The Burden Of The Soldier

December 29th, 2011   Submitted by Roman Skaskiw

Earlier this month, a little-discussed headline read "Muted Ceremony Marks End Of Iraq War."[1] Of course, neither the war in Iraq nor the occupation are really ending. Thousands of private security contractors remain in the country (as do the fifteen thousand employees of the Baghdad embassy).[2] The end of conventional military operations reflects the changing usefulness of the soldier to the state.

Generally speaking, the soldier’s role as provider of security is secondary to his role in propaganda. Regardless of an individual soldier’s motivation in joining the military, his primary function is to serve as a rallying cry for the fellow subjects of his state.

The nefarious motives behind wars, the endless political treacheries, and the massive fortunes accumulated by military industries must all hide behind the image of the soldier. He is portrayed as the best reflection of a grateful society, and elevated to the shining status of a religious icon, in the hope of blinding everyone to the cesspool of narcissism, corruption, and corporatism behind every war.

As a writer, I understand the appeal of military narratives, but more attention should be devoted, not to the fighting of wars, but to their beginnings. I’m not sure a single one would survive scrutiny. Of course, once wars have begun — once an endeavor is sprinkled with the blood of good people — it gains monumental significance and becomes its own justification.

Additionally, until a state of war becomes the new normal, the soldier’s suffering is painstakingly documented to be used as a bludgeon. With it, dissenters are silenced for their lack of patriotism. Taxpayers are reminded of the insufficiency of their sacrifice. Fiscal conservatives are condemned for endangering "our" young men and women in uniform. An idea essential to this propaganda is that the soldier, like the rest of government, is not "them"; the soldier is "us."

As a former infantryman and six-year veteran with three combat tours, I feel free of the guilt that silences many dissenters. The myths and benefits of military service are powerful and practical. I don’t blame anyone for falling under their spell. Many people have rolled the dice on their physical safety for much less.

My own disillusionment had much to do with the painful realization that almost no one asked me to keep them safe; that I wasn’t, in fact, keeping anyone safe; and that despite this, I was thanked profusely by the very people whose taxes I consumed — a testimony to the powerful web of myths involving the state as our selfless protector.

Compare the status of the soldier to that of the mercenary. (There is much to criticize about the private security contractors doing business with the U.S. government in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is not capitalism, but corporatism.) Nevertheless, the fact that parades, monuments, political speeches invoking their suffering, and streams of fawning news coverage are not only nonexistent for mercenaries, but scarcely imaginable, says much about the role and primary purpose of the soldier.

The soldier’s role, however, also burdens the state. Once an ongoing condition of war is cemented as the new normal, the soldier becomes, in many ways, a nuisance to the state. Soldiers invoke their own image and become outspoken critics, either of incompetence within their endeavor or of the endeavor itself. Soldiers write blogs, record embarrassing pictures and videos, and share them readily through social media, eroding the myths upon which the state relies.

Also, to justify the suffering of soldiers, the state is increasingly pressured to explain its endeavor and demonstrate progress. Neither mercenaries, mindful of their employment status, nor clandestine forces, carefully screened and highly disciplined, present such a burden.

I welcome any scaling back of our misguided adventures in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. However, what CNN touted as the "end of the Iraq War," can be described, at least partially, as a shift toward the type of warfighters more amenable to the state’s aims at this late stage: the silent type.


[1] Richard Allen Greene and Moni Basu, "Muted Ceremony Marks End Of Iraq War," CNN, December 15, 2011.

[2] Erik Slavin, "Thousands Of Private Contractors Still In Iraq," Stars and Stripes, December 15, 2011, Margaret Griffis, "Iraqi Critics Questions Size Of US Embassy Staff In Baghdad," Antiwar.com.

23 Responses to “The Burden Of The Soldier”

  1. KathyNo Gravatar says:

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE!

