Monday, July 30, 2007

Precious Little Glory

I'm in Tallil again, for the moment.

Been a while--still trying to lay low. Started working on a book--a children's story, actually. Things are quiet--haven't been attacked since last I was in Balad, when we took direct fire in our mortar pool, aimed at the guard tower across the road from us. After you hear it once, trust me, the sound of a passing bullet never fails to make your heart seize.

I've been thinking about this war, and about the events of the last couple of months. I was kind of put off by the flood of fanatics who suddenly began slandering and threatening me at every available opportunity, and now I see talk that they've done it again, to a blogger writing under the pen name of Scott Thomas.

The people who, in each case, have attacked us most ardently were those who would have presented themselves as being our country's most ardent supporters of "the Troops." And yet, nothing I can find in my old comments section really strikes me as having been all that supportive. Unless in that definition, you include death threats and threats of career repercussions (How Stasi).

I suppose the first thing with which I should take issue is this whole concept of "the Troops." Why does it never seem like "The Troops" as a phrase never refers to individual soldiers overseas, but rather some amorphous band of superheroes distinguished only by their respective service uniforms? Why do I hear endlessly about how much people support us, without hearing that people have any real understanding of what our jobs are like?

Supporting "The Troops" has become one of those examples of cultural conditioning. Too often, I find, it has nothing to do with actual "support."

It's easy to "support" us. We're your sons and daughters; your husbands and wives and children. Of course those of you with ties support us--you love us, and pray for our safety, and eagerly await our return. Believe me, that kind of support we appreciate.

And yet, the ones I hear trumpeting their support the loudest never actually know us. They've never seen us outside of a recruiting office, or a John Wayne movie. They're not supporting us as human beings. They're supporting us, it seems, more as warfighters, as resources to be allocated. They support us only insofar as we support their cultural agenda. They support us as cannon fodder. They cease to support us when we tire of not seeing our familes. They cease to support us when we try to differentiate between the moral high grounds of various wars. These people see us as tools, and idols, and whenever we do something that doesn't fit their highly narrow and simplified worldview, they attack us like rabid dogs.

These days, it seems, "supporting the troops" has become a Pavlovian response. You hear it brought up in conversation, and suddenly you have to trump up your own patriotism, lest you risk isolation from your friends. What is this? Imagine that, whenever someone mentioned the American flag in conversation, you were suddenly required to bow your head, plug your left nostril with one finger, and mimic a kazoo rendition of "Under the Big Top?" Imagine further, then, that people felt it necessary to embellish their personal renditions with ever-more-extravagant flourishes and interludes? Would this reaction seem any more silly to anyone? Would anyone notice any less that, ultimately, it's still the same damned song played on the nose-flute?

The people I find supporting us the most passionately--and attacking our dissenters the most venomously--all share common traits. They belong to a cross-section of America whose worldview and moral infrastructure is based on one similar to that held in 1950s America. It's a form of capitalist nationalism, and it's hallmarks rest on the assumption of American economic, military, and religious superiority at all cost. It also, simultaneously, assumes that America is under constant attack from entities who want to see its primacy on the world stage brought to an end. These enemies are supposedly both without and within, and so it's easy to accuse anyone who disagrees with your ideals of being one of them. In the world of psychology--an area where I am admittedly no expert--is this not called paranoia?

The people I find "supporting" us the most passionately, it seems are the same people who watch nothing but old war films, and read only Tom Clancy spin-offs, and read no periodicals save for Soldier of Fortune and Armchair General. Meanwhile, the people who really support me--my parents, my wife, my friends--are accused of "emboldening the enemy" if they question the idea that maybe their soldier's life is worth more than some fading president's legacy in the Middle East. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

I once heard a young pro-war conservative pundit justify his own lack of service by saying this: "Just because I support the team doesn't mean I have to wear the uniform." That's true, I respond. But until you get up your privileged lily ass off that couch, and get out on the diamond, the actual significance of the game means nothing to you. You don't see the training, the struggle, the sacrifice. All you want is to share in the glory, without actually suffering the consequences.

