2011 November 25 Friday
American Soldiers Pitied By Their Populace

Read this Washington Post article on how Americans see their soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Americans feel more pity than respect for men and women in military service.

The troops are lavished with praise for their sacrifices. But the praise comes with a price, service members say. The public increasingly acts as if it feels sorry for those in uniform.

American soldiers, especially the officers, find themselves in a strange place. They are not representative of the larger public. Their values are distinctly different from those of the larger public which they seek to protect. The US does not now face any serious threats. Yet the military is targeted by competing who use these soldiers as tools for assorted ethnic and ideological ambitions.

The pity might be a subconscious recognition of the pointlessness of many of the costs US soldiers pay. The Vietnam war made more sense than the Iraq war because at least in Vietnam we were fighting communists in a global context of a Cold War against communism. One could debate the accuracy of the Domino Theory or its applicability in a country whose communists were also fighting for ethnic nationalism. But at least the labeling of the enemy was honest of not complete.

“We, as a nation, no longer value military heroism in ways that were entirely common in World War II,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Instead, praise from politicians and the public focuses largely on the depth of a service member’s suffering. Troops are recognized for the number of tours they have endured, the number of friends they have lost or the extent of their injuries.

Partly this reflects the feminization of school curricula. Boys are bored out of their minds by literature and history courses that emphasize feminine topics. War and martial valor aren't taught any more. This helps drive the imbalance in favor of females graduating from high school and going to college.

My take: Guys should find something better to do with their time than join the military. You aren't going to be appreciated. You are unlikely to be used for the common good of the American people. If you must join at least aim for development of technical or police skills that will have value when you return to civilian life. Though there is one way to go extreme military and make it pay: Join the special forces and then come out as a civilian contractor making a 6 figure salary for the CIA.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 November 25 12:05 PM  Military Civilians

Abelard Lindsey said at November 25, 2011 6:03 PM:

I think the pity is definitely based on recognition that the conflicts they are being sacrificed in are rather pointless. Most people I know do not view Islamism as the global threat that Soviet Communism was (I actually agree with this attitude).

ivvenalis said at November 25, 2011 7:08 PM:

I agree with Abelard to an extent. Those that think/realize that the wars are pointless see servicemen that way. The other reason for this, though, is that seeing people as victims is how modern Americans show respect. I mean the entire point of politics now is to portray yourself as a victim so that some authority figure will tend to you. I believe that this is, or at least is a result of, feminization, but you don't need to agree with me on the cause to concede the symptom.

I don't know that I'd advise against joining up. You get a chance to fight in a war, even if it is pointless, which appeals to a lot of young men (I thought I was alone in this until I started reading old books). I did join, though at the time I was basically putting my naive neocon views where my mouth was on Iraq. The risks are actually pretty low, but not so low that it's "safe". So that's something. Plus, you will be appreciated ( for real ) by other servicemen, provided you're halfway competent. And it's easier to get a (non-combatant) contract/civilian government job as a veteran (though it won't be practically automatic like it used to be). If you're a member of the middle class, it's also a good chance to see what the working class is actually like.

You will get fed diversity/homophilia/feminist kool-aid by a huge impersonal bureaucracy that has you by the balls though -- you're still in America.

TC said at November 25, 2011 10:35 PM:

For any young white to join those forces most directly involved in combat is approaching an act of treason. They sure as hell aren't fighting for the nation, they couldn't if they wanted to, the nation is rapidly ceasing to exist and the leaders are loathe to fight wars for the "national interest" even if they could find some. There is something slightly obscene about a person joining as a mercenary an army whose imperial owners hold the extermination of his culture and people as their highest aspiration and moral principle. At the very least they ought to be demanding a little quid pro in exchange for their service. Maybe a cut back in the rate of racist colonialism being waged against their community, a small decrease in Liberal race chairs in the universities, a slight toning back of the genocidal hate spew, perhaps? Oh well, I suppose as long as there are young men who thirst for adventure they'll get their quota of suckers. Plus as we descend into the third world military jobs will be among the few available that are not totally degrading. On the other hand a military run by incompetent NAMS might not be so attractive, even for the desperate and adventurous. There won't be any more money for useless wars anyway and garrison life is incredibly boring.

Wolf-Dog said at November 26, 2011 6:24 AM:

Randall Parker wrote: "Guys should find something better to do with their time than join the military."