  2. jc13No Gravatar says:

    I don’t agree with the author’s premise, but if anyone has a right to disagree with how our wars are started and fought, he has earned it. I do not believe we should go to war lightly, but also should not shy away from necessary war. Although Iraq can be argued as a war we could have avoided, Afghanistan was not. Although I think in both wars we need to get out of the business of rebuilding nations after the war, for that is where it becomes very costly in lives and money.

    On the other note in the article, Steven Pressfield wrote a book on this very subject on the future of war and the use of contractors. I believe it is called “The Profession” and although fiction, it attempts to answer the question of whether maintaining the necessary honor code within a military structure is possible when utilizing contractors instead.

    • Pressfield’s book sounds interesting. (link)

      While it doesn’t explicitly engage the use of mercenaries, I was impressed by an essay about the evolution of war under Monarchy and Democracy. It’s called “Monarchy and War,” and is freely available here.

      The case is made in the essay (and elsewhere by the book’s editor, Hans Hermann Hoppe), that Monarchy’s fought for very tangible things like a piece of land. Wars, which included many mercenaries, were also very expensive, and therefore short. With Democracy, wars began to be fought for ideology which does not have a well defined end. For example, the propogada campaign which preceded the US entrance into WWI was headlined with the slogan “making the world safe for democracy.”

      Also, with conscription, reluctant citizen soldiers needed to be taught to hate their enemies — a dynamic which doesn’t exist with professional mercenaries.

      Also, in a democracy, since you, as a voter, had a stake in your government, all your resources were much more easily confiscatable to support the war effort, whether you approved or not.

      Neither professor Hoppe nor I are advocates of monarchy, but the contrast says much about the nature of war and the soldier.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      Our wars? We? They are not my wars. I am not and have never been a soldier. I am thus not part of the “our” or “we” you are refering to. The situation in Afghanistan could have been handled different. I see no reason for the US military to be in Afghanistan today. Supposedly the reason for the invasion of Afghanistan was to go after bin laden and if that was the case then what is the point to be there now? If that was the reason for the invasion that might have been accomplish by means other than a military invasion.

    • Ed CiaccioNo Gravatar says:

      jc13 says: “Although Iraq can be argued as a war we could have avoided, Afghanistan was not.”

      Actually, we also could have avoided war on the people of Afghanistan (who never threatened us nor attacked us), had Bush & Cheney really wanted to. At least twice, the then-ruling Taliban government offered to hand over Osama bin Ladin to a third country if Bush provided evidence that bin Ladin was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both times, Bush refused. Bin Ladin, who had always claimed responsibility for his previous terrorism against U.S. targets abroad, maintained that he had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, the FBI itself never listed the 9/11 terrorist attacks as one of bin Ladin’s many crimes on their Most Wanted list under his photo and name because the FBI itself never had enough hard evidence that he was involved. The increasing scientific evidence that the Twin Towers and Bulding 7 came down as a result of very sophisticated controlled demolitions casts doubt that the Official 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission Report, is extremely dubious at best (see Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth as well as Patriots Question 9/11: AE911Truth.org
      http://www.ae911truth.org/

      and

      Patriots Question 9/11 – Responsible Criticism of the 9/11 Commission Report
      http://patriotsquestion911.com/

      • Whatever Women WantNo Gravatar says:

        “Loose Change” is the best single documentary about 911 that explains it all. No reason to spend hours upon hours on Youtube finding little pieces when you can just spend 2 hours watching the mother of all documentaries.

  3. Randall StevensNo Gravatar says:

    As a former marine grunt, I understand the author’s point of view. I spent 7 months in Iraq on my only deployment and I never once felt like anything I was doing was worthwhile. The part of the country I saw was already in ruins from previous wars and years of economic sanctions. From what I saw, the presence of U.S. soldiers only strengthened the resolve of the “terrorists” because they understandably wanted us out of their country.

    On a side note, Seth why does the graphic show up as an advertisement for pet paintings when the article is linked to Facebook?