Well guess what. There is precious little glory in this line of of work. There hasn't been a site recon for me in months. I am scrambling to help my leaders assemble critical MOS-specific equipment, much of which that remains in theater lies unserviceable. I am tired, I am hot, I am lonely. I feel less like a hero and more like so much grist for the mill; doomed to an endless cycle of 15 month troop rotations and doomed to spend more of my marriage in a misguided war than at home with Anne.

I love my job, and I am determined to be the finest soldier in my section. But I am tired of war. I am tired of loneliness, and fear, and sand. I am tired of feeling like the American public looks at me for a soap-opera-and-horse-race. And I am especially tired of having my professionalism or patriotism questioned by people who will never serve, or be able to let go of the fact that they did.

20 Comments:

Blogger Robert Rouse said...

The support I want for you and your comrades is a ticket home - safe and sound.

5:35 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

I've kept an eye on the Scott Thomas business. Crazy shit. I think you're spot on--The Troops never means 'the soldiers and marines', it means 'the morally unassailable brave young men (grudgingly, sometimes, even women) who go out there and fight evil.' I don't understand it. Isn't it more heroic to have human beings going out there and doing their jobs despite the fear, the loneliness, the normal responses to both, than it is to have whitewashed icons? But I think that's the thing. You're our icons. Your failings are our failings. If a soldier shoots a dog in Baghdad, that's a symbol of our failure, and so that soldier must be lying.

...okay, no, I lied. I don't get it.

Be safe, okay?

6:31 PM  
Blogger Lurch said...

Thanks for writing this, Milo. I think you brought up a very good point in mentioning paranoia.

As I tend to do whenever you write something, I riffed on it. Childishness and paranoia seem to resound with some of our citizens.

I disagree with what we're doing over there but I'm really proud of you. Being the best soldier in your section is the most honorable thing you can do.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Aprillini said...

Hey. I'm 52, and a liberal ex-hippie chick. That's terribly superficial,but a shorthand background. What you say is all very true. When my peers say they support the troops - what they mean is even though they don't support the war, they wish for the safe return of our men and women. I know that there are troops who do not feel supported if we don't support the war, and I don't blame them. How seering is it to know that you and your buddies are fighting and dying for a cause so questionable? We of the Vietnam era feel almost obliged to say we support the troops BECAUSE we didn't support the troops during that conflict. From my perspective, that is where this diehard "Support the Troops" attitude originated. That's my two cents.

You are an excellent writer with sensibilites perhaps more tender than some of your colleagues. It is terribly touching to read your writings and to feel for the separation from your beloved Anne. My own husband used to be away for months at a time on deployment. Some men and women handle this better than others. You two seem very solid.

You will persevere and there are so many of us sending our positive thoughts and prayers your way. Hang on. Take care.

1:38 AM  
Blogger The Hackademician said...

Most of the former-service Milbloggers I've seen weighing in on this one seem focused on how Scott Thomas may have embellished some of his accounts and they focus on the details, thinking that falsifying these somehow change the larger import of what he is saying.

Like the details have all that much to do with it.

Like it matters if you heard bullets whizzing past in Balad or Tallil, or if your motor pool is within rifle range of a tower.

What matters is the feeling that hearing such a thing causes, and how that sound still carries its emotional charge undiminished by time.

Reminds me of Perry Farrell in Pig's In Zen

Yeah, so roses are red
I made up the rest
If you got some big fucking secret
Then why don't you sing me something?

Just keep singing...and stay safe.

