Earlier in the week some guy named David Masciotra writing at the failed group blog, Salon, garnered a lot of attention and page views for himself and his employer by trolling the internet via a diatribe titled You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy. Once you dig through the obligatory, leftwing gibberish (stuff like “frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism” which could originate in any Women’s Studies program in any private liberal arts college in the nation) he has a few points that deserve serious consideration.
The English speaking world has always had a schizophrenic relationship with military service. In 1632, the English poet Francis Quarles made a trenchant observation on how England viewed its soldiers and God. The original writing is unfriendly to the 21 century ear, so I’ll quote the modern rendering:
God and the soldier, all men adore
In time of danger and not before
When the danger is passed and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.
This relationship was transplanted to the Colonies though without the social tradition of sending second sons into the Army which has always led to a certain level of disdain for anyone who would engage in the profession of arms. The young republic was nearly overthrown in a military coup (the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783) and only saved by the personal intervention of George Washington. One of my ancestors did not receive final payment for his service in the America Revolution until the early 1850s (it being a moral victory for him as his suit was pressed by his second wife). Civil War veterans were hastily demobilized and newspapers and popular fiction featured the opium addicted, criminally inclined veteran in a rather stunning preview of how veterans were viewed after Vietnam.
Up until World War II, when the massive draft of manpower necessary to defeat fascism made it more likely that the average citizen knew someone who had military service, the verb “to soldier” meant to loaf. If you want a great look at the sociology of the “old” Army before it was forever swept away by World War II and the Cold War you can do much worse than James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.”
Indeed, the modern place held in society by veterans is something that is very new to America and reflects the experience of World War II. Before WW …read more