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Sadly, facebook’s script is not totally compatible with blogging software, and this is a common problem amongst bloggers. There is a solution, as I’ve seen several high-end blogs, utilize the facebook like button without that same problem. If I knew how to fix it, I would. It’s definitely a major thorn in my side and is preventing the site from growing as fast as it could. =(

  4. jc13No Gravatar says:

    I was also in Iraq, and understand th author’s point of view. However, I worked with former insurgents who were fighting us years prior. I watched as they begged then Senator Obama to keep the Marines in al-Anbar due to the positive changes they had in the province. I remember how disappointed they were when they were told that the U.S. would not help them in the future.

    • DarrenNo Gravatar says:

      jc13,

      Empires also engage in buying people off, they can’t exist by force alone. The US govt uses money stolen, some call it taxed, from some people to give to others to buy their support. It should come as no surprise that the recipients of the loot want to keep it coming.

      • AshNo Gravatar says:

        Exactly. The fact that this money is diverted from the productive sector of the economy also indicates that this is an example of the broken window fallacy. jc13 could see the positive effects of the stolen money being spent, but could not see the consequences of diverting it from the hands of producers.

        • DarrenNo Gravatar says:

          Right you are Ash & then some:

          Martin Luther King and the Empowerment of the War Machine: A Libertarian’s View

          (snip)
          When the left decries the government’s diversion of its resources from human needs to the military it is on to something. War does impoverish us. What the left needs to understand is that a government with the resources to build schools also has the resources to build drones, a government with the resources to build roads also has the resources to build jet fighters, and a government with the power to tax and create money has the resources to pay for the weapons mentioned above and to wage war.

          And wage war it will, for as Randolph Bourne wrote “War Is the Health of the State”. Giving the state resources only feeds the war machine. Welfare at home and warfare abroad are also just flip sides of the same coin. If the left really wants to see Dr. King’s dream of peace come true they must face the reality that they can not give the government the tools it needs to wage war and expect it not to do so. It’s not enough to advocate that they not buy weapons. We must take away the tools they use to acquire them. This means that we must end the Federal Reserve System, the income tax, the federal government’s social spending, its regulatory role, and its police powers. Peace will only come when the government is powerless to commit evil acts both at home and abroad.
          http://theinternationallibertarian.blogspot.com/2011/01/martin-lu ther-king-day-lockheed-martin.html

  5. AshNo Gravatar says:

    Roman, were you an anarchist while you were in the infantry or did you become one afterward? If you were an anarchist while you were in did you ever talk about it with any of your peers?

    • I was in infantry units for the first four and half years of my service. Then, I was curious but unaligned politically — I had more pressing concerns. When they pulled me off the IRR after three years of civilian life to retrain me in Civil Affairs, I was a constitutional libertarian.

      It was only after I left the military for the second and last time, and indulged what soon became an obsession with free market economics, did I follow the logic of Rothbard and Hoppe into anarcho-capitalism — what others call volunarism or the belief in a private law society.

      If you’re curious about what other soldiers think, I estimated the range of opinions in this essay.

  6. RIPNo Gravatar says:

    Roman,

    I enjoyed both articles, the NY times was more significant to me. I’m in a pretty similar situation to that you describe. When I tell all the friends I trained with that now my only interests are in keeping myself and my Marines alive they are usually surprised. We take such pride in accomplishment that disinterest in the mission, even when the mission is known to be flawed is anathema to our thinking. That disconnect still causes struggle in me.

    Thanks for the writing, I do recommend The Profession as mentioned above.

    -R.I.P.

  7. EddyKNo Gravatar says:

    Can anyone see the parallels between the privateers of the age of sail and these modern mercenaries. They both seem to serve the same purpose: To conduct war in a time of so-called “peace”.

  8. Eugenio GabaldonNo Gravatar says:

    I have been surfing online greater than 3 hours nowadays, but I by no means found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty price sufficient for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made good content material as you probably did, the web can be much more useful than ever before.

  9. Whatever Women WantNo Gravatar says:

    If you are so smart, then why did you join? More importantly, why do you tout a high-res military picture of yourself on Twitter NOW? You can’t have your insignia and denounce it too.

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