Expect talk of ‘heroes’ and ‘patriots’ as US election nears

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to discuss President Trump's reported comments about members of the U.S. military as well as the effects on the U.S. economy of the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during an appearance in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 4, 2020.
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to discuss President Trump's reported comments about members of the U.S. military as well as the effects on the U.S. economy of the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during an appearance in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 4, 2020.
Image: KEVIN LAMARQUE

One of the recurrent features of US presidential elections is the invocation of members of the military; people who “served” or “defended” the country.

In some ways, the US is a mediocre society, a little like the mediocrity of apartheid’s willing executioners of the old SADF and the SA Police.

Young men, schoolchildren, are imbued with a “warrior ethos” required to promote a more aggressive and independent “warfighting” culture.

As such, it is not difficult to see, having spent almost two decades in that country, how so many people, especially men, would prefer “an early and much remarked death over a long and unremarkable life”.

What is incredibly difficult to convince people is that not everyone shares the belief that invading countries, fomenting civil wars or playing a role in assassinating elected leaders is just.

It is also almost impossible to explain the horrors of war to Americans.

Here are a people who have had little more than a single attack by a foreign agent on their soil since Pearl Harbor more than 70 years ago.

Yet, the US military has gone to war against the people of South East Asia, Western Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The US literally carpet bombed Laos (between 1964-1973) as part of a CIA covert operation.

US bombers dropped more than two million tonnes of cluster bombs over Laos — more than all the bombs dropped during World War 2 combined.

Today, Laos is remembered as the most heavily bombed country in history.

The US has also managed to turn (their) warfare into holy wars, sanctioned by “their” god.

This was neatly captured when Lieutenant-General William Boykin, an evangelical Christian, went on a revival tour of evangelical churches and told congregants that the US “had been attacked [in September 2001] because we are a Christian nation, and, he explained, George W Bush’s war on terrorism was actually “a war against Satan”.

It is not difficult to reach the conclusion that Americans love war.

At the end of three different classes in political ideas and ideologies I taught in the Carolinas between 2005-2010, I asked how many students would spend Thanksgiving with at least one family member who was either in the army, present or past, or who had fought in one of the US wars abroad.

Out of about 100 students, only a single one said: “None”.

She was a British student.

The desire to “serve” their country in war runs deep in the American psyche.

Every politician who has ever won a presidential election has made a point of praising “heroes” who served the country.

Many soldiers, and other US military personnel deployed in wars abroad, have somehow been indoctrinated or made to believe that they, the “Americans”, have a god-given right to go around the world and kill people — it really is that simple.

War is (mostly) about killing people.

They have a military industry that employs millions of people.

In 2015, when I looked at the data, the aerospace and defence industry — from the manufacture of planes and drones to ammunition — supported 2,797,000 jobs.

The industry’s direct sales activity supported an additional $181bn (R3-trillion) in induced sales in unrelated sectors throughout the US economy.

The commercial aerospace segment of the A & D industry represented the largest share of sales in 2015, accounting for 46% of total sales or $276bn (R4.6-trillion), while the defence and national security segment accounted for 34% or $204bn (R3.4-trillion).

Sales generated by providers of services, including engineering services, programme consulting and wholesale distribution accounted for an additional $124bn (R2-trillion) in sales activity.

So, from building aircraft and drones, to heavy or light ordnance, the US has come to rely heavily on keeping that machinery alive.

And, as Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state for foreign affairs once told Colin Powell, former US chair of US joint chief of staff and a national security adviser (1987-1993): “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?”

And so, as the US elections creep up on us, we can expect much more posturing about “who cares more for our military heroes, and those patriots who died for our country”.

Many of them are posted in the more than 700 military bases the US has around the world.

In the last week we have already seen US President Donald Trump being criticised for referring to dead soldiers as “losers” and “suckers” for getting killed.

Joe Biden was quick to show his respect to American soldiers — dead or alive.

Never mind the idea, that like Achilles, soldiers may be famously brave, but terribly proud, ruthless and pitiless to the point of monstrousness.

But try telling that to soldiers and their political leaders.

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