A Conflicted Society – When it’s your Job to Die

Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the States, it brings a lot of talk, mostly all patriotic, and some controversial, nationalism VS pacifism stuff if it becomes a debate. It’s all well and good. Personally, I like some of both: remembrance, sadness, sympathy for the many bereaved and afflicted, tempered with some concept that war is bad, and that peace is the final goal. Again, all well and good.

But we are a very conflicted bunch. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we are confused on these subjects, the appreciation and treatment of our veterans and their families, as well as anything around violence and its consequences, such as police brutality (to use an old-fashioned expression about it). Maybe I’m not reading the right things, but from my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem to be something that we ever break down, it doesn’t seem that either we try to understand it, or that we simply fail in the attempt.

All the talk about our veterans is, uh, a little too positive to help us get to the truth of it, it’s all about the positive aspects of sacrifice, about heroism, and it doesn’t explain how our soldiers can get the shoddy treatment that many of them get after their service. To explain that requires a visit to the dark side, I’m afraid. In this case, the operative thing, the driving function behind it lies in the soldier’s job description. That isn’t a secret, we all know it. But, that it matters in this conversation is somehow a secret, nonetheless. So here it is.

It is a soldier’s job to die for his country.

This is our conflict, but perhaps it’s only a matter of perception. If we phrase it in this way, describing the sacrifice in the more negative way, we can see that the conflict disappears, like this:

We ship a person overseas do fight and very likely die, or even more likely these days to suffer loss of limb and traumatic brain injury. Here’s the thing: this is not good treatment. Therefore, refusal of adequate medical and psychiatric care and the refusal of financial support that so many ex-soldiers receive when they come home, wait for it . . . is not a conflict. It is not any change in how we have treated these people from the day we decided to send them into war. To say it another way, our abuse of these folks starts long before they come home.

Let’s imagine it from another angle. Let’s imagine that we can hear the people in power discussing what we all perceive as our failure to look after our warriors, that we can hear the generals, the State Department, the politicians. Let’s try to see it from the POV of some powerful, cynical leaders when they are dividing up our dwindling tax revenues and deciding where to spend our money. Imagine how much priority is given to the care of a person that we already sent off to die. These folks aren’t likely to forget that it is a soldier’s job to die.

Call me a cynic to say it, but I am indeed cynical enough to imagine that it gets said, hopefully half in jest by these folks, that our wounded veterans failed at their job. Old cynic that I am, I find it impossible to imagine that no-one in these positions ever said “You had ONE job!” To carry on in this dark vein, sending a person off in a modern war to die on the far side of the globe – that isn’t cheap either. For the budgeteers of our world, soldiers cost money going out and coming back. Do I need to say it? Going out is the essential part of a soldier’s journey in many of our minds, and it certainly is in the minds of the men signing the cheques.

What I’m trying to say, getting back to it, is that the mistreatment of our heroes is not some detail, not some unintended consequence of war. It is intrinsic, it is logical even, it is part and parcel of the war machine generally, and it is not likely to change. It is fully in line with war and its objects. Mistreatment of veterans is not a problem we can fix while we’re at war, while we love war. It’s not going anywhere. The masters of war are just patiently waiting for us to get it off our chests and then shut up again.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then your problem is with war. Which, if you have a problem with war, that’s a good thing.

But just so you know.