The first email is from an old buddy of mine, a guy I've been friends with since my first tour in Germany. We lost track of each other after my last Iraq tour, and I havn't really heard from him in a dog's age. The internet is an amazing place. Turns out he found this blog. . .
The other was an email from another reader, a guy I didn't realize read my stuff. Most of it ain't for publication, but he said something that got me started thinking.
I've been reading lately in a couple places that the military is pretty much the only part of the Federal Government that many people trust. Confidence in the military's ability to do pretty much any task is high. Some people have even given up on raising their children and want the military to do that also (hence the call among some social conservatives for a return to conscription). We are lauded to the heavens in unrealistic terms as "heros" and the terminology used to describe us is hagiographic to an extent that would make a saint's vita sound positively pedestrian.
That's both insulting and dangerous to the Republic, in my mind.
It's insulting because it denies us individuality and personhood. We become a symbol, an expression of a set of values, even an ideal in a way that deprives us of our very humanity. We aren't noble paladins out to right wrongs, we're just doing our best with the cards we have. Most of our privates are 18-20 year old kids who aren't that much different from kids back in the States. In better shape, on an average smarter, more disciplined (if their NCOs are on them), whatever. But just kids.
The idealization allows us to be a little ideological football that politicians can kick around. Both parties--whenever a politician talks about supporting the troops he means one of two things. Either he's pushing for a piece of equipment made in his district, or he's using us as a stick to beat his opponents. In the latter case he doesn't WANT our situation remedied because then he'd be deprived of that stick. This is why the Democrats don't really DO anything to fix the "problems" they complain of. If they were serious, they'd write bills, send them into committee, and issue press releases about how the Republicans don't "support the troops" if the bills die. What would the Republicans do? They'd be shamed into whatever action the Dems wanted. Basic politics. Not a damn one of those fools cares about us as people. Nor do the folks who argue that they support this or that course of action in Iraq because they "care" about us. Who cares about us? Our wives, our parents, our family and close friends. Does Ms RichBitch in Hollywood? Yeah, right. How many of your millions are going to support the ARC, MWR, USO, and other people who really support the troops? Screw that noise.
Or there's what really pisses me off. The folks who go to the other extreme and portray us as murderers, or losers so hopelessly inept in the civilian world that we had no choice but to enlist.
There are some. A lot fewer than you'll find in most lines of work, IMHO. Basic Training weeds out a lot of losers, and we chapter even more out from the units. But that portrayal as a whole? Unrealistic and never espoused by anyone with regular contact with Soldiers that I've ever met.
Anyway, here's where I worry about the future of the Republic.
That idealized "heroic" portrayal of the military combined with a lack of regard for other governmental bodies has led to the military taking a larger role in things that aren't our job. Drug interdiction, border patrol, disaster relief, no matter what the problem, the military gets tasked because we are known to be able to get things done. Everyone from the Mayor to the President got covered in crap over Katrina, except one organization. The military came out looking like saviors, complete with angelic wings and a halo.
Ummm. . . twitch, twitch.
The only thing standing between the military and the seat of power is the professionalism of our officer and NCO corps. Now, we've got retired generals (guess what--you still get a paycheck, you still fall under UCMJ) sharpshooting the elected officials. We've got military officers taking their disputes over policy to the media instead of following the chain of command. The military is becoming more and more politicized as the politicians have been more and more open about displaying contempt and lack of understanding. It used to be that most professionals didn't even vote. Now it's about 70/30 one particular political party because that party is the best about keeping us equipped. But even that party is futzing around with veteran's benefits.
After the Marian reforms, the Roman armies were enlisted with a promise that after 25 years of service each soldier would recieve a plot of land sufficient to serve as a family farm. This promise was repeatedly betrayed by the Senate. Soon the Armies began not serving the Republic, but following the standard of whichever general could force the Senate to honor their commitments to veterans.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Marcus Licinius Crassus. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Gaius Julius Caesar. Marcus Antonius. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.
I'm not saying we are ripe for a military coup. I'm just saying that if one were to happen 20 years down the road, historians 200 years down the road will say the foundations were laid here.