On a recent visit, I was struck by the fact that the US was, in some senses, almost ‘Klingon’ in its veneration of martial values. In every airport, on every domestic flight, there were US military personnel in their camouflage fatigues. The flight attendants always thanked and recognised the "Nation’s finest" that were travelling with them that day, and thanked them for their services in defence of democracy, etc, etc.
Ever since the Dixie Chicks, media personalities from Dr. Phil to David Letterman and Jay Leno have been careful to toe the line that, "We are at War, we support the national interest, we don’t want to give heart to our enemies by trash-talking the government, we are grateful for our servicemen and we go out of our way to thank them for their efforts on national television."
I’m also aware that it is the poor black kids, and the poor white kids that do the dying. The military as the employer of last resort. The economic suppression of the masses.
What runs completely counter to my poo-poohing of an evolving martial culture and set of values in the US, is the ex-servicemen that I met. I met four ex-servicemen, two black, two white. They were the most impressive people that I have met in many a long time. They were polite, confident, self-effacing yet sure of themselves, and happy. They all said, ‘I was in the desert," or "I was in Bosnia and Mogadishu." I have to say, I very much doubt that I would have come out of such places so together. And they all said things like, ‘It made me a man,’ ‘It saved my life,’ ‘I was a young punk from the back streets, and it taught me honour.’ And they all did seem to know some things about getting on with people, and getting on with the job, and being a success in life. As I say, they were very impressive people.
I wonder. All of the great empires, from the Roman to the British, have been built on ‘conduct of arms’ informing ‘conduct of life.’ Of course those empires were not confused with modern ideas about democracy and equality, it was accepted that the lower classes were the cannon-fodder classes.
Dwight Eisenhower, an ex-WW2 General himself, was absolutely prophetic in his famous speech of 1961. I don’t think I can add much to what he said about the evolution of US society and the power of the military-industrial complex. He advised prudence on both sides, being not martial enough, and being too martial. His statements are probably even more relevant now than they were then.
So, a question for all of my readers. Provided that one is fighting away from home, is a martial culture a better culture than a pacifistic one, in terms of the longevity of that culture, the supremacy of that culture, and the great people that it turns out?
As Albert Tatlock was so fond of saying on Coronation Street, "What this country needs is another War!"