"I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. (So help me God)" - United States Uniformed Services Oath of Office
"An individual who breaks a law that his conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in fact expressing the highest respect for the law" - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dear all members of the US armed forces:
"Thank you for your service."
Any talking head or 'chickenhawk' politician who values his or her career reminds the nation on a regular basis of the unquestioning gratitude and reverence one must display toward the military. The sincerity of such people, however, is suspect when one considers the reality of life for many US veterans.
Some facts about veterans from the article:
45 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness.
500,000 veterans experience homelessness each year.
1 in 3 homeless males are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
76 percent of veterans experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems.
If they really cared about you, would the situation revealed by these shocking statistics be permitted? Or are they full of shit, giving lip service for self-promotion purposes? You decide.
Every single serviceman and woman has their own reasons for joining up, and most undoubtedly feel an urge to serve and protect the homeland. However, few soldiers would describe themselves as 'heroes', and this forces us to confront an unpleasant reality about the motives behind this media beatification of all things military.
From a Guardian article about Veteran's Day:
When someone is declared a hero for lacing up combat boots, no matter how far from harm's way, what does that say about those who patrol the Nuristan Province under constant threat from Taliban ambush? And what does it say about the soldier who darts into the open to attend to a fallen comrade?
Are they all equally heroes? Or have we devalued the word?
This growing "cult of the military" would be vexing if it were, indeed, the result of the society acting spontaneously to expiate past sins. But the truth probably has more to do with manipulation. Think back to the invasion of Iraq, a stupid, costly, trumped-up war that divided the nation. When the public finally began to wonder what in the world deposing a Gulf dictator had to do with 9/11 or our national security (answer: absolutely nothing), suddenly the bumper stickers began to appear:
"Support Our Troops."
And with that, skepticism about George W Bush's invented threat, not to mention the abominable expenditure of blood and treasure, was conflated with undermining our heroes.
To question the war was somehow to question them. It was unpatriotic. It was a betrayal. And thus did the worship of the uniform serve the interests of the government. Reduced to the role of poster children, our heroes easily won our sympathy – at the expense of our reason, and ultimately their own dignity.
With this unyielding pressure to live up to the status of a 'hero', only confusion in comprehending the true role of a soldier can result. Wearing the uniform does not mean blindly obeying orders, whatever they may be. As demonstrated most notably in the 1945-6 Nuremberg Trials, there is a moral responsibility to uphold international law (enshrined in treaties the US has signed in good faith like the Geneva Conventions and so on) and also to report abuse and crimes committed by one's own military.
US military field guides since World War II have made it clear that any soldier has a responsibility to report such abuses or crimes through the chain of command. The US soldier's manual (1984), for example, states:
You must report crimes immediately through your chain of command. If the crime involves your immediate superiors, report to their superior. You may also report violations of the laws of war to the inspector general, provost marshal, chaplain, or judge advocate. In any case, the law requires that you report actual or suspected violations immediately so that evidence will not be misplaced or disappear.
Reality, however, bites. A culture of abuse within the military, legitimized by the criminal actions of those at the very top of the chain of command, has led to a breakdown, a pole-reversal of morality. It is now the norm for soldiers or officials who authorize or commit terrible abuses to get off lightly, while those who shed light on those abuses get shafted with the full force of the law.
From an earlier article on this blog:
This week a CIA whistleblower, Jack Kiriakou was sentenced to two years in prison for informing the world of the CIA's torture rendition program (known as the Rendition, Detention, Interrogation (RDI) Program). On the other hand, the head of the program, Thomas Fletcher, a man who allegedly oversaw and actually took part in horrendous abuse of detainees is free to enjoy his retirement in Virginia.
Torture is illegal under international law.
Bradley Manning, the young US private who allegedly passed hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, has been detained for two and a half years in conditions described as 'torture' by both Amnesty International and Juan Mendez, the UN's top torture official. The perpetrators of the multiple criminal acts detailed in the cables remain free of even a whiff of investigation.
These are but two examples of literally thousands of cases of human rights abuse, political persecution and gross injustice, but from them the message is crystal clear: act in good conscience in order to inform your fellow citizens of corruption, illegality or criminality on an industrial scale and you will be punished and persecuted; actually commit the crimes and you will be left alone; indeed, you may be rewarded.
The world is upside-down. The level of dysfunction is such that true justice, democracy, equality and freedom for all is now a distant ideal, a romantic concept espoused by the naive, contemptuously dismissed by the Machiavellian advocates of realpolitik.
So what is a hero? Certainly, the soldier who braves enemy fire to rescue a wounded comrade fits the bill. Lost in our upside-down morality, however, is the less obvious definition of a hero as someone who bravely steps outside the paradigm in an act of pure conscience (not for profit, as many appear to believe), knowing full well that a holy shitstorm will ensue. Bradley Manning, whose trial begins today, June 3 2013, is such a man.
This blog has written extensively on Manning, and it is recommended that those readers wishing to understand the background of the case and reasons why he is not a traitor read the links here, here and here.
Many US servicemen and women have expressed support for Private Manning, saying (correctly) that his actions in leaking evidence of vast US criminality led to the Iraq withdrawal and therefore without doubt saved many of the lives of his (and their) fellow soldiers. Many others, however, have swallowed the corporate media propaganda of Manning 'breaking the rules' and therefore being a 'traitor'.
To those who believe this is true, please consider the following scenario:
1. If you saw evidence of war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial executions, illegal spying on UN officials etc., would you remain silent? If so, as demonstrated earlier in this article, you are breaking both army rules and international law by not reporting these transgressions to a superior.
2. If you found yourself unable to remain silent, would you report the transgressions to a superior officer? Manning also tried this but was told to shut up and get on with his job.
