I’m not a solider. I have never been in a war zone, never killed anyone, and the full extent of my combat training is a summer archery course and two books on Japanese swordsmanship. I was raised a pacifist, and war terrifies me. Not just the images of it, the sounds or the smells, but the very concept of war as a singular event or an institution.
And in the modern age it is an institution. War has been industrialized, capitalized, glorified, legalized, rationalized and mythologized for as long as one bastard has been able to talk another man into dying for him.
There’s a saying: Wars aren’t won by dying for your country, but by making the other guy die for his. Witty, pithy, and technically true, but also the usual bullshit. When men are sent to war, they aren’t expected to come back. That’s not the criteria for victory, just a happy coincidence if they happen to still be welcome (and useful) when they return. Low casualties look good in the press, but keeping those men alive is not the millitary’s goal. They just hate to waste investment.
Soldiers go to war so that, when somebody needs to die, they are there to do it. They lay down their lives so someone else won’t have to. They face the worst horrors imaginable. They fight and die to protect what they believe in.
I refuse to thank soldiers for that.
There is a push in the Men’s Rights Movement to get people to be more thankful for all the shitwork men do, from cleaning sewers to soaking up bullets in the Middle East. People say men put their lives on the line for the service of others, so we should give them a smart salute, a pension and a hearty Thanks.
I think that’s bullshit too.
I don’t thank a slave for a hard day’s work.
I don’t thank a rape victim for her stimulating services.
And I don’t thank a soldier for getting his identity crushed, his humanity stolen and his life ruined.
I thank people when they do something kind or helpful, out of a sense of loyalty or altruism, not when they get hurt. That’s all society does to soldiers: hurt them. Society uses and abuses men in general, but soldiering is the ultimate manifestation of the practice. Soldiers are the blunt instrument we use to clobber other countries and peoples we don’t agree with. Not just America, but any nation throughout history who has employed military force. Soldiers are implements of wholesale slaughter, but I’m not going to criticize all the men of history who participated in war. I don’t blame them; I pity them.
There is nothing heroic about war and I refuse to thank a soldier for his participation, because he is the victim. He is the indentured servant ground through bootcamp until there is little humanity left in him; the serial rape victim being butchered a little more each day on the battlefield; and he is the “freed” slave returned to his home with nothing and no idea what to do. What is heroic is that these men survive and, in the lucky cases, put their lives back together.
War destroys men. It can kill them, it can cripple them, it can leave them mentally traumatized for life. But even if it doesn’t, it leaves them changed. The very process of turning a man into a soldier involves turning him away from being a man, robbing him of his humanity to turn him into a weapon. Thanking a soldier condones not only what he did, but what was done to him.
War, as an institution, is the greatest con ever pulled, the most fantastic scam ever conceived, and we’ve been being played for thousands of years. Our tax dollars go to fund propaganda campaigns, to perpetuate the system of poverty that leaves no other way out, to train/dehumanize the young men, and then to arm them so they can go off and die like good little lambs.
The debate over war and soldiers needs to be re-framed. Blaming soldiers for the atrocities of war is like blaming the gun for a mass shooting, except that here the gun is a human being. Thanking a soldier is a sadistic kind of irony, like kicking a man’s teeth out and then thanking him for not bleeding on your shoe. Soldier’s are victims of war. Not its perpetuators, not its heroes, but its victims.
There are no Good Wars. They all started with men being coerced into risking their lives, then other men being conned into doing the same to fight them, and so on. None of them ever should have started at all. If all the men of history hadn’t been made afraid and ashamed to say no, none of them ever would have. The first wars were likely manned through fear and desperation, but once it was found to be profitable society started pushing to glorify the life of the soldier, to make men want to be soldiers.
It is time for this to stop. I don’t want soldiers to be thanked, or to be condemned, but to be promised, Never again. War is the most dehumanizing, cruel, pointless, needless, inhuman form of power control ever achieved. It is pure exploitation of another human being, like rape, but done en masse, like slavery, with the added mindfuck that a soldier’s one job is to kill other human beings. That is not natural, that is not noble, that is sick.
When I see a veteran proudly wearing his uniform, I pity him. Not because there’s anything wrong with him, but because he has been taken for a ride and will never be the same man again. Whatever he believes about his Cause, he has been changed, twisted, and turned into a tool to be used and disposed of on a whim. Throughout history, soldiers have been the pawns strewn on the board, sent to slaughter one another until the king or emperor or president with the most left “wins”. Numbers chewed through a meat grinder.
I have no respect for the military because it is a criminal organization that exploited my forefathers and continues to exploit my brothers. No amount of benefits will make it right and no number of heroic homecoming parades will change what it really is. War is wrong and it needs to stop. Being grateful to soldiers is just another way of asking more young men to follow. It’s no different than victim blaming, denying something wrong was done and leaving the door open for even more lives to be ruined by the ravages of war.
The next time you see a soldier, don’t say Thank you. Say I’m sorry. Most of them aren’t alive to hear our apologies, but they didn’t die for us. They didn’t die for anything. They were murdered by a consumptive system and they deserve nothing less than to never have another grave join their own.
Don’t thank them, save them.
Feature image by Phillip James
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