The Military and the Left

As a Veteran of Operation Iraqi freedom, and a veteran of sorts of the anti-war movement within the US, it seems to me that the left as a whole has done a poor job of speaking to veterans over the last ten years. This is unfortunate considering they are an extremely important resource, and could be great allies in our fight for democracy and freedom for the people of America and for the world. We neglect them at our own peril. As workers themselves we must find a way to communicate with them without parroting the same tired rhetoric that is frankly inapplicable to today's military and today's war.

When we protest war, what do we say? Do we protest the war itself, the warrior, or the people who truly started the war in the first place? For some who are on the other side of that fence no-doubt it feels like all three are being protested at once. After all, how can we separate the war from the warrior? It's like trying to dissociate a shoe from a shoemaker, or an exterminator from their poison. The job they do requires a specialist with lots of training, as well as a certain personality type. This is so, particularly since we have an all volunteer force that requires a certain type of person and a technological level which requires a high level of training and skill. It also requires a type of person who value's honor, self sacrifice, duty, and loyalty- something we can all agree are noble values. Even those of us on the left look up to people with these same values – albeit for different causes. Humanity generally recognizes honor, sacrifice, courage, and loyalty as universally positive traits. We must communicate to them that these are values we admire as well.

However, we have failed to recognize these positive traits in US soldiers.

Often it is in our rush to remain contrary that we neglect the reality and the humanity in these situations. We generalize and dehumanize. For instance, we can all agree that most soldiers are certainly not psychotic killers who enjoy the death and suffering they must endure day in and day out. If that was the case then why are our veterans’ hospitals filling up with people horribly traumatized with PTSD, scarred within and without? Their very humanity and consciousness has been scarred, and those scars validate their humanity in the most horrible way possible – by permanently engaging guilt, horror, terror, confusion, and anger for the rest of their life. They are good people who have been put through hell. By all accounts they should be considered victims-although their pride would never let them accept our pity.

So why do they fight unpopular wars? It is simple. It is the soldiers themselves who correctly point out that they did not choose the war; therefore we cannot hold them responsible for the facts of the war. They have no control over where they go, who they fight, and when they return. They can literally do nothing about their lot, and, despite the screeching on the far left it is delusional for us to believe that one, ten, or even one-thousand soldiers committing mass disobedience against this or any war is either forthcoming or going to have any recognizable effect except for the military to start clamping down on civil rights within the military itself and possibly cutting us off from them completely. This would be extremely unfortunate.

We must face the fact that massive disobedience is simply neither practical nor possible in an all volunteer military. They have too many rules, and have been trained too well, for this to ever occur. We must therefore be sure to separate them from the war.

But what do we tell a soldier who has just come back from Iraq- who has seen combat for three years and has had many friends killed for what feels like no reason, and comes home to a lukewarm welcome and a broken down VA system that leaves them out in the cold? How do we reach them? How can they trust us when they have been inculcated to believe that we hate them because we dislike the war they fight? That they have been told that we somehow by proxy 'hate America' because we dislike its leaders and major aspects of its economic structure? How do we address this fundamental alienation from the society they once belonged to?

As we speak right-wingers from extremist groups are feeding off that dissatisfaction. They thrive on doubt and hatred. They are recruiting these alienated and troubled soldiers and Marines and twisting them into foot-soldiers of hate and death. Or else they are tricking them into foolish quixotic crusades for unrealistic candidates-like Ron Paul and his 'libertarian' circus. This is a horrible trend that may have terrible consequences for the future of this country, as we see ourselves moving toward a very similar situation as happened post WW-1 Germany when legions of disaffected German soldiers were recruited by fascist thugs to fight against progressive reforms and turned Germany into what it did. We can see this today with the myriad 'tea party' groups the anger, no doubt to some large degree fueled by closeted racism, at any kind of progressive reform, which is feeding the feelings of victim-hood already present in many soldiers and could possibly lead to violent confrontations. We cannot allow this to continue unchecked.

We must clearly communicate the nature of war, this one in particular, and their role in it without compromising their honor or their dignity else we lose their ear. We must therefore be sure to separate them from the war without lying to them, nor talking down to them.

We must explain the truth:

- that soldiers fight and die in wars to secure natural resources and captive markets for capitalists to exploit.

-We must tell them that less then 5% of the wars fought worldwide over the last two-hundred years have had anything to do with 'freedom' or 'democracy', and that in those that did, we were simply fighting rival powers that were seeking those resources for themselves to exclude other capitalists.

-We must tell them that there is simply no quantifiable difference between them and anybody else in the world, that as a working-class American they share a common brotherhood with 90 percent of the world, that they share a deeper brotherhood with the average Iraqi then almost 9/10ths of the US congress by this simple class division. It is a class division which sends young men and women to kill, fight, and die so that they can secure profits for large multinational corporations and the 'defense' industry.

We must do this without the conversation devolving into liberalism or pacifism. It is not enough for them to think 'killing is wrong' and leave it at that. This would be ignoring the bigger picture and doing them a great disservice. They must be told about the nature and origin of war and imperialism truthfully and scientifically so they can make the decision for themselves about war and why they feel so much doubt and alienation.

Most importantly we must communicate that we do not 'hate America' when we disagree with the policies of its leaders and their marriage to big business. We must communicate the class roots of warfare, and their role in it. We must tell them that it is morally right to use their freedom of speech to talk about their experiences to others. We must overall convince them that we are on the 'right' side in this, that we are fighting FOR them if not WITH them, and that most of all if we are to win we will need those values of honor and courage to help us fight; fight for Democracy and freedom here at home. We will need them to help us build a better future for America, and peace at last for the rest of the world.