There are a lot of ways to frame the problems we have in this country. Today I’m going to frame it as a problem with maturity. America, the culture, the society, is profoundly immature.
Why am I on this line of thinking? Earlier today I had an argument with a Trumpet. It was what you’d expect — poorly-spelled, incoherent, bigoted, bellicose — but something he said stuck with me. He said he “hated how [us] liberals are making America look weak.”
I am not saying all Americans think this way. But as a culture, we do have an obsession with strength. Our military is a mystery cult, a revealed religion that sets the initiated above everyone else, at least in the hearts and minds of the populace (though not in how they are treated by the government). We’ve been spoon-fed the myth of the noble soldier for almost forty years now, ever since Reagan and the 80s slapped a fresh coat of paint on the moribund remnants of the Vietnam War-era military machine. It is sacrilege to criticize our military, in which more soldiers commit suicide than die in combat, and in which the greatest threat to female soldiers is their fellow soldiers. We must “support our troops” no matter how many war crimes they commit, like during the Siege of Fallujah or the embarrassing atrocities perpetrated at Abu Ghraib. We’re virtually required to “respect” those who “put their lives on the line for our freedom,” despite the fact that America hasn’t faced a truly existential threat in over a hundred years. Our military is not a shield of the righteous; it is the blunt instrument of America’s foreign policy.
This fetishization of violent men has had profound effects on our national psyche. It’s been more than a decade and a half since 9/11, which remains an open wound that we keep picking at. Terrorist attack or false flag, America died that day. It was replaced by an authoritarian police-surveillance state, a panopticon that many Americans welcomed in the name of increased security. Our aura of invincibility had been punctured, and not only are we not over our national case of PTSD, we’ve come to embrace it as part of our identity.
We are obsessed with strength. With might. With being able to “kick anyone’s ass who gives us any shit.” We spend a staggering, incomprehensible amount of money on our military, and the end result of that spending has been the opposite of a safer, healthier, more prosperous world. There is a dam about to collapse in California. Our Internet is a generation behind that offered in Asia. Our healthcare system is a cruel joke. But it doesn’t matter, because we have enough aircraft carriers to prosecute two full-scale wars at a time.
This is lunacy. It’s spending our lunch money on guns for every room in our house, our garage, our car, our shed, our workplace, every jacket we own, under the sink in the bathroom, and a holdout pistol in our boot so that we always have one to hand, just in case a bad guy shows up. We’ve been bullying the entire world for seventy years, and when someone finally pushed back and gave us a bloody nose, we fractured. Our reaction was to double down on our bullying whilst simultaneously barricading ourselves behind ever-higher walls. We, as a culture, were terrified and enraged and have been smashing our fists against anything that could possibly be seen as a threat ever since, be they Muslims from the other side of the world fleeing wars that we started, or our neighbors who think that maybe force isn’t the best way to solve all problems.
Our entire history is one of violent conquest. We took this continent from its stewards through violence. We took colonies around the world through violence. We have used and supported violence to effect regime change in more than four dozen countries. We solve all of our problems with violence or the threat of it. Can’t look weak, show compassion, kindness, mercy. Can’t let other people live on their own terms. Because that’s what strength is, right?
No, that’s how a toddler solves its problems. It’s embarrassing and childish. It’s not a mark of strength, it’s a mark of immaturity. Grownups, people who can be trusted with sharp objects, generally understand that cooperation, understanding, even hospitality, make for much more pleasant lives for everybody. Grownups remember the playground and would, in general, rather hang out at the club.
I say it’s high time we put on our big person pants and joined them there.
I do not intend to impugn the honor or courage of any man or woman who joins the military. Being willing to die to defend one’s country and/or ideals is indeed valorous and worthy of respect. I am speaking to the military myth, the pseudo-legendarium, the party line about what the military is versus its status in fact.
Tip of the hat to NG689Skw. Thanks for not making a mess.