There is, by now, an all too familiar refrain that goes something like, “Our military is under-appreciated” or “they don’t get the respect they deserve.” Janet, at the SCSU Scholars blog, argues that we take for granted the work the military does, that rights and freedoms are earned by military fighting, and that criticizing their actions “will lead to losses very few of us can imagine.” In an earlier post, she claims “we take our 100% voluntary military for granted,” calling it “the most humane military that has ever existed.”
(In all transparency, I took similar positions during my first year at SCSU. You can read a letter I wrote to the school newspaper in response to Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war speech on campus. “That’s just typical American rhetoric from those who take their freedom and liberty for granted,” I wrote. Needless to say, I no longer hold these views.)
Of course, such sentiments are supported by calls for us to “Support our troops,” a completely vacuous slogan. It’s an empty and meaningless piece of propaganda, but that’s for good reason. It’s a phrase jingoists can rally around, that no sensible American could possibly be against (because it lacks meaning). If you dissent, you’re un-American, immoral filth, and so on. You feel guilty. You know — Americanism and nationalism. You can’t be against that, right? So that’s the first goal. But even more importantly, it diverts our attention away from asking important questions. Questions like, “Should we support this foreign policy?” “Is this war in Afghanistan right?” “Is what we’re doing moral?” You’re not supposed to ask those questions. You’re supposed to ask, “Do you support our troops?” That’s what propaganda is there for. As Noam Chomsky explains, “propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” It’s there to control public thought. So, of course, you “support our troops” and display yellow ribbons; you’re patriotic.
The military is to be left unquestioned, lest we face “unimaginable losses.” We’re supposed to forget (or not be told about) the terrible atrocities committed by our military in the name of righteousness, liberty, fairness, democracy, or all the other similar platitudes. We’re not supposed to mention the wars of conquests and terror carried out by this utterly humane military might. Anything we do overseas is right by definition because we’re doing it. We are, after all, exceptional.
That’s extreme jingoism. And it’s dangerous.