Are “The Troops” Virtuous?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Fred says no –

War and the Free Will of Pool Balls

By Fred Reed

I read frequently among the lesserly neuronal of the supposed honor of soldiers, of the military virtues of courage, loyalty, and uprightness–that in an age of moral decomposition only the military adhere to principles, and that our troops in places like Afghanistan nobly make sacrifices to preserve our freedoms and democracy. Is not all of this nonsense?

Honor? A soldier is just a nationally certified hit-man, perfectly amoral. When he joins the military he agrees to kill anyone he is told to kill, regardless of whether he has previously heard of the country in which he will kill them or whether the residents pose any threat to him or his. How is this honorable? It is cause for lifelong shame.

It is curious that so many soldiers think that they are Christians. Christianity is incompatible with military service, if any Christianity is meant that Christ would have regarded with other than repugnance.

The explanation of course lies in the soldier’s moral compartmentation. Within his own tribe or pack, these usually being denominated “countries,” he is the soul of moral propriety—doesn’t knock over convenience stores, kick his dog, or beat his children; speaks courteously, observes personal hygiene, and works tirelessly for the public good in the event of natural disasters. A steely gaze with little behind it and a firm handshake amplify the appearance of probity.

In conflict with foreigners, he will burn, bomb, rape and torture indiscriminately. His is the behavior of feral dogs, which humans closely resemble.

Sacrifice? GIs do not make sacrifices. They are sacrificed, sacrificed for big egos, big contracts, for the shareholders of military industries, for pasty patriots in salons who never wore boots. They fight not for love of country but to stay alive, and from fear of the pusnishments meted out to deserters. If you doubt this, tell the men in Afghanistan that they may come home on the next plane without penalty, and see how many stay. Troops are as manipulated as roosters in a cock fight, forced to choose between combat and the pot.

Always, to understand the bloody absurdity of the military, bear in mind the primitive, overriding instinct of mankind to form packs and fight other packs. It is the only drive that can at times take precedcnce ovver sex.Thus we have tribes, football teams, Crips and Bloods, religious wars, rabid political parties, and patriotism, this latter being far the worst. Men in particular live primed to form martial herds and rush mindlessly upon other herds, waving slogans, arguments, forty-yard passes from scrimmage, swords, naval artillery, or white phosphorous. Dogs. Ants. Soldiers. Humanity.

Nowadays a high moral pretext for war will be contrived, embodying saccharine goodness and nauseous piety. We kill them to make them free, butcher their families because they must be democratic. The race has accumlated just enough fragile decency to want a noble pretext before burning children. Yet the pack’s hostility to outsiders remains the primary drive behind wars, with reasons hung on later like Christmas ornaments.

Most profoundly, wars are not about anything. They are just wars. Aggression trumps substance. Note that in politics, the content of debate often matters less than the visceral pleasure of antipathy as, for example, when greens and capitalists exchange irrational insults like savages working themselves up for battle. The posturing is just foreplay.

Armies, and nations, have to have enemies. Since our insticnts seem wired more for single combat, for bar fights more than for sprawling industrial wars, soldiers invariably seek the atavistic adrenal satisfactions of a quick and smashing victory. They are almost always wildly optimistic about the likely outcome. Thus the belief in decisivie battles, cakewalks and such, even when experience counels that there won’t be one. The military wants to fall upon the bastards, any bastards, and give them what for, to settle things once and for all in brutal, exhilarating, simple combat. Agincourt, Picket’s charge, Themistocles in the Saronic Gulf, that sort of thing.

If you don’t think that exhiloaration is a factor in military affairs, you have never watched night flight ops with a carrier battle group, Tomcats trapping ker-wham! rising howl of huge engines, thirty-knot wind whipping across the flight deck, smell of burnt kerosene, the focused dance of men cooperating in something complex and dangerous in the wilds of the Pacific. It is a drug. This is much of why we have wars.

