Feedlot to Slaughter
The Real Insult to the U.S. Military
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, November 1, 2006
You mean the U.S. military isn’t a dumping ground? You mean it isn’t a cross-section of working-class and minority America? You mean it isn’t the place of choice for the poor and less educated who’d rather not flip burgers or bend over for someone else in jail? You mean it isn’t a place where recruits from upper class and Ivy-League America are as rare as an honest Republican anywhere? You mean that, despite its terrific engine of integration, at least as seen from the outside, the military isn’t just another self-segregating machine where “blacks are two and a half times as likely to fill support or administrative roles, while whites are 50 percent more likely to serve in the infantry, gun crews or their naval equivalent”? You mean that blacks, who make up about 12.7 per cent of the population don’t constitute about 22 percent of enlisted personnel, or that 35 percent of enlisted women are black? You mean that’s just a statistical anomaly that doesn’t reflect a civilian world that still doesn’t give more than an obligatory damn about minorities, that welcomes them and gives them every opportunity — but the military, where you’re underpaid and forced to put your life at risk for absolutely useless reasons that have nothing whatever to do with defending the country, is just too damn attractive an alternative?
You mean, given the choice between a terrific education in a good university and an eventual job and the security of suburban dullness versus a couple of tour of duties in Sadr City or Anbar Province—our contemporary Sodom and Gomorrah—an American at least seven gray cells will choose Iraq over Cedar Lane? You mean things like “patriotism” and “honor” and “value” are more than bromides and linguistic illusions that the military and its political parasites stick on poor recruits’ duties (oh, yes: “duty”) to make their shmuck-assignments in god-forsaken hell-holes they should never be sent to go down easier?
So yesterday John Kerry said this: “Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” And President Bush, after posing pornographically at the receiving end of another military phallus, said this: Kerry’s remark was “insulting and it is shameful. The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave, and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.” Straw men, lock and load. Note from Kerry’s statement that nothing was said about bravery. No servicemen’s courage was questioned. (No, it’s the Bush administration’s cowardice that’s the question, the administration’s dishonor and idiocy, unprepared ness, hubris, that are in question). The bit about smartness is more problematic: Had the administration made an effort to be smart of course, we wouldn’t be in Iraq. But that’s not the servicemen’s fault.
Still: let’s not quibble around the bits. It never goes down well in the United States to rank even the most imbecilic fool below a smarty. Every nation has its fools; every institution, every walk of life. But in the United States these days, the national fetish is for men and women in uniform (it’s waning somewhat, but it can still be stoked to turgidness in an instant). Given the erratic and diminishing sense of opportunity in society at large, the military may have its disproportionate share of dregs. But soldiers are the country’s sacred cows.
The irony of course is that soldiers for the last four years have been treated worse than cows ready for slaughter in a Kansas feedlot. At least cows in Kansas feedlots have been bred for the slaughter. Soldiers, we are led to believe, have been trained for a much higher duty: the defense of the “homeland.” Instead, they’ve been sent on a mission even the military wants nothing to do with. They’ve been turned into cannon fodder no more worthy of the Somme Brigades. They’re dead meat by policy. That is the insult to servicemen. That is the shamefulness that lays squarely on the Bush administration’s shoulders.
If the soldiers are owed an apology, it’s from the administration, and the administration alone. But this is desperation time for the GOP. And if Kerry, whose service in Vietnam was beyond reproach, could be turned into a cowardly, military insulting creep once, as he was in 2004, then the GOP playbook requires that it be done again. Inflicting fear on the electorate seems not to be working, as it did in 2002 and 2004. There’s always the Swiftboating approach, the slanders, the rank spinelessness of making black look white and Iraq look like D-Day.