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"without hearing that people have any real understanding of what our jobs are like?"
Exactly, 'we' civilians hear this so often. The line drawn between 'us'(soldier) and 'them'(civilian).
You are correct, we can NEVER know what you see, hear, smell, taste. Never know your fear, loneliness, anger and frustration. Our media has hidden you all away so very carefully, rarely allowing us to view the ugliness.
Yes, there are those with the 'support our troop' ribbons on the rear of the car because it's the thng to do. But there are also many citizens who work tirelessly to inform those sitcom watching folks of the realities we are able to ferret out from overseas news sources and embeds such as Michael Yon. There are those who work full-time jobs, and come home and pack boxes for overseas shipment, write letters to wounded warriors, keep in touch and support broken hearted fiances never to be married to their now lost loved one, and I could go on but you get the picture. Our hearts are heavy due to the toll this war is taking on so many. My job as a nurse dealing with workman's compensation case management forces me to see the ripple effect this war is having back home. Employers concern over returning ARNG workers with possible PTSD,families coping with spouses unable to hold jobs d/t PTSD, placing injured vets into new jobs that fit a skill level with an amputation. The resulting depth and breadth of effects from this war has yet to be determined.
And yes, the "support" or response to you as a soldier will be as varied as our vast population. I believe many people just don't know how to react to you, what to say, what question to ask or not ask. Because they have not been there and haven't experienced what you have experienced. And yet many would lend a willing ear and compassionate heart if needed.
So take heart patriot, you are a professional, a brave warrior who has support from back home.
Cathy B

5:10 AM  
Blogger Hayden said...

I marched against the war before we started, and I've signed endless petitions and argued endlessly to bring you home.

I'm deeply touched by your comment that we see "troops" and cannot see individuals - I think, for the most part, you're right. You are one of the out-lyers that show us the individual.... it's always lonely being in the forefront. By that I don't mean to collapse your personal experience into a vague, "yeh, it's tough to be out front of the crowd" but to thank you for your writing and your persistance in helping us out here to see the individuals, instead of a crowd in uniforms.

3:57 PM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

You don't know how happy I am to see this post, Milo. I've been getting obsessive about checking a couple times a day - argh!

Cathy B - Michael Yon? Isn't he the guy that said the AQ or Iraqis or whatever baked babies and fed them to their parents? That's not news, that's just silly urban legend creation. The fact that he's a hero to the LGF crowd doesn't speak well for his credibility, embed or not.

In any case, Milo, you're right about a lot of people seeing the "troops" as a symbol, not a bunch of humans put in an untenable situation by power mad politicians looking to secure another country's resources for their corporate cronies. It's amazing to me, after all the years of films like Apocalypse Now and Deer Hunter and even Three Kings, people still want to believe armies killing each other on a massive scale is all pretty and honorable and 300-like. Buncha idiots needing squeaky clean faux heroes, because they can't handle how ugly and dirty it is being a real one.

Anyhow, I can't wait to read your children's book - sounds like fun, and a good way to look forward to the future! Take care, buddy - miss ya when you're gone.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

iamcoyote, I do not wish to dispute this topic on this fine solider's site, but M Yon was the only reporter named for brevity sake.He's not a hero, just one source. How is the civilain population to understand, see the 'troops' as individuals, if not for blogs, support sites (Any Soldier, Web of Suport etc), embeds and overseas news sources? Certainly not from our MSM.
And if the 'troops' individually feel they are unable to tell their stories, grisly as these may be, how is the public to get real war knowledge other than the Hollywood make believe?
Perhaps the older citizens of our country support the troops because we never want them to experience the lack of support and vitriolic rhetoric thrown at our Viet Nam vets.
I have experienced the glazed look in co-workers eyes when talking about the 'troops' in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines. This lack of awareness or maybe caring disturbs me deeply. God help us in the upcoming presidetial election.
Until the draft is reinstated, ours is a voluntary service of men and women. We thank you, those of us who pay attention are grateful for the exhausting work, sacrifice both you and your families make in this effort, and pray for each and every one of you daily. This is posted in my office for all to read:
(borrowed from the blog Knee Deep in the Hooah) by Eleanor Roosevelt;

Dear Lord,
Lest I continue
My complacent way,
Help me to remember that
Somewhere,
Somehow out there
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must
Ask and answer,
Am I worth dying for?

