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May 26, 2008

Happy Funeral!

By: Bernard Chazelle

Or, as they say, Happy Memorial Day!

I grew up in a French household where no anti-American word was ever uttered. Both of my parents suffered greatly in World War II and spoke only with reverence and gratitude about the US for its sacrifices in the war.

But the 1940s were the last time the US military liberated anyone. In the last 60 years, it has killed millions of innocent people. It has not defended the United States against any enemy. Not once. It has not protected anybody's freedom. Just the opposite, in fact.

I feel great compassion for the soldiers whose lives have been wasted by war. But my compassion is for the human beings behind the soldiers. The exhilaration of soldiering is the stuff of boys' dreams. I was once a fan of Napoleon. (Who wasn't?) I loved it how he moved his armies across the plains of Europe and all the Germans who got in his way just went to sleep. War is great fun. My most vivid memory from May 1968 was when de Gaulle flew to Germany to consult with the French troops stationed there. My grandfather, who was visiting us in Paris at the time, became livid and muttered to himself, "Oh my God, this means war." My reaction was, "Yeah!" My heart filled with joy. High school vs war! It's not even a fair contest.

The juvenile glorification of war is embedded in the military tradition. And "juvenile" is the key word. When Chris Matthews swoons at the sight of General Petraeus in his uniform all bedecked with rows of ribbons, all I see is a stiff buffoon whom I want to heckle, "Grow up, kid, get these silly doodlings off your chest!"

Leaders have their own reasons to send their armies to war. But the juvenile glorification of war is a necessary ingredient to suck people into the meat grinder. To die and to kill is the currency in which respect is traded in the military. And many people join the army to get the respect they don't receive in civilian life. What makes it juvenile is that it's a game in the end, just like football or baseball. Except that people get hurt.

I am not a pacifist. Some wars must be fought. The glorification of war, however, is based on a fraud. Anyone who kills, even for the worthiest of causes, is still a killer.

The New York Times opposes the Iraq war. Therefore,

This page strongly supports a larger, sturdier military.

Which makes sense. The Times wants a larger military to fight all the wars it opposes.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at May 26, 2008 11:34 AM

In fairness to the Americans, some degree of 'liberating' occurred in Kuwait in 1991 and as a result of the bombing campaigns conducted in the former Yugoslavia.

Posted by: Turkey Turkey Turkey at May 26, 2008 12:49 PM

Way back in Sumer, the legends of Gilgamesh were that when he wanted war to address a perceived slight by a nearby city-state (Dilmun, I think), he approached the general assembly of householders and was immediately refused.

What's a warrior-wannabe to do? He went to the assembly of unattached males, ones with no mothers or wives to mourn them (or, presumably, be interesting enough to stay behind to hang out with), and asked them something along the lines of "hey, wanna go conquer places?" - and won unanimous approval.

Depressingly, things haven't changed much in 4500 years. Except now the juvenile war mongers get to stay behind with the comfort of their womenfolk AND send others out to war, and amazingly, those others GO. If this counts as progress, I want no part of it. Cuneiform tablets, anyone?

Posted by: Shunra at May 26, 2008 01:00 PM

Wow! You seem like a really smart cookie. I bet you wear glasses and eat spinach.

I agree with just about everything you've said here. It just seems like a mean way to say it. It's fun to be smart and mean. Hey, how about a post directed at terminally ill children telling them there's no God?

Posted by: Rob TT at May 26, 2008 03:30 PM

Rob TT:

Your suggestion is hardly analogous, unless belief in god causes terminal illness in children.

Posted by: James Cape at May 26, 2008 03:45 PM

I wouldn't tell a dying child God doesn't exist.
I would tell her she will live forever and, when it's time to go, mom and dad will come along and it'll be loads of fun up there with the angels.

