DADT, Military “Service” and Obedience

The cheerfully militarist celebrations of the repeal of DADT for the US military—from the “just shoot straight” jokes to the perspective-free allegations that DADT was a horrifying injustice (on something like the level of a war crime!)—repelled and confounded me. Americans being Americans, inducing self-congratulation is usually an effective strategy to distract from other things—such as any of the reasons the chief executive has a deservedly low approval rating, and all the civilized campaign promises he has failed to keep, like restoring civil liberties and accountability, closing Guantanamo and ending torture, and ceasing an aggressive foreign policy.

But there is more to it. As others have said, militarism truly is the civil religion of the country, common to the secular and religious, right and left, Republican and Democrat. Chief among the implicit assumptions underlying this militarism is the concept of “service” to the country, and the principle that putting on a uniform for this “service” baptizes men and women to become intrinsically admirable. They should never be questioned by the public in their obedience to the chain of command, merely “supported.”

In general, the popular understanding of “service” seems to be minimally thought through, at best. “Public service” is just a phrase for politicians and bureaucrats to adopt as propaganda for self-interested careers in power and money. Likewise, we should question whether those who “serve” in the military “services” actually serve others, or any shared interests of the country they claim to defend.

Obedience should not be confused with service. In the present state of affairs, in fact, disobedience seems far more promising as a means to serve the country. Dissent seems far more necessary than mutely following the powers that be as they continue to bring the country to ruin through a doctrine of endless war, minimal liberty, unlimited profligacy and ever-accreting power—in short, policies converting the last vestiges of a republic into an unabashed empire.

The unpleasant reality that only dissidents want to discuss is that the US has a callous government supported by various callous interest groups. It prints and extorts money at the general expense of struggling consumers to enrich private financial interests and obtain loans for itself. It incarcerates roughly 1% of its population, mostly for consensual “crimes.” It spends fantastic sums to monitor, restrict and control its own citizens and billions of others around the globe. The largest employer in the world, the DoD, employs another 1% of the population. It spends the largest military budget in the world—by far—in order to pursue policies of attrition in multiple countries at once that have caused millions of casualties but ensured little besides short-term profits, mayhem, and making long-term enemies.

An abstract nicety like “equality” has little bearing in the real world for all those caught up and made victims of the state—American citizens or not—whether they are impoverished or bombed, jailed or otherwise persecuted. Certainly the luxury to be delusional about the importance of political correctness in an empire belongs only to those isolated from most imperial consequences. It is reminiscent of old Imperial British concerns over propriety in colonial armies, completely beside the point of their repressing the “wogs.”

Which brings me back to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the joy that soldiers can now openly express their homosexuality as they—frankly—fight wars for empire on the increasingly slim and tortured excuse that the Eternal War on Terror needs to be fought everywhere at tremendous cost, despite the fact that fewer Americans die from terrorism than dog bites. In the face of everything else, it is extraordinary that homosexuality is the controversy about “servicemen and women” versus all the more appropriate questions about this supposed service. We ought to wonder: how is being able to admit you’re gay while you occupy 70% of the world’s countries, consume trillions of dollars no one has, bomb innocents with drones at a ten-to-one ratio and radicalize foreigners admirable, and how is any of this “serving the nation”? Because the President says so?

While I’m aware of the standard excuses made for soldiers—military personnel simply go where they are deployed, aren’t political, don’t make the choices about wars but only fight them, have to do as they’re told, etc.—I disagree that grown men and women who have chosen to volunteer for armed conflicts at the open-ended option of politicians like Bush and Obama, and chosen to continue fighting throughout all revelations about those wars, can fail to be responsible for their own actions.

I think it is also well-established that “following orders” is no excuse. If a man voluntary kills another man (or woman, or child), it is at all times his doing. Call it anything else, make it as anonymous as possible, and yet that fact remains. He had better, therefore, make sure he needed to kill, and he had better make sure of the reasons why he was told to. A soldier is not just a tool; he is not a robot; he remains a man, and a man should always think for himself, and always retains that responsibility. To cede this point is to subordinate individuals to social control, and the purpose of this is less combat effectiveness than it is ensuring conformity and lockstep obedience behind politicized war agendas.

