Saturday, April 11, 2015

Is it immoral to serve?

We commonly heard it said "thank you for your service" in post-9/11 America. So, I ask my veteran or current on-duty students if they'd recommend their choice to others contemplating enlisting. They've returned to get degrees on the G.I. Bill; there is a V.A. hospital nearby campus that attracts many. At least a few after their combat come back disabled mentally, others physically. Many others are happy if a bit weary after their tours of duty, including a spirited woman tallying 37 years in the Army at present. Most say they'd encourage others. A "party girl" from Miami turned her life around by choosing to join the Coast Guard. A stalwart Texas student came back with a prosthetic leg and a year of therapy learning to walk on it, but also a determination to stay motivated; he landed a great job and convinced his cousin, also a veteran, to take classes from me a few years later; as different as the quiet, affable one, a young father and quite modest, and his boisterous, tattooed and orange-work suited and greasy pipe fitter booted relative were, they both succeeded, articulately and admirably.

As an aside, after I wrote this original post, in a threaded discussion this week with many high-achieving students in a class made up mostly of veterans, one wrote when we chatted online about the impact of globalization, competition among lower-waged workers with immigrants, the role our effort plays vs. the privilege or discrimination many claim for themselves, and the hardship of getting more than entry-level jobs (despite our government's and economy's much-touted "recovery"):
It annoys me to no end when people look for hand outs because they are X or they did Y. It reminds me of when my battalion was coming back from deployment and our Sergeant Major spoke with us before getting on the planes to bring us back. He told us with no question, but rather 100% certainty "No one cares." The speech is much longer and many other choice words are used but the main message is that no one cares. Not that people don't support the military, or that they won't be appreciative of what we did, but they can not begin to know what we went through. No one cares because they can only sympathize. No one cares because they didn't choose to do what we did. So to expect anything special is ignorant.

That full on hit me in the most when I applied at King's Fish House here in Huntington Beach. They had walk-in interviews and I started out as a server, and then a bus boy because I wasn't qualified to be a server, which I have no background as a server so I didn't blame them. But then got a call back asking me if I wouldn't mind washing dishes because I wasn't qualified to bus tables. Each time the next person would thank me for my service and tell me how much they appreciated what I did. I was very annoyed with them, and have never stepped in that restaurant since. And even though I could tell they sympathized and supported the military, they did not care and they were not going to make a business decision that would not benefit them.

A few disagree with enlisting in hindsight, but very few to date. I stumbled across this today when searching for a different topic entirely, and so I share it. Glen T. Martin argues with Three Reasons Why it is Immoral to Serve in the Military of Any Country. I'm reminded of Max Aue's words near the start of the immense epic by Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones. In my review of this novel a few years ago, I singled out key passages, as these have often been overlooked by critics of this story  told by a gay man, blackmailed, who then joins the SS. He narrates his unsettling version of events.

"If the State one must serve is made up of ordinary folks, some will find themselves on the wrong side of history, then as now, not by a chosen career path or personal preference, but by the pressures of bureaucracy and the exigencies of the moment that pressure people into acting. Not all victims are good and not all executioners are evil, Aue reasons.

The State, both sides agree as do we, must exist, must call its male citizens to take lives in its name and its female ones to serve its demands. Free will vanishes if a soldier is assigned to a concentration camp or mobile killing battalion: "chance alone makes him a killer rather than a hero, or a dead man." (592) We give up the right not to kill and our own right to life, if male, he warns, to do our wartime duty to our masters.

"The real danger for mankind is me, is you. And if you're not convinced of this, don't bother to read any further. You'll understand nothing and you'll get angry, with little profit for you or for me." (21)

The counter-arguments are legion. Google "pacifism" into an image search for angry memes. Despite them, a Quaker image I liked via my review of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, more controversy.
P.S. Thanks to Carrie McIntyre for noting "The Lives of Others" and "Barbara" as congenial with Aue, and to Matt Cavanaugh for urging me to "The Baader-Meinhof Complex," and Four Minutes.

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