If love is blind, patriotism has lost all five senses.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, which used to be called Armistice Day, and differs from Memorial Day who knows exactly how. All we are supposed to know is that military service makes one a national hero, not (as used to be the case) for having demonstrated courage on the battlefield, but merely for signing up. We are well into the era of grade inflation, and as public school officials like to say, "everyone is above average."
Whatever respect is owed the martial virtues, it is not clear how much longer the human race can survive the era of super-patriotism. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock is set at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest we have been to self-inflicted doom since the Reagan administration installed first-strike Pershing missiles in Germany (1982) while babbling about "winnable" nuclear war.
Though it is only by sheer blind luck that military brinksmanship has not terminated the human race, we are still encouraged to believe (especially on Veterans Day) that we should be grateful to the military for defending "our freedoms"
around the world. The suggestion juxtaposes itself incongruously to the
realities of the "war on terror" era: preventive detention,
institutionalized torture, the "right" of the president to kill American
citizens without due process of law, universal snooping and data mining
by corporate behemoths and the national security state. True, this is
no fault of U.S. soldiers, but it is hardly sensible to congratulate the
military for defending our freedoms when they are constantly under
attack by the very national security state that claims to be protecting
Furthermore, well prior to the launching of the "war on terror" it was impossible to believe that Washington's endless interventions and invasions had much to do with defending our precious Constitutional freedoms. Just how did the 1983 invasion of Grenada, for example, shore up our Bill of Rights?
In the name of patriotism we have turned a small al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan into a world-wide terrorist menace, although death tolls from its murderous attacks in the "homeland" are frequently eclipsed by random sociopaths mowing down dozens of people in church, at concerts and movies, or on school grounds. But surely ISIS stands a good chance of winning our permanent attention with a carefully planned WMD attack in a U.S. city. After all, it has been more than a generation since journalist Robert Fisk discovered that two themes were dominating titles in the bookshops of Algiers: fanatic religious tracts and nuclear, chemical, and biological engineering books. (Doesn't anyone read for pleasure anymore?)
Veterans Day often tends to go with "We're Number One" nostalgia, though it won't do to mention that the U.S. is first in the world in per capita prison population, financial bailouts for corporate looters, homicide and death by guns, and massive imperial bloodshed. Such dismally routine features of American life cannot be said to embody love of country any more than the many schools that are falling apart, public hospitals that are closing down, and essential public services that are being cut so plutocrats can have yet another huge tax cut. Thus, we avert our gaze and praise our soldiers, whose job it is to protect U.S. corporate "interests," not the United States itself.
These perverted values obliterate our capacity for basic moral judgment. For example, when the USSR basketball team beat the USA team at the 1988 Olympics, political scientist Michael Parenti reminds us, the American media treated it as though it were an "end to civilization as we know it." In post-game commentaries NBC lamented how the Americans had been seriously handicapped by lack of practice time and the loss of a key player, and thus had been unable to overcome the "the Soviet onslaught." The evil Communists "never let up their attack" and were a "relentless juggernaut." "The impression left," comments Parenti drily, "was that the Americans were facing the Red Army rather than another basketball team."
By 1992, the U.S. had arranged for professionals to play in the Olympics, so Americans were able to delight in NBA all-stars slaughtering a ragged team from Zaire, composed of kids who had to work for a living and barely raised enough money to get to the games, and who had only begun to practice together a few months before the Olympics began. In short, a heavily tilted playing field allowed an orgy of jingoism to masquerade as normal pride in legitimate national achievements. It wasn't the only time.
There are many fine men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces, motivated by a genuine desire to give their lives if necessary to defend their country. Unfortunately, the mission of the U.S. armed forces is not to defend the country, but to protect and expand the far-flung empire. The U.S. presides over an armed planetary force vastly beyond the capacities of any other empire in history. This includes over half a million troops stationed at over 700 military bases around the world, and many more within the 50 states, including enormous recent constructions in Central Asia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Colombia. It boasts an arsenal of thousands of nuclear warheads, a small fraction of which could eliminate human civilization, plus a naval strike force possessed of more tonnage and firepower than the rest of the world's navies combined, patrolling every ocean and stopping on every continent. It also has, or will soon develop, space vehicles with capacity to strike both terrestrial and outer space targets, and send reconnaissance and attack drones back into the atmosphere. This is in defense of an international network of client states (satellites is the more blunt term) that generates huge profits for a plutocratic minority at direct social cost to the world majority.
Meanwhile, the U.S. troops that are constantly praised as "heroes" are treated rather poorly. Since 2001, over six thousand of them have died in Afghanistan and Iraq for no legitimate purpose, with tens of thousands more wounded or disabled in fulfillment of an apparently endless mission that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis as well. Suicide rates among U.S. veterans of these two wars dramatically exceed the corresponding rate for the rest of the U.S. population, with mental issues exceeding physical injuries as the cause of veteran hospital admissions. And on any given night in the USA tens of thousands of homeless veterans are found living on the streets.
In short, our nation is bled to feed the imperial vanity of our rulers. "Support our troops" is a cynical veneer designed to disguise a shameless policy of "cut their benefits."
Michael Parenti, Superpatriotism, (City Lights, 2004)
Michael Parenti, The Face of Imperialism, (Paradign Publishers, 2011)