3. What would you do then? You know that under the Nuremberg Defense, soldiers can also be punished (albeit to a lesser degree than their superiors) for refusing to disobey orders that clearly cover up war crimes. Sadly, you also know that recent history offers an escape: the abusers in the Abu Ghraib scandal and others got light sentences or were simply discharged without punishment. This gives you a choice: keep your mouth shut and accept the tiny punishment you may get if found guilty of covering things up, or see the bigger picture and become a classic whistleblower, just as the revered Daniel Ellsberg did when he sent the Pentagon Papers to the media. Note also that the Pentagon Papers were designated 'top secret', while none of the files exposed by Manning were.
Putting yourself in Manning's shoes likes this helps one understand that he made a conscious moral decision to do the right thing, something our parents and teachers (rightly) teach us to do from early childhood. As a result he has been imprisoned awaiting trial for three years, spending much of that time in conditions described by Amnesty and the UN's top torture official as torture. With this in mind, members of the US military (and public) should re-examine their reflexive urge to label this man a traitor when an honest look at the facts demonstrates the opposite to be true.
Leading to a larger point - the role of the US soldier:
Are you really 'defending the homeland' when your drones blow up kids in Pakistan, Yemen and other nations? Or are you in fact endangering the homeland by creating thousandfold the rage only a parent can feel when their child is murdered by a foreign power in a so-called 'signature strike' (strikes based on 'suspicious' patterns of behavior instead of hard intelligence) or 'double-tap' strike (where one missile is fired, followed by a second when rescuers arrive on the scene - a clear war crime), with that murder justified by lame propaganda you know to be false. Surely you can imagine how you personally would react if a powerful foreign government - China, say - bombed an area where your own children happened to be and justified it under the terms of their own 'war on terror'. Quite clearly, hatred and the urge to retaliate would dominate your emotions until the day you died.
Are you defending the homeland by having bases in more than 150 nations around the world, with covert military operations ongoing in at least seventy? Nations with negligible military forces suffer no problems from terrorism; nations far freer than the US. Please do not continue to believe the ludicrous refrain: 'They hate us for our freedoms', as indeed freedom in the US is fast disappearing, with the provisions of the NDAA allowing indefinite detention of anyone designated 'a threat' (note, any critical or dissident journalist could easily be labeled in such vague terms). Add to this ubiquitous cameras; the uber-creepy Trapwire system (revealed by Wikileaks via the Stratfor leak for which Jeremy Hammond is now facing federal criminal charges); and the NSA surveillance network that now stores every single communication by American citizens. To many, these are clear signs of a US falling inexorably into fascism. Obvious proof that the US is already a police state was made clear by the ludicrously overstated response to the recent Boston bombings.
Begging the question: who are you really defending? The answer is simple: you defend the status quo for the corporations who want the world to stay exactly as it is. The reasons they wish to maintain the status quo are two-fold: first, it is ideal for the tiny corporate, political and financial elite to keep the vast majority of the world's wealth and resources flowing into its hands; and second, under the current system of control enforced by US military power, it is harder for alternative visions of civilization - ones that prioritize human rights and well-being over the acquisition of capital - to gain a foothold. Thus we see the elevated persecution of whistleblowers like Manning and (non-profit) transparency organizations like Wikileaks: entities that present a true threat to their hegemony as they shine unwelcome light on their real activities, activities ordinarily hidden by walls of extreme secrecy.
A silent revolution is occurring: one of thought. The rise of social media has corresponded with a global awakening to the true role of nation states, their governments and - critically - their corporations, which care nothing for national borders. Damning statistics flit around the ether - regurgitated by ordinary people with exponentially increasing outrage - as they discover one by one, ten by ten, in their hundreds...thousands...multitudes...the extent to which democracy has been subverted to serve special interests.
This corrupt, bloated, corporate-controlled empire is only kept in place because you, the soldiers, enforce order: in many ways you are the Roman centurions, patrolling the outer districts of a monstrous entity of control founded on violence and debt, there simply because you are 'supposed to' be and paid to be there.
But ask yourself: where is the good in what you are doing? Do you want to be defined by the fact that you defend not a nation and its people, but a tiny group of mega-rich elites who have hoodwinked the US population - with the help of aggressive marketing of the concept by the corporate-owned media - into believing that terrorism is an existential threat, when you know full well that in terms of numbers, terrorism is in fact a miniscule danger in comparison to other far more pressing and damaging issues like gun crime, health crises, disease, drug abuse, organized crime and poverty.
US armed service members of conscience - the vast majority - must re-examine their motives for serving in the military, must educate themselves on how the world really works, and recognize their crucial role in allowing this deeply corrupt and criminal global system to continue to exist. Consider also that you might have judged Bradley Manning harshly - look into the case and find out the facts. Think about his actions from an objective viewpoint - not from the assumptions you have always held - because those assumptions are likely to have been formed under heavy assault by the media, which has a vested interest in confusing you.
Barring a popular global uprising of mind-blowing proportions, the only hope of overturning the corrupt system we all suffer is the men and women in uniform who enforce it coming to their senses. Recall the oath you took on entering the service, and remember that you swore to protect us from enemies both foreign and domestic. There is an enemy within and deep down you know it. You also know that the world does not belong to a few mega-rich white guys in suits (who so often somehow manage to keep themselves and their kids safely away from active military service); it belongs to all of us - including you.
Simon Wood (Twitter: @simonwood11) is the author of 'The 99.99998271%: Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' and the founder of The Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to peace, justice and democracy. Please follow and support The Movement on Twitter: @1themovement as it strongly urges all progressive movements to unite and pool their resources in the common goal of removing the cancer of corruption that threatens us all. You can also follow Simon Wood on Facebook and at his blog.
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