Monday, May 30, 2016

The love for our troops was never been more personified than at the massive turnout for the memorial of Chris Kyle.  You can still watch the glorious "final salute" at Dallas Stadium in full on Youtube.  The service drew a wide range of relatives, friends, and politicians.  There was even a 200-mile funeral procession that ran from his home in Midlothian to Austin, where his body was laid to rest at the Texas State Cemetery.  All along the route, tens of thousands turned up at overpasses and by the roadside to pay their last respects.  It was a funeral service fit for a king.  To top it all off, there was a movie that served as his requiem, further cementing the "American Sniper" in history.

Unfortunately, many of the things said in his book and in the movie based on the book don't hold up.  It seems Chris Kyle stretched his medal count a little, as he did numerous other items previously reported.    No matter, in the minds of his fans, Chris will forever remain the embodiment of America's elite fighting force, the Navy Seals.

I haven't been able to understand this idol worship.  Do we really want to honor a sniper who said himself he didn't differentiate between Iraqi men, women and children.  To him they were all the enemy in a war that had no reason for being.  Unlike Vietnam, a huge effort was made on the part of Americans to differentiate between the dirty deeds of politicians and the actions of combatants on the ground, even when horrible acts like that at Abu Ghraib surfaced at the height of the war.  Clearly, not all these soldiers were cut from the same cloth, and incidents like these cannot be so easily dismissed no matter how hard we try.

Part of the problem is that we have been conditioned to believe that the armed forces are fighting for our hard-earned freedom, even though the boundaries have been stretched over the years, and now they are fighting for the freedom of others, whether they want these special services or not.  We seem to think that without our military we would be overrun by one existential threat or another and that we owe it to our soldiers to honor their valiant efforts.

After the War of Independence, the fledgling United States disbanded the Continental Army.  It may have been a hasty decision but what the leaders did was focus on the peace and prosperity of our country, coming up with plans to improve industrial infrastructure, build a capital on the banks of the Potomac River to compete with those of Europe, and write a Constitution that would serve as the cornerstone of our Republic.  No one imagined a permanent national army, which is why they added the second amendment to the Constitution, empowering state militia units.

In fact, after every war we scaled back our military and concentrated our efforts into rebuilding our infrastructure, and redressing the shortsightedness of our founding fathers by amending the Constitution.  Today, military cuts are unthinkable despite there being no serious threat to our country.  Instead, we continue to invest heavily in a military industrial complex whose main purpose appears to be to keep our leading industries flush with cash and tangentially build new fighter jets and other weapons.  We even privatized certain aspects of our military to bring in consultants like Halliburton and Blackwater, which now goes by the name Academi.

More and more, the military complex is interwoven into the private sector.  Chris Kyle had set up a company to train police in urban warfare techniques.  We have seen the militarization of police departments across the country, which bought surplus military equipment at bargain prices to ramp up its efforts at fighting crime and homegrown terrorists.  There is now a very thin line between the military and homeland security.  Of course, the National Guard has always been there to lend a hand when demonstrations get out of hand or a natural disaster weakens municipal and regional security, but now we see police in full combat gear ready to squash protests like that in Ferguson, Missouri.  The transformation has become so complete that we honor our fallen police officers with the same reverence as we do military servicemen, regardless of the circumstances of that surrounded their deaths.

The last 16 years has seen a move toward a militarized state like no other time in American history. Homeland Security is so vast now that it can monitor almost all aspects of our society.  The only thing keeping it honest is a presidential administration that understands the ramifications of such a broad surveillance network and has placed internal checks and balances.  However, there is nothing stopping a less prudent president from ratcheting up this surveillance network to Orwellian proportions, and using whatever means at his disposal to impose order.

That's why I'm a little more circumspect this Memorial Day.  I don't feel I owe my freedom to the armed servicemen and women who died serving this country.  I owe my freedom to the activists that fought for a more just society across the country, and pushed the government to enact legislation that protected the rights of all Americans.  What we need to do is take a hard look at the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act and ask ourselves if this is what we want hanging over our heads?  Don't let yourself be sold a phony bill of goods.

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