Soldiers die for a lot of reasons. They die to protect their buddies. They die to expand the empire. They die to protect corporate profits. They die. But they do not die for us. They are not fighting for us. And nothing they are doing in Iraq is helping this country one bit. Their deaths are for nothing. They are not heroes. They are cowardly conquerors...This kind of troop-bashing sentiment is common among the International ANSWER types. Yet, as Robert Kaplan notes in today's Wall Street Journal, denigration of the military is increasingly common among the transnational elite in America's top insitutions, especially the mass media:
I'm weary of seeing news stories about wounded soldiers and assertions of "support" for the troops mixed with suggestions of the futility of our military efforts in Iraq. Why aren't there more accounts of what the troops actually do? How about narrations of individual battles and skirmishes, of their ever-evolving interactions with Iraqi troops and locals in Baghdad and Anbar province, and of increasingly resourceful "patterning" of terrorist networks that goes on daily in tactical operations centers?
The sad and often unspoken truth of the matter is this: Americans have been conditioned less to understand Iraq's complex military reality than to feel sorry for those who are part of it.
Kaplan reports from the field that U.S. soldiers are looking for respect, not pity: "We are not victims," one battalion commander asserted. "We are privileged." Thus Kaplan continues:
The cult of victimhood in American history first flourished in the aftermath of the 1960s youth rebellion, in which, as University of Chicago Prof. Peter Novick writes, women, blacks, Jews, Native Americans and others fortified their identities with public references to past oppressions. The process was tied to Vietnam, a war in which the photographs of civilian victims "displaced traditional images of heroism." It appears that our troops have been made into the latest victims.
Heroes, according to the ancients, are those who do great deeds that have a lasting claim to our respect. To suffer is not necessarily to be heroic. Obviously, we have such heroes, who are too often ignored. Witness the low-key coverage accorded to winners of the Medal of Honor and of lesser decorations.
The first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror was awarded posthumously to Army Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith of Tampa, Fla., who was killed under withering gunfire protecting his wounded comrades outside Baghdad airport in April 2003.
According to LexisNexis, by June 2005, two months after his posthumous award, his stirring story had drawn only 90 media mentions, compared with 4,677 for the supposed Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and 5,159 for the court-martialed Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England. While the exposure of wrongdoing by American troops is of the highest importance, it can become a tyranny of its own when taken to an extreme.
Media frenzies are ignited when American troops are either the perpetrators of acts resulting in victimhood, or are victims themselves. Meanwhile, individual soldiers daily performing complicated and heroic deeds barely fit within the strictures of news stories as they are presently defined. This is why the sporadic network and cable news features on heroic soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan comes across as so hokey. After all, the last time such reports were considered "news" was during World War II and the Korean War.
In particular, there is Fox News's occasional series on war heroes, whose apparent strangeness is a manifestation of the distance the media has traveled away from the nation-state in the intervening decades. Fox's war coverage is less right-wing than it is simply old-fashioned, antediluvian almost. Fox's commercial success may be less a factor of its ideological base than of something more primal: a yearning among a large segment of the public for a real national media once again--as opposed to an international one. Nationalism means patriotism, and patriotism requires heroes, not victims.
Kaplan's piece is worth reading in whole, but the conclusion is particularly good:
The media is but one example of the slow crumbling of the nation-state at the upper layers of the social crust - a process that because it is so gradual, is also deniable by those in the midst of it. It will take another event on the order of 9/11 or greater to change the direction we are headed. Contrary to popular belief, the events of 9/11--which are perceived as an isolated incident--did not fundamentally change our nation. They merely interrupted an ongoing trend toward the decay of nationalism and the devaluation of heroism.
As Kaplan points out, the notion that there's been a "decay of nationalism" is contested. Yet on the question of the deligimization of state-based heroism, Kaplan's commentary here makes a compelling case to the contrary.