And it is why the Pentagon is repeatedly surprised when after the swoosh and scream of the jets over Kabul, or Quang Tri, or Baghdad, angry men with rifles creep from their holes and begin killing and there comes a losing uncomprehended disaster of ten years. Practicality matters less than the spirit of the thing.

Armies of the First World have made this hormonal miscalculation time and again: The French in Vietnam, the Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, the French in Algeria, the Israelis in Lebanon, the Americans in Iraq, the Americans in Afghanistan. Militaries don’t learn. They can’t.

They can’t learn because soldiering is directed as much at maintaining a desired mental state as at practicality. A thick layer of romance has always lain over matters martial. The rush of a low-level pop-and-drop bombing run in an F16, the legions wintering on the Rhine-Danube line, pennants, charges, the poetry and intensity of it all. “Oo-rah!” “Death from Above!” “The most dangerous thing in the world is a Marine with his rifle.” “Crush their skulls and eat their faces.” Feel-good slogans, suitable for children of eleven..

One thinks of the excitement of a high-school basketball game, bright lights, tense expectancy, cheerleaders twirling and emittting exhortations to invincibility. “Hey, hey, whaddya say, let’s get that ball and go!” “Ricky, Ricky, he’s our man! If he can’t do it, nobody can!” Oo-rah.

Those who train and arm the soldiers are less delusional. Behind the curtains the butcher’s trade is an ugly one. In my days of covering the military, I remember efforts to invent blood-red plastic shrapnel that would not show up on x-rays, to make it difficult for the enemy to save his wounded. A tac-nuke manual spoke of how to keep soldiers fighting after being lethally irradiate by a nuclear explosion. Shortly they will die, puking and stumbling, but how does one get a bit more combat out of them? This manual used the evocative phrase, “terrain alteration.”

While soldiers quickly come to hate their assigned enemies, as do fighting cocks, they also know that what they are doing will not play well back home. The entrail-dripping gut-shot, a woman deening over a mound of red mush that is no longer precisely her child—these could interfere with the flow of contracts. Consequently militaries try furiously to suppress photographs of those they torture and mutilate, to package routine atrocities as “isolated incidents,” to keep pictures of garishly altered soldiers off the pages of newspapers. The extreme sensitivity suggests moral uneasiness, oo-rah or not. During Vietnam, the damning photos poured out. The controlled press of today poses no similar problem.

Full text here:

Share Button


  1. If men and women voluntarily join up to legally hurt and kill others, does that make them murderers and incredibly immoral?

    There was one news story post-Sept. 11 in which some fellow lost his family on that fateful day and immediately quit his job to join the military and was now loading bombs onto planes which would be used on the enemy. Hence – is he a murderer? He wants blood and is doing it legally? Should he instead been peacefully exploring and exposing the way the U.S. had been pro-actively involved in the Middle East in a way that it caused blowback?

    • Sigh. I’m letting this one through to (once again) display the Cloveronian “thought” processes….

      Tell me, Clover, how it is that killing random strangers in a far-away country who have never done you any harm as a sort of proxy revenge against people who came from an entirely different country is or ever could be morally laudable?

      Do you think it’s brave and manly to sign up to help drop bombs on random people you’ve never met, who never lifted a finger against you?

      • Wouldn’t have been easier to say “anyone who voluntarily signs up army is looking to legally commit murder or be an accessory to murder” and “yes that man has taken the path of evil and is a moral scumbag”?

        • The problem (the tragedy) Clover, is that so many people are morally asleep. They don’t follow the dots; they don’t critically think about what it is they’re doing (or advocating). They’re not “bad people,” most of them, in the ordinary everyday sense. They don’t steal, beat their wives – etc. But they’ve never stopped to think about why they ought not to be doing the same things in a different (government approved) context. Just as most people would not steal from their neighbors or threaten them with violence to make them “help” – yet don’t see the moral irony of doing precisely the same thing via the mechanism of “the vote” or “the law.”