Unfortunately one of the main reasons both men and also women are trying to join the military is the lack of jobs for unskilled people, and more recently, even for relatively skilled people. The jobs are being lost to foreign competition, and while some of the competition is unfair due to currency differences, the sad truth is that the selfish and short-sighted business circles often prefer making a profit at the expense of the American worker. For example, the New Balance shoes are made in the US are only slightly more expensive than other American shoes made abroad, but the manufacturers of the American shoes made abroad make a bigger profit even though the customer pays almost the same price. But buying the slightly more expensive New Balance shoes that are made in the US is more beneficial for the US because the gains are shared with the American workers, and this allows the Americans to buy more American goods in the long run (not toe mention food to stay alive, which is also made in the US in most cases, which is worth mentioning.)

bbartlog said at November 26, 2011 7:55 AM:

I think joining is not a bad career choice; remember, you can save a lot of money during your tour. It's sort of the opposite of college that way - one leaves you six figures in debt, whereas with the other you can probably save well into five figures even on a four year stint. And you can probably avoid significant individual risk just by not signing up for the risky specialties. There are still plenty of young guys who *want* to do special ops / underwater demolition / ordnance disposal, so you don't need to worry much that you will get forced into a more dangerous type of position if you don't want it.
As far as the pity versus actual admiration, well - I think that even aside from the pointlessness of the middle east wars in the grand scheme of things, the nature of the conflict does not lend itself to heroic narratives. So much of the effort involves rooting out poorly-educated Islamists making primitive IEDs, killing people from the air with drones, or calling in lethal airstrikes if there's any sort of enemy concentration of force. The opportunities for individual heroism are rare and usually involve goofy tactical overreaching, like dropping a handful of special ops guys in remote mountains deep in relatively hostile territory.
One result is that now you can be a 'hero' (according to the media) just by getting shot / blown up, even if you didn't do anything but die. I personally hate this downward definition of the term.

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2011 9:03 PM:


I guess it depends on your options and how bright you are. A kid with an IQ above 110 ought to be angling to develop some valuable skills regardless of whether thru a school or the military or some other path. There are much cheaper ways than a bricks-and-mortar college to develop valuable skills. A lot of kids in the military don't come out with any useful skills. If they don't see a way to save money via a job right out of high school and can't afford any training for useful skills then the military might be a good choice. But if they can afford training in a valuable occupation then that makes more sense to me.

Peter A said at November 26, 2011 10:27 PM:

As in most places and times, Americans respect officers, and have pity, and even outright contempt, for the enlisted man. Interesting that the article ignores this, the media hates calling attention to class and status distinctions in the US.

TangoMan said at November 28, 2011 4:59 PM:

Instead, praise from politicians and the public focuses largely on the depth of a service member’s suffering. Troops are recognized for the number of tours they have endured, the number of friends they have lost or the extent of their injuries.

The subtext of the changing attitudes towards soldiers has a lot to do with the "Oprahfication" of what heroism means. Heroes used to be defined by their actions but now heroes are, more and more, defined by what they've endured. This is why we see child abuse victims, rape victims, burn victims, and other people who've endured significant hardship referred to as "heroes." These people haven't done anything heroic, they've just been the victims of bad luck and when people call them "heroes" that characterization is simply little more than cheap currency, or a cheap reward, anchored on a foundation of pity. These victims might, in an earlier time, have said "Don't pity me" but when they're called heroes for having endured suffering, that's enough of a mental shift away from pity that they revel in their new status because they're getting a reputation boost that borrows on the outdated definition of what it meant to be a hero, someone who DID something heroic.

This redefinition of heroism has been so extensive that it's now being applied to how the populace views the military. The population doesn't valorize heroism as something to aspire to, they see it as being a victim. There are plenty of tales of military men and women putting unit before self, of taking courageous action, but the public doesn't pay attention to those stories, nor think them heroic, instead they see Bob Woodruff as a hero for surviving having half of his head blown off and for struggling through rehab and enduring the aftermath of his accident. Woodruff didn't DO anything heroic, he endured a bad fate. If there is a smidgeon of heroism in his tale it should be the fact that he WENT to a warzone in order to report news to the public, at least this would reflect that he DID something to earn his hero status.

So the problem is one of two cultures, military and civilian, where the civilian culture is deviating far and wide from the common base that used to support both cultures - civilians in earlier eras knew full well what heroism meant and they aspired to those values - while the military still hews to that path in that they recognize acts of heroism within their ranks as being representative of actions rather than searching out Oprah moments and calling victims heroes.

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