Volunteer soldiers also have chosen to join and to obey orders. They have chosen to become obedient combatants serving policies known to have been formulated by opportunistic political factions in league with corporate and military-industry interests. They have chosen to become cogs in gigantic, indifferent organizations which employ indiscriminate military tactics, such as missile and drone bombing with appalling “collateral damage” casualty rates (also causing much backlash) and night raids which typically kill or capture the wrong people. These are not incidental crimes; these are military policies. When recruits enlist, surely they cannot fail to be responsible for knowing they will be part of a military organization killing mostly innocents in foreign lands, often for entirely manufactured reasons on the basis of fake intelligence and distorted narratives. And if they have somehow managed and chosen to remain ignorant of salient information about their profession, disreputable means and professed casus belli, can this ignorance be taken as any real exemption from responsibility for participation?

Those who subordinate themselves to superiors and simply obey orders do not exercise their ability and responsibility to think for themselves, as human beings. In doing so, they fail to obey a higher duty and service than any bureaucratic organization can claim—except of course for those who correct this mistake, come to question their role, and admirably refuse to proceed further against their conscience, much to the chagrin of men at the Pentagon. In fact, even the military acknowledges this responsibility in the sense that, should soldiers be exposed publicly for committing “war crimes”—in addition to those the Pentagon sticks by— they are not personally excused.

Thus, I feel that politically-correct concern over military policies such as DADT is absurdly negligent of the elephant in the room about unjust, unconscionable wars. While soldiers are killing innocent people for disreputable agendas, who cares about their workplace sensitivity?

Surely, openly stating homosexuality is an infinitesimal part of the free speech they should be exercising in dissent against what leaders want to make them do. It is conscientious objectors who deserve our admiration and attention, not obedient janissaries simply because they have the “courage” to talk about their homosexuality. That is not much courage, and it is not heroism; standing against a mighty system to defend others from its predations is heroism requiring courage on a level that those who only follow celebrity causes, like DADT, will never appreciate.

We should finally note that the premise that indiscriminate obedience is the foundation of the armed forces, that the military should be segregated from political thought, should be lauded as heroes for their “difficult job” and their “service” as they follow deployment and operational orders without qualms, and should never be asked by the public to exercise discretion, is an incredibly dangerous one.

Precisely this compartmentalization between fighting wars and deciding on war was the factor inducing the Wehrmacht to turn a blind eye to the rise of the national socialists in Germany; officers like Rommel believed they should never be political. When fine military forces exist to be appropriated for the agenda of any political faction who rises to power, they will be used, because they can be.

Furthermore, any separation between the bureaucratic interests of the military and political agendas has always been false due to the massive common financial interests in ensuring budgets, opportunities for contracts, and missions to provide raisons d’être. Manufacturing wars has historically involved the complicity of military leadership. Military officers have historically supported militarist programs. Especially since Europe’s adoption of the regimental system, every separate military culture has sought its own welfare over welfare of others. Militaries form selfish interest groups of their own, even at the cost of lives. Today, the military-industrial complex is a juggernaut. War—and all its thousands of attached interests and businesses—is the world’s largest industry and most powerful lobby.

The American public has yet to appreciate the domestic risk of celebrating “heroes” for the “service” of blind obedience of authority. In Germany, the concept of Führerprinzip exempted individuals from responsibility for decision-making, aside from that necessary to obey higher-ups in the hierarchy. Americans, by and large, have likewise accepted the military hierarchy as independent from personal conscience and individuality. They have accepted that soldiers are simply tools who must obey orders and leave all decisions to the officers above them, all the way to the Commander-in-Chief. But once this principle is established—that leaders sit atop an obedient monolithic pyramid of governmental enforcers which the public MUST support, regardless of political policies—there is no reason whatsoever for leaders to pay any attention to citizens, any longer. Complaints have no teeth. The leaders have what they need to take anything, and they need not listen.

The rank and file, too, have their established loyalties, reinforced by the public’s own attitudes toward their common identity and obedience. Having been taught that they bear no direct responsibility to serve the public versus their superiors and comrades, or to discern whether their actions and obedience is in the public interest, they have little reason to respond to pleas. If, on some unfortunate day in the future, an even-more unscrupulous faction and President finds opportunity to order martial law in the United States, citizens should not be surprised to find that order obeyed. Sadly, I can also predict that a substantial portion of the population would still cheer.

It has been correctly said that if anyone can ever stop war, it will be due to soldiers refusing to come. Perhaps we can also presume that if anyone can ever halt the madness of empire before its downward spiral ensures an irrecoverable collapse of values underpinning civilization, it must be soldiers or other would-be enforcers who retain some thoughtfulness and dedication to the service of humanity, and refuse to be pawns.

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