The military and its relation to civilians

30 May

This is a really touchy subject. It’s one of the few subjects I feel uncomfortable discussing. I feel like there is an unspoken sentiment that if you have not served in the military, then you have no grounds to voice your opinion. But I do have grounds to voice my opinion. I am a citizen. I am paying the bill. I have a right to voice my opinion on how my money is spent.

What is the most fundamental reason for the existence of an army in a democratic nation? To protect civilians.

Growing up right next to the largest naval base in the world, and now living right next to a large army base, I’ve always felt a subtle tension between civilians and military personnel. The power dynamic between civilians and the military leads to an air of superiority on the part of the military.

“You depend on us for your protection, for your very lives, for the freedoms you enjoy…” While this is true, the military depends on civilians for their very existence, their purpose in life. What is a military without a civilian population to protect? If not to protect, what purpose do they have? To rove around like marauders, pillaging and conquering as their commanders wish? What kind of existence is that? What kind of society is that?

General and president Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man who led us to victory in WWII, the man who saw first hand the dawn of the American Empire, left a dire warning about the military industrial complex.

In 2010, the United States spent $687,105,000,000 on defense. Our country’s infrastructure is falling apart, our education system is collapsing, our health system is a train wreck, we lost a major city in hurricane Katrina and yet we’re spending almost 5% of our GDP rebuilding other country’s infrastructures and cities after we carpet bombed them. Priorities? It’s clear that Eisenhower’s dire prediction came true and we’ve lost control to the military industrial complex.

But that’s not the focus of this post. Last night I had a small party at my house. Of the friends I invited, two of them were Iraq war veterans. It was interesting because they came from opposite sides of the political spectrum. (I was the mutual friend, they had never met before last night) My best friend’s boyfriend was the conservative vet, and my other friend was the liberal vet. They didn’t really discuss politics, but a large argument broke out after my liberal veteran friend left for the night.

This being one of the few subjects I’m uncomfortable with (as mentioned earlier), and the fact that I’ve given up on attempting rational discussion, led me to just sit there and try to ignore them.

The main point of contention revolved around how much a democratic civilian population has a right to know what their military is doing in their name, with their money. There was a lot of arguing about wikileaks and the press releasing the name of the seal team that killed Osama, along with pictures of the helicopter.

While there was a general consensus that the civilian population does not need to know in detail the location of the troops, the size of their fighting force, or their plans of attack, there was disagreement as to how much the population should know about the motives for a war.

What stood out the most was just how emotionally driven my friend’s arguments were as to why the civilian population should not need to know the causes for a war being fought in their name on their dime. It boiled down to “just trust us” that we with the ultimate power have your best interests in mind, and that telling civilians the motive for going to war would endanger the soldiers. The chief evidence being my best friend’s story about how her father (a high ranking marine core officer with security clearance) told her that there were ten good reasons why we were invading Iraq, but that he wasn’t allowed to tell her three of them; and that she could hold her head up high while she got teased at her very liberal school for supporting the decision to invade.

The problem is, “just trust us” has always been the response given by people who do not have your best interests in mind. The powerful have always abused their power. The US military is the most powerful fighting force this planet has ever seen, and yet we’re supposed to just trust out leaders that they are going to justly exercise this ultimate power without any oversight from the people that entrust them with that power. That is beyond absurd. This is not an issue I can discuss with my best friend because our priorities are fundamentally different.

I will get straight to the heart of the issue and put this very bluntly:

If knowing the cause of a war costs a few lives, so be it.

I understand and appreciate that I am talking about people’s family members, but you’re missing the forest for the trees and it’s rather selfish. When we go to war it affects the lives of millions of people, directly and indirectly. We have a duty to make damn sure that when we do decide to go to war, that it is for the right reasons and that the destruction and death are limited to only what is necessary to achieve those aims. If we try to hide the reasons for such grave an enterprise as war from the people who are ultimately responsible, for the sake of protecting a handful of lives, we invite disaster and death on a much grander scale.

To put it simply: risking the lives of your family members in order to make sure the reasons for war are know is the lesser of two evils. If we don’t risk it, then we almost guarantee that an exponentially greater number of people will die. What about their families?

The other thing that bothers me, though this didn’t come up between my two veteran friends, is the idea that the worst your experience in the war, the more qualified you are to talk about the war in general. My best friend’s boyfriend (the conservative one) had a worse time in the war than my liberal veteran friend. He got shot at numerous times and almost died on several occasions. Now he suffers from PTSD. My more liberal friend was in artillery. I never asked, but the sense I get is that he fired shells from a safe location to locations where my other vet friend was fighting.

Since when does suffering equate to being factually correct on an issue? It doesn’t.

Let me be clear, I am in no way trying to diminish the sacrifices made by my friend in Iraq. When he talks about his experiences, I sit and listen quietly. I would never try to devalue his experience with the war, but he has only his experience. A neighborhood electrician cannot run a nuclear power plant. There are plenty of other people who went through the same types of experiences, but who have different views on the issue. When discussing the war in general, my friend won’t hesitate to pull the “well I’m a veteran” card and stop the discussion. It was interesting to have another friend there who also had that card up his sleeve but with a different view point.

A few weeks ago my best friend said something that really scared me. She said that she feels the president of the United States needs to be military. This goes back to the whole, “what’s a military without a civilian populace?” issue. Their is a very good reason why the head of the military (the president) is a civilian. The military is fundamentally undemocratic. A democratic military wouldn’t survive. In order to fight it needs to act as one body with one mind. However, a country that has but one body and one mind, is the antithesis of democracy.

4 Responses to “The military and its relation to civilians”

  1. Vadim May 30, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    Good post. Since 9/11 America has prevented terrorists from perpetrating attacks on its’ soil. It’s a trmendous achievement and the US army surely deserves some credit.

  2. godlesspaladin May 30, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Hey Vadim, thanks for the comment. The US army definitely deserves credit for the amazing dedication and sacrifice they’ve put forward towards trying to protect us, though I wasn’t commenting on that per say. What really infuriates me is how our service men and women give so much, and yet the politicians who give them orders have no qualms using them to achieve their own personal ends. It’s like our military men and women are pawns, it’s disgusting.

  3. Greg Christopher June 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    So I go on vacation and you crack off three great posts. What gives? 😉

  4. godlesspaladin June 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    It’s a conspiracy. 🙂 Actually, I had just realized I was rather lax in posting and so I decided to finally put some stuff up. Perhaps I should have scheduled them though…

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