Baseball was once America's favorite cultural pastime. Today, in politics at least, nothing is more fashionable than praising and celebrating "the troops." I Support the Troops serves as continual shibboleth that the ever scrambling political class recites and riffs on in the pathetic attempt to convince the public that they take public service seriously. Those in power, in what could only be described as a tragic paradox, are constantly callously searching for ways to be authentic, or at least to appear to be authentic. This has lead to ever increasing heights of hair-pulling, clothes-tearing, and histrionics when praising the troops and their sacrifices. As the horrors of war become increasingly difficult to justify "the troops" become ever more celestial and divine as if praise is a substitute for care and passionate veneration a substitute for actual living.
President Obama even went so far as to make troops the role model for Americans in his State Of The Union, though he was shrilly attacked for it by the Right, Obama was merely taking the game to its next logical step.
But do Americans really Support The Troops? Do they really even care? No, not really.
I am sorry if that is an upsetting message, but it is none the less true. A truth not gleaned from public statements or opinion polls or sound bites on the news but from actions and the easily understood consequences of those actions.
Politifact, somewhat discredited by recent rulings, recently decided to "fact check" a public statement Congressman Rush Holt made on military suicides:
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th) cites a grim statistic relating to military service: 18 veterans commit suicide daily across the country.
That would mean 126 veterans a week or more than 6,000 a year -- and Holt isn't wrong, a PolitiFact New Jersey investigation found.
A number of organizations — including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — say that statistic is the best estimate available.
No, it is not wrong. Nor is it just veterans, as according the New York Times Active-Duty Soldiers are committing suicide at record levels:
Suicides among active-duty soldiers hit another record high in 2011, Army officials said on Thursday, although there was a slight decrease if nonmobilized Reserve and National Guard troops were included in the calculation...
Active-duty Army suicide rates have been higher than civilian rates since 2008, when there were nearly 20 suicides per 100,000 in the Army, compared with close to 18 suicides per 100,000 in a civilian population that was adjusted to be comparable to Army demographics. The Army projects that final 2011 numbers will be more than 24 suicides among active-duty soldiers per 100,000, another record high.
It is also worth noting that given the stigma of suicide many service-members, their families, commanders and others often try to make suicides seem like accidental deaths - the real numbers may be even higher.
Is it so hard to understand why men and women involved in some of the most horrifying, nakedly imperialistic, and wasteful wars might want to leave this world sooner rather than later?
But wait, America has a way out, a loophole in the social contract. We all get to praise the troops and their service which means what they were ordered to do in our name, under our authority, and with our money is irrelevant. It is a rather nice arrangement if you do not want to deal with the issue. Unfortunately "the troops" lived it and can not say a few benign words and walk out into the sun for another day of self-glorification.
What have we ordered "the troops" to do, and what were the consequences?
According to official figures, 3,884 US soldiers died between 2004 and 2009, an additional 224 soldiers from allied nations, well over 8,000 members of the Iraqi security forces (reasonably reliable figures are missing for 2004) and 92,003 Iraqi civilians whose deaths are documented by at least one source. Together, this makes more than 104,111 deaths, a figure that approximates the number of victims reported dead in these documents, namely 109,032
Getting killed, maimed or killing and maiming tens of thousands of innocent people by mistake or purposely - that must do wonders for mental health.
Afghanistan, now America's longest war, has seen 2,800 Americans killed, 27,000 Americans maimed, and over 30,000 civilian deaths.
While we aimlessly deploy "the troops" to far away lands to perform grizzly tasks to maintain our ruthless empire - where is the American people's focus? What, in our attention economy, have we deployed our own resources towards? Ourselves of course!
While other (usually poorer) Americans fight and die for "freedom" other (usually richer) Americans are busy pursuing fantasy. Movies, TV, Video Games, Novels, Social Media Aps, Role-Playing games, or just the all consuming narcissism of moi ... as one of the co-creators of the internet Robert Cailliau noted, if these trends continue the future is likely to be like the Matrix but worse. A people daydreaming their lives away while the cruel realities necessary for their position and place are borne but others - others whose only reward is posthumous praise.
Is this a system worth killing so many innocent people for? Is this a system worth dying for?
There is no simple answer to those questions or to other questions I have raised, but there is one thing that seems crystal clear regarding the tragic state of our military service members - if you really want to Support the Troops Bring Them Home.