Stop Fetishizing These War Victims And The Piece Of Cloth They’re Draped In

By Caitlin Johnstone

“Then you go on leave, and realize that Ayn Rand has no idea what the fuck she’s talking about. You realize that Fox News and Limbaugh and John McCain don’t respect you or your buddies. They don’t give a fuck if you get a parade or a box when you get home, you’re nothing to them but a prop.
Then you get out, and you hate the news. You hate the apathy, and you hate the murder being carried out in your name. You grew up wanting so bad to be Luke Skywalker, but you realize that you were basically a Stormtrooper, a faceless, nameless rifleman, carrying a spear for empire, and you start to accept the startlingly obvious truth that these are people like you.”
~ Daniel Crimmins, U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division

Colin Kaepernick has been in the news again, and as usual I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about flags and soldiers from Americans who still manage to find some way to hate him for taking a knee during the national anthem. I guess the idea is that Kaepernick’s act of protesting the treatment of black Americans was somehow disrespectful to the flag, and by extension (via some mental contortions and leaps in logic that I simply cannot fathom) disrespectful to US military personnel as well.

This practice of invoking fallen soldiers in order to win debates about toxic US policies is obscene, illogical, and pernicious, and it needs to stop. Colin Kaepernick is not automatically wrong because the US government routinely sends its teenagers overseas to die for American oil interests. The fact that soldiers fight and die in military operations has no bearing whatsoever on Kaepernick’s attempts to draw attention to specific US domestic issues.

These foam-brained non-arguments point to a much broader phenomenon in US political discourse in which the uniquely American way that military personnel are fetishized prevents people from speaking plainly about the reality of what the US war machine is actually doing. Anyone who wants to bring any criticism of US foreign policy anywhere remotely close to mainstream discourse must first do a whole ridiculous song and dance about how they’re so grateful to the brave men and women in the armed services for their heroic sacrifices who fought and died for our freedom.In reality, of course, none of the men and women in the United States armed forces are fighting and dying for freedom, they’re fighting to make billionaires richer and shore up strategic geopolitical assets for the US empire. They’re not making “sacrifices”, because that word implies that you’re taking a loss for a greater good. And they are not heroes — they are victims of an exploitative and amoral war machine which has never, ever cared about them.

Every mature person knows this on some level, but we’re not permitted to say so in polite company. And our good intentions are used against us, to shame critics of US military aggression into silence in essentially the same way supporters of Colin Kaepernick are shamed into silence. We know that the thousands of soldiers who have died in America’s recent military invasions left behind families, friends and loved ones, and so many of us have entered into this silent agreement not to speak the truth that they died for nothing but the mundane greed and power hunger of a few oligarchs because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. But in our silence we permit the war machine to keep advancing the lie that America uses its military to defend freedom, justice and democracy, which in turn allows it to throw the lives of other people’s sons and daughters into its gears as its depraved bloodbaths march on.

We need to be able to say this, and to say it unequivocally. It’s impossible to fight the war machine from one side of our mouths while adorning it with lies about heroism and freedom from the other. If people can’t oppose the US war machine effectively it will keep creating more grieving families as it continues to hurl their loved ones into its insatiable furnace. A widespread counter-narrative against the grain of the fictions that Americans have been telling themselves about what their military is and does is absolutely necessary for an anti-war movement to gain any headway.

The US war machine is lying about Afghanistan, just like it lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to manufacture support for the useless and devastating Vietnam war, the false Nayirah testimony which was used to manufacture support for the Gulf War, the amazing network of lies spun about Saddam Hussein and the mass media propaganda campaign which caused seventy percent of Americans to believe he was responsible for the September 11 attacks, the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya and the unconscionable Bana Alabed psy-op in Syria. If the US military was really being used for beneficent purposes, the proponents of its actions wouldn’t be lying to us constantly.

In 1935 two-time Medal of Honor recipient General Smedley D. Butler wrote a book titled War is a Racket, describing how business interests had already become inextricably intertwined with military interests. In 1961 President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address to the nation of the looming danger of the military-industrial complex. This is all above ground and has been for many decades. Anyone who isn’t bound and determined to avoid looking at the truth of what is happening here can see this for themselves. Scratch the surface of any act of military interventionism in recent history and you find an unbelievable web of lies leading invariably to a staggering amount of money.

Generally speaking, Americans are wonderful people and its military is full of individuals who joined with good intentions. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with patriotism or flag-waving, and celebrating one’s nation can be a positive thing. But both of these things are being used to inflict a profound evil upon this earth. The good intentions of US military personnel have been used to facilitate the slaughter of a million Iraqis and two million Vietnamese civilians. Patriotism and flag-waving has been used to manufacture support for evil acts of military aggression for profit and power. We need to stop facilitating this deceit.

There are no war heroes. There are only war victims. War is never a good thing, and should only ever be used in great reluctance to defend a nation’s own land. This simply does not happen in America anymore. War is sought out as a Plan A against sovereign nations on the other side of the planet, and then excuses are concocted to justify it.

The men and women who unknowingly die facilitating those evil agendas are not heroes, they are victims. When someone is a hero you celebrate them and encourage others to do as they did. When someone is a victim you mourn losing them and work toward making sure that such senseless tragedy never happens again to anyone else. This is why the US war machine works so hard painting its victims as heroes.

Did you know that it wasn’t customary for NFL players to stand for the national anthem until 2009? Until then players generally stayed in the locker room instead of standing on the field during that time. Colin Kaepernick wouldn’t have been able to hold his absurdly controversial demonstration at any time except in the NFL’s very most recent history.

Do you know what changed in the NFL’s very most recent history? The Department of Defense and the National Guard began pouring millions of dollars into the NFL for on-field displays of patriotism. It was a recruiting campaign. In order to implant the seeds of the patriotism it has been using to manufacture support for its depraved bloodbaths around the world into the minds of young football fans, the US military instituted the very practice that Kaepernick used for his protest. People are literally invoking the images of dead soldiers to condemn a protest performed on a foundation built by the institution which creates dead soldiers.

Stop idolizing that piece of cloth. Stop fetishizing the victims of the US war machine. Evil is being wrought, innocent blood is being spilled, and we need every voice crying out against it. Don’t be silenced from doing so by blind, vapid patriotism and lies.Φ

Caitlin Johnstone is a “rogue journalist” who writes on government, journalism, politics, racism, poetry. This article first appeared at the Medium on August 24.

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