert of the Onion

No matter how disturbing that may be to many Americans, that truth is the essence to the meaning of being a soldier, and of war.

I don’t believe Americans who rally around the flag in support of war truly understand when a military occupational specialty (MOS) is infantryman or an MOS that requires direct engagement with the enemy that the mission is to kill. They will tell you that they do understand, but they do not have an acute awareness of what it means to be a soldier, its profundity, or consequence, and will quickly dismiss it by saying, killing, oh well, that’s what happens in war. They don’t seem to understand that their government is asking their son or daughter, or another American, to commit murder. Nor do most enlist in the military with that understanding, but that is the essence of the mission. Few have the capability to kill another human being, so, combat training, beyond basic training, is the process of teaching and motivating a soldier precisely how to kill. A well-trained warrior is essential to a disciplined professional army who are skilled at organized killing in order to bring about success in war.

I learned early on that war forms it own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by mythmakers -- historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state -- all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small station in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over. – War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges

Therefore, when a soldier returns home from combat, he or she cannot be candid with acquaintances, friends, or family, regarding their experiences. There is not that level of understanding to enable others to understand. Their experiences have left them to living life in a vacuum, and they can only break free and be candid when they are with other combat veterans. It is an experience they will never be able to shake off. As the VFW has reported, many returning combat veterans for the remainder of their life will suffer depression, recurring nightmares, survivor guilt, outbursts of rage (often directed at family members), exaggerated startle responses and anxiety reactions—all of which are classic symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This is part 1 of 6 parts of the video, Tip of the Spear

When you turn somebody into a well-trained killer, how do you turn off the killer part of their personality [I object to personality; I prefer indoctrination]? Robert W. Butler, Kansas City Star

The answer to that is not to turn them into killers in the first place. As a result of these revelations, there is an ever-increasing emergent need to abolish war, which is long overdue. An exigent respect for all life is desperately needed.

One of abolition’s main problems is that Americans seem to be oblivious to the realities of war. They seem to be unaware of what we are asking our young people to do, and a more importantly sad fact is that an enlistee before he or she makes a commitment essentially does not know what America is asking them to do if they ever should be chosen for a combat role.

What parent would ever want to aspire to have their government turn their son or daughter into a trained, highly disciplined killer? Yet, mothers and fathers do not seem to look at it in that way. To them, serving in the Armed Forces as a soldier is honorable. They are caught up with the hero syndrome, myths and glory of war. For many complex and deliberate governmental, cultural, and societal reasons, Chris Hedges is correct: War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

Furthermore, the abolition of war is not possible as long as Americans continue to believe the propaganda that war commandants like General Norman Schwarzkopf, of Persian Gulf War fame, are really fatherly, pussy cats, and teddy bears at heart; … that war is necessary, that wars for peace are legitimate, and as long as world governments and the military- industrial-academic complex continue with their support and/or obsessive desire for profit and power will we ever reach that goal.

Since 9/11, homeland security has taken center stage with all kinds of discussion on what our government and we can do to make America more secure. The most progressive step we can take to achieving homeland security is for us to gain the knowledge necessary to understand, and to provide the leadership of best practices and examples necessary for the world to come to the same realization that the elimination of war is indispensable to achieving security and world peace.