But I will laugh my head off when I hear that Colin Powell was too scared of being shot to run for president. This is absolutely hilarious. A 4-star general, a man who whitewashed My Lai, a man who caused the deaths of thousands... he's scared of being shot. Maybe it's mean, but when you've got to laugh, you've got to laugh.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 26, 2008 06:26 PM

Shunra: Sorry, those tablets YOU've ordered were stolen during the 2003 siege of Baghdad, perhaps some depleted uraniunm might substitute.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 26, 2008 08:56 PM

Mike Meyer, the unexcavated ones might have been. I can't even imagine what we've lost by the airstrikes. However, according to Noah Kramer's books, most of his work was done on tablets that were stored in Pennsylvania, Istanbul, London, and such. These tablets are probably still fine.

FWIW, My library is boxed up at the moment for a remodel which is nearing its end. If you want citations and quotes, email me and I can get them to you in a few days... ...unless there's a change of schedule.

Posted by: Shunra at May 26, 2008 09:08 PM

The French Air Force flies the second most sorties in Afghanistan. The US Air Force is first.

What this clearly indicates is that the French were never afraid to fight the war on terror, they just knew where it was. Same with the Spanish. When they took their forces out of Iraq they got tons of bad press in America, but when they then put an even larger force in Afghanistan, no American heard about it. It didn't fit the message out media wanted us to hear.

You see, it's never been that these countries were against fighting the war on terror, they were just against GW's leadership of that war.

And now America agrees, even if our media has a different spin for us.

Posted by: Mark at May 26, 2008 10:30 PM

Bernard et al.,

If you haven't read it already, I recommend "The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War," by Andrew Bacevich. Glorification of war, indeed. Seen from here it's like a football game, complete with cheerleaders like Bush and Petraeus. Our Team must win. The problem lies in the great differences between war and occupation. And war and football, for that matter.

Now back to my lair where I'm still trying to figure out the difference between jihad and glory.

Posted by: Steve Jones at May 26, 2008 10:51 PM

Shunra: THANX but I can barely type AMERICAN. As far as the TABLETS and DEPLETED URANIUM is that each of 2 "civilations" left their permanent mark upon that land between the Tigris and Euphrates. One left Knowledge, Mystery, and History and the other left depleted uranium.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 27, 2008 02:05 AM

p.s. I'm guessing the depleted uranium will be the longer memory.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 27, 2008 02:08 AM

The American version may be "new," but militarism isn't. For analogies between games and war, read
Wilfred Owen, who said it best.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at May 27, 2008 08:53 AM

"In fairness to the Americans, some degree of 'liberating' occurred in Kuwait in 1991 and as a result of the bombing campaigns conducted in the former Yugoslavia"
-Turkey, Turkey

In fairness to the truth, most of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo and the accompanying atrocities began AFTER the US/Nato bombings not before.

Posted by: Coldtype at May 27, 2008 10:45 AM

But the 1940s were the last time the US military liberated anyone. In the last 60 years, it has killed millions of innocent people. It has not defended the United States against any enemy. Not once. It has not protected anybody's freedom. Just the opposite, in fact.

Actually, wouldn't it be more truthful to say that, aside from the 1770s and the 1940s, the US Military has rarely if ever liberated anyone--unless killing is given the status of liberation, as of the spirit from the body?

Posted by: woody, tokin librul at May 27, 2008 01:28 PM

[Don't know why this stubbornly refuses to post!] General Petraeus' uniform is only the most visible manifestation of the US Army's over-the-top obsession with bling. We in the Air Force were always far more restrained, although I did notice some "bling creep" in recent years.

Re. Gen. Powell, surely there's some irony in what he said. The real reason he doesn't want to run for president has been known for years, & has to do with his wife.

Posted by: Ralph Hitchens at May 27, 2008 04:24 PM

It isn't just the US military that's obsessed with "bling." But you don't wear that shit in combat, only for parades and stuff. In the original edition of "Three Guineas" (and maybe in later ones, I haven't checked), Virginia Woolf included some photos of white guys in outrageously foofy outfits full of glitter and pomp, and mocked males for their pretense of not being into such display compared to trivial, shallow women. Soldiers are like pimps that way.

Posted by: Duncan at May 28, 2008 12:20 AM