I guess those of us who know someone overseas does whatever he or she can to "support". For those who are unaware, the best we can do is try to educate.
Peace,
Cathy B

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Solo said...

I wish I had time to reply to your post at length Milo. I think you've done a lot of generalizing, but still, even though I may disagree with some of the things you say, I respect your opinion. Stay well and stay safe.

1:54 PM  
Blogger thepatriot said...

You are so right that patriotism seems to mean so little in our country today. I admire you soldiers who truly know the meaning of patriotism and truly desire to thank you for it.

I am not against the war in Iraq, and sadly that argument is ripping apart the meaning of supporting you guys. Regardless of my political status, I will continue to pray that God would bless you and open other's eyes to what sacrifice means.

5:33 PM  
Blogger fjb said...

I hope you'll give us some snippets of your book. Looking forward to it, and when it's published I'll make sure I get a copy for my young niece.

7:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that "Scott Thomas" has admitted to falsifying and fabricating... what say you?

I see that your opinion is genuine to you. But, this other person falsifies your experience if you decide to continue to support his narrative.

In the end it diminishes the truth & good you have accomplished by your own efforts.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Spc. Freeman said...

Anon,

Whether or not his experience was true or false is irrelevant to me.

I have no interest in his narrative. What interests me was the fierceness of the reaction by his readers to writings that they somehow considered anathema to their expected view of soldiers.

Read my back entries. I've known some great people in the Army, but we're all only human. I've known some truly disgusting, racist,sexist, homophobic, intolerant fucks in this line of work.

Scott Thomas falsifying his narratives? So what. HIS narrative may have been spruced up, but it doesn't matter. I know a dozen other stories just like his.

P.S. And next time, leave a calling card, dick.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

*sigh*

Name calling?

C'mon sweetie, I know you're having a bad day, but was that last word necessary?

*pouts*

I love you...

8:33 PM  
Anonymous DerelictDaughter11 said...

It's been a while since I've commented on anything, but I just wanted to let you know I'm glad to see you've posted. I check the blog regularly, and read what you have to say, even if I can't find words with which to respond. I enjoyed this particular post about patriotism - I especially like your analysis of it in comparison to "1950's capitalist nationalism"...very astute. Trying to "support the troops" by honoring each person in service is more difficult than lumping the "troops" into some all-encompassing abstract category and throwing some magic patriot dust at it. It's hard to know just how to be supportive and get you all the hell home, at the same time. What the gung-ho "patriots" don't get is that being against the war does not mean being against the troops serving in it. As some said above, this is a reflection of the Vietnam era, no doubt. Ahhh, I'm rambling. I'm glad you're doing okay. Hang in there. Peace.

(Can't remember if you still know me as WitchWay11...I switched names - it was time.) :)

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If someone has truly done something wrong like Stephen Green who is accused of raping and murdering a 14 year old girl and her family.Nobody denies the reality of those crimes.But if someone falsely slanders their unit they should be held into account.By the way how is "paranoid imperialist" any less of a caricature than marxist traitor.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Nice to see some of the Bush Youth coming back from out of the woodwork...

The TB

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your login process resists other attempts from my server, so since your own site has left me anonymous... let me remain as Dick. Actually, how about Dick Tracy? that handle has family and factual realities.

1. I read your entire blog before posting.

2. Your response to my post is either atypical, or it denies most of what you've said before.

I have no dog, there is no hunt, unsure why your response was as it was.

Dick Tracy

7:36 AM  
Blogger Army Sergeant said...

I love how people who are not in the Army criticize those who are for their personal opinions. I'm a sergeant in the United States Army, and I'm against the Iraq War. Are you going to tell me that my service is somehow not valid, just like you're trying to tell this specialist that his opinions are not valid and his experience is somehow false because Scott Thomas may have exaggerated? If you support the troops, you support everyone, regardless of their political opinion.

4:30 AM  

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