          Young men and women are raised on a steady diet of pabulum about “serving America” and “Protecting our freedoms” which makes them feel good and noble about becoming soldiers. Our “troops” are no different in this regard than the “troops” who served Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia or any other aggressive government. In all cases, the front-line “troops” honestly believed they were fighting for good and right, the “homeland” – and so on.

          In the same way and for the same reasons, people become cops, too. “Keeping us safe.” Locking up the “bad guys.”

          That’s the idealistic fantasy.

          What is the reality?

          Brutalizing people in foreign countries who are not and never have been a “threat” to America, but who probably happen to be sitting on resources desired by the elites who control our mercenary forces (the military).

          And (if they become cops) spending their days harassing (and sometimes, brutalizing) people here who likewise have harmed no one but who are easy targets – sheep to be fleeced and defenseless victims of some duly deputized bully’s lust to push others around.

          • Eric, I am ashamed to say you are right. Years ago, I joined the military because I thought it would be “fun”. A way to get away from a boring suburban life and I would get to carry a weapon. That I could and would be directed to shoot at people who have never harmed me or anyone I even met, for that matter, ne’er entered my mind. Heck, if I am ordered to light some poor bastard up, I am just doing my job.

            With the benefit of middle age, now 48, and a bit of life experience, I see that almost all of our wars have been wrong. Even FDR wrangled us into WWII and the dropping of the first two atomic bombs didn’t prevent the “million” casualties we were told. The Japanese wanted it over. We wanted retribution and the opportunity to show our new toy to the feared Russians.

            And so it continues…….

  2. Fred Reed sums up the military incisively and accurately I’m afraid. A good many of our mercenaries are enlisted (and commissioned) for the training and job experience the military affords. That along with my own awareness that I lacked self discipline led me to join at the ripe old age of 17. Well I got my training, work experience and some self discipline it’s true. But I also came away with some serious moral and emotional issues. I learned that basic training is only the beginning of the brain-washing process. But I digress. Folks like me just wanted to stay stateside, serve out our enlistment and return to the real world. Then there are the others….

    I worked with young men that quit good jobs to join the military. Two of them I can distinctly remember telling me that they wanted to go shoot “rag-heads”. It was the same sort of glee I’ve seen out of some of my red-neck acquaintances on “openin’ day” [of deer season]. As Fred so aptly points out, it’s like a drug. Why? Because some of it is a drug: adrenaline. And during hard physical activity and injury you also get endorphins to boot! Add to that the football team mentality and a little old fashioned bloodlust and you get an archetype the powers that be can set as the benchmark they expect you to meet or exceed. Sgt. York comes to mind. Scoring for our team is in body count or “casualties” to be more euphemistic about it.

    The real problem arises when these young men, who have been hurting people and breaking things professionally for the past few years, come home to civilized culture. Just on a regular job they may have emotional and perception issues that will haunt them for years. But worse yet, they are frequently only suited to…you guessed it….police work. Now we have battle hardened, former military personnel “serving and protecting” just the way they were trained. This is why we are seeing so many “Law Enforcement Officers” in black BDU’s parading around with assault rifles and the attitude to match. This is not by accident. And the high incidence rate of overreaction to minor infractions resulting in the injury and death of hapless civilians (“mere mundanes” per Will Grigg) is only the tip of the statist iceberg we’re heading for as a nation.

    As we move deeper into Saecular Winter (or the next major crisis if you prefer), things are going to become very dangerous for the men in government and banking. These men are the rightful heirs to a system that has royally screwed the middle class and they have perpetuated it. These same men also manage the police officers’ retirement funds. Perhaps the young woman I saw on You Tube confronting the sneering cop in riot gear with “Why are you doing this? You’re one of us!” needs to wake up to reality. These men are still mercenaries and they know from whence their paycheck cometh. As things turn even colder (both seasonally and metaphorically), I think it’ll be a good idea to stay out of the airports, the cities and off the major highways. We are starting to make the Roman Empire look downright soft and cuddly….


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here