The Spectacle Blog

On Praising The Troops

By on 11.3.06 | 1:28PM

Ezra Klein, over at Tapped has this to say about U.S./>/> troops:

I loathe the tendency -- by politicians and pundits, liberals and conservatives -- to dreamily speak of the great sacrifice, magnificent courage, inspiring intellect, and extraordinary characters of our troops. It's bullshit. And it's bullshit designed to make us feel better, so we don't have to face what we've done to these young people, and don't have to imagine the toll a warzone takes on real humans, rather than imagined supermen.

It would be easy to take the bait and jump on this post as another example of liberals disrespecting the troops and respond with outrage and play the caricature of the foaming at the mouth conservative, but I'm not going to do that. While I do find these comments abhorrent, I think Ezra's post is so misguided that it deserves a more nuanced criticism.

To argue against the lionization of soldiers who are just "kids," Ezra uses the example of a friend of his who enlisted in the army post 9/11:

I had a friend who ended up a biohazard unit during the early days of the invasion. He's an amazing person: gentle, empathic, wise, and courageous. He went to a top college and enlisted after 9/11. He's precisely the soldier we like to describe. But he spent his days terrified, waiting for calls back home, waiting for his tour to close. He performed his duties well and displayed enormous personal strength, but he was just a kid, and his expression of patriotism had landed him in hell. He made that choice, and he bore it well. But he bore it as we all would -- with fear, and imperfection, and frustration, and pain. It wasn't a magnificent experience. It wasn't a war novel.

Though I am one of those who admires the bravery, courage and sacrifice of our troops, I do so not because I am under the impression that they are all superhuman. Quite the contrary. A person is not courageous by virtue of being some sort of fearless Rambo figure--if you aren't afraid, it doesn't take much guts to fight even in a brutal war. In my view, a person is courageous if he feels pain, experiences fear and terror, but fights on in spite of it.

Ezra also acts as if he's breaking new ground with the notion that fighting in a real war isn't like a war novel, as if all of us who admire the troops have some sort of cartoonish view of war. But while he may not realize it, his own argument is so prevalent in popular culture that it is already a cliche -- you can trace it as least as far back as Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, made in 1957. Yes, there was a time when Americans watched John Wayne movies that glorified the heroic aspects of war, but now, we get films such as Saving Private Ryan, or, more currently, Flags of Our Fathers, that seek to portray the horrors inherent even in "good" wars such as World War II.  

Ezra really misunderstands what people have in mind when they praise our troops. I admire the troops not out of ignorance that they're just human, but precisely because I know they are just human. I admire them not because I think war is glorious, but because I know it is hellish. Ezra may argue that I feel the way I do to somehow absolve my guilt for supporting the use of the military to defend our nation, but there's a reason why I support a volunteer army rather than a draft.

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