Not All Who Serve Are Heroes

Ike only needed his stars

How many of you have heard any speech by our leaders recently concerning the military or in front of the military. Usually nothing important is said outside of the usual pap.

Shout outs to the various services: (Got some Marines in the house today!! “Hooyah!!”)

Thank you for you service.  All men and women in uniform are heroes.   The nation was grateful for your nonstop deployments and for the unique losses and burdens placed on you through the past 2 decades of open-ended war.

Obama said in 2015 that the “9/11 generation of heroes” represented the very best in the country, and that its members constituted a military that was not only superior to all current adversaries but no less than “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

This is the way we have become accustomed to discussing the military; over blown, limitless praise absent any hint of criticism or skepticism we apply to other American institutions funded by taxpayer monies.

The reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military has become the American norm. It was not always so. Ike may have commanded the finest fighting force in the world on D-Day but he did not describe it that way. He warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.”

So many Americans served during World War II and the Cold War that, while we respected the military, we were all well aware of it’s shortcomings.

While we have been at war for the past 20 years or so  years the vast majority of the nation has not. Some 3 million have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, many more than once. That’s about 0.75% of the population. During WWII some ten percent of the population was under arms.

The way the disengaged gaze with admiration on the military shows up in the popular culture. Once we had Ernie Pyle, the G. I. Joe wisecracking characters Willie and Joe. We had Phil Silvers, the Sergeant Bilko schemer. We had M.A.S.H.

Today everyone “supports” the troops but few know anything about them. We no longer have a comfortable closeness with our military. In many ways they are not us. We don’t poke fun at their foibles anymore.

While confidence in almost every American institution has sharply declined, not so with the military. Confidence in our armed forces rose dramatically after 9/11 and remains high. This lack of connection with war and the military among the vast majority of people allows us to blithely enter conflicts with nary a thought as to what might go wrong. After all, we are the most powerful military nation the world has ever seen. We can’t lose.

We haven’t won since World War II, save for the brief First Gulf War, pushing Saddam out of Kuwait. Korea was a draw. We did not achieve our objectives in Vietnam. The Middle East is in turmoil. It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan.   ISIS is still trying to remake the borders in the Sunni heartland.

There is little accountability for modern wars; we have put the Iraq war behind us. We have spent trillions on equipping our forces only to see our military fail in it’s mission. We have not succeeded in achieving any of our overall strategic goals in Iraq.

“Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” (you remember the surge) in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq 3 years ago, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.”

The perception that we cannot be defeated leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable conflicts and the separation of the military and war from the people keeps us from learning anything from our defeats.

William S. Lind is a military historian who in the 1990s helped develop the concept of “Fourth Generation War,” or struggles against the insurgents, terrorists, or other “nonstate” groups that refuse to form ranks and fight like conventional armies. He wrote recently:

“The most curious thing about our four defeats in Fourth Generation War—Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—is the utter silence in the American officer corps. Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change. Just more money, please.”

Once upon a time we relieved incompetent combat Generals – during the last decade hundreds of Generals were deployed. Not one was removed for combat ineffectiveness.

The public, at a distance, does not demand accountability while the career military has skillfully distanced itself from it’s failures.

“And yet however much Americans “support” and “respect” their troops, they are not involved with them, and that disengagement inevitably leads to dangerous decisions the public barely notices. “My concern is this growing disconnect between the American people and our military,” said retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and whose mid-career academic stint was at Harvard Business School). The military is “professional and capable,” he said, “but I would sacrifice some of that excellence and readiness to make sure that we stay close to the American people. Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.”


We must now re-learn a lesson –  not all of our military are heroic.  Wearing the uniform does not confer sainthood.  It’s time for Americans to end their ritualistic fawning over veterans. When former members of the U.S. armed forces visit the White House to promote military coups, they prove that veterans do not automatically, uncritically warrant our praise.

In one of the more contentious political seasons in American history, few malefactors have exceeded the duplicity of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has called on President Trump to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law so military leaders can oversee a redo of the 2020 election. Never mind that Flynn, who pled guilty to misleading the FBI, once swore an oath to uphold that very Constitution.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney has echoed Flynn’s sedition entreaties. The Vietnam War veteran also petitioned for martial law in the aftermath of a free and fair election, but then went further still, imploring Trump to cancel the Electoral College, suspend habeas corpus and arrest Democrats for treason.

Nor have senior military leaders and veterans accorded themselves well in foreign policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a 1986 West Point graduate, slow-rolled acknowledging Joe Biden as president-elect and publicly quipped he would help usher a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” The policies Pompeo have supported — one source recently described him as a “global arsonist” — hardly have advanced our national interests overseas.

And none of us should discount that some American veterans have acted immorally in our recent wars, a point of vital concern for our society, if not for our president. Texas Republican chair Allen West — who recently called for secession — received a military reprimand for threatening to shoot an Iraqi detainee, while Eddie Gallagher, Clint Lorance and Robert Bales, among others, either have been accused or convicted of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do these men deserve our admiration simply because they wore a uniform?

Without question, these examples are not, thankfully, representative of the larger whole. The vast majority of Americans serving in the armed forces do so in a way that make their families and local communities proud,  But instances of impropriety should not be dismissed because we are required, by some unwritten rule, to mechanically thank veterans for their service. Wearing a uniform should not shield the wearer from scrutiny, criticism or disciplinary action.

Think Fort Hood.

Despite our claims of American exceptionalism, our society remains imperfect. We should not be surprised that military service members might be imperfect as well.

We need to come to a reckoning with our military, lest it become dangerous to our republic at a time when our fundamental values and norms have been threatened by an imperial presidency and its supporters.  It is obvious that a number of our military and veterans participated in or supported the insurrection and the overthrow of democratic government.

Our adulation makes it more difficult to hold the institution accountable, to forge, under civilian control, more appropriate military policies.



About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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5 Responses to Not All Who Serve Are Heroes

  1. beetleypete says:

    Without widespread conscription affecting every city, town, or neighbourhood, it always becomes ‘someone else’s child’ who is killed or maimed. If the draft was still in operation, I doubt we would have seen any support for most of the ‘interventions’ since Vietnam.
    (On another subject, I have sad news that Sarah Vernon has died, Frank. I first saw your blog through one of her reposts, so she is why I am commenting today. )
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very brave piece. I think you are right. I think the problems in our military are kept quiet. It isn’t until sexual harassment is so out of control that it is made public. The public may only briefly hear about our troops needlessly killing civilians. People don’t care to know the bad in anything American. Well, not all people but it seems to me that most would prefer to live their happy little lives thinking that America is flawless.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Don Ostertag says:

    Excellent points. The recent cheating at West Point is another example of today’s military disrespecting themselves and their country. The great slide began when the professional soldier replaced the citizen soldier.

    Liked by 1 person

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