Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You – He Already Has You

By William J. Astore originally taken from TomDispatch.

First, I devoted four years of college to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and then I spent the next two decades in the United States Air Force. No one is given any personal space while serving in the military. The state is your owner. You’re a “government issue” soldier with a dog tag that indicates your blood type and religious affiliation in case of a transfusion or death rites. Your body will adapt. The cost of entering the military is giving up some of your personal freedoms. Stop feeling sorry for me, America, since I made a decent living and have a secure retirement as a result.

Since I joined ROTC in 1981 and was fingerprinted, typed for blood, and generally prodded and questioned, a lot has changed in our country. (I required a special dispensation due to my myopia.) Each and every one of us is now technically a government issue in the paranoid surveillance state that is Fortress America.

This Is How Lyme Disease Got So Bad It Can’t Be Stopped.

No longer need to worry about joining the military because Uncle Sam already has you. The American national security state has drafted you. To that extent, Edward Snowden’s leaks have been convincing. What’s your inbox address? It’s legible. What’s up with all the calls you’ve been getting? Data regarding the data is being collected. A smartphone? If the government needs to find you, this tracking device is ideal. The one in your house? Trackable and susceptible to hacking. What server do you use? Their convenience, not yours.

Recent classes I’ve taught at the university level have had many students who were completely unconcerned by this invasion of privacy. They don’t realize what they’ve lost, so they don’t mourn it or, if they do worry, they comfort themselves with magical thinking, with mantras like “I haven’t done anything wrong, so I have nothing to hide.” They don’t realize how arbitrary governments can be in deciding what constitutes improper behavior.

All of us have been enlisted, more or less, in the new iteration of Fortress America, the ever-more-militarized, securitized United States. See a movie by renting it? Why not go with the original Captain America and relive the last battle we won by watching him defeat the Nazis again? Have you spent Memorial Day at a ballpark? Absolutely nothing could be purer or more American than this. Anyway, I hope you weren’t too distracted by the camouflaged caps and uniforms your favorite players wore in yet another never-ending series of tributes to our warriors and veterans.

No more complaining about the militarization of American sports jerseys, please. Don’t you know that fighting wars has been America’s preferred leisure activity in recent years?

Perform Like a True Soldier

How ironic. It is hardly surprising that the unruly and increasingly rebellious people of Vietnam were reflected in the rowdy citizen’s army that was formed throughout the war. What happened was too much for the United States military and our ruling elites to handle. Thus, in 1973, President Nixon abolished the draught, effectively ending the citizen-soldier ideal that had existed in America for two centuries. We got specialists from the so-called “all-volunteer military” to do it for us by recruiting them or bribing them. Simple, and that’s been the case ever since. There are plenty of conflicts, but you don’t have to be a “warrior” in it until you sign the dotted line—the new standard in the United States.

As it turned out, though, the agreement that released the United States from those mandatory military commitments contained a good deal of fine print. To be a “happy warrior” in the new national security state, which developed to vast dimensions on the taxpayer money, especially after 9/11, meant to be pacified, to hold your peace, and to back the pros (or rather, “our troops”) unwaveringly. Whether you like it or not, you’ve been drafted into that position, so get in line with the other newbies and find your place in the new garrison state.

You can see the fortifications and surveillance along our shared border with Canada and Mexico if you’re feeling brave. (Remember when you didn’t need a passport or ID to go across those borders? I do.) Keep an eye out for the drones that have returned from war and are now or soon to be circling your neighborhood, presumably to combat crime. You should be proud of your heavily armed police forces, complete with SWAT units and modified MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles). The military is giving away or selling cheaply used Iraqi Freedom vehicles to municipal police forces to clear out their inventory. For your protection, be sure to abide by their strict orders for prison-like “lockdowns” of your neighborhood or city, which are essentially temporary pronouncements of martial law.

Follow orders like a good soldier. Listen to instructions to avoid crowds and public spaces. Master the art of the proper salute. (This was one of my first instructions after joining the military.) No, you old hippy are not the peace sign with your middle finger. Do the right thing and give respect to those in power. You should get some training in that area.

A lot of what we do these days is programmed to do the “hello” for us automatically, so maybe you don’t even have to. God Bless America is sung at every sporting event The habit of watching war films over and over. (From Act of Valor to Lone Survivor, Special Operations forces are all the rage at American movie theatres right now.) Why not answer the call of duty and play some Call of Duty or another similarly militarised video game? Think of war like it’s a game, a movie, or a sport when you do think about it.

Rising in the United States

It’s been almost ten years since I last donned a uniform, but I’m more militaristic now than I ever was before. I first experienced this emotion in 2007 during the “Iraqi surge,” when the United States sent an additional 30,000 troops into the muck of its occupation of Iraq. It was the catalyst for my very first post on TomDispatch. To legitimize his administration’s deteriorating war of choice in Iraq, our civilian commander in chief, George W. Bush, hid behind the beribboned breast of General David Petraeus. The image of a president defecting to the military appeared eerily similar to the inversion of the usual military-civilian dynamic in the United States. And it was successful. During his speech supporting additional American aggression in Iraq, “King David” Petraeus was met with rapturous applause from a cowed Congress.

Since then, it has become customary for our presidents to wear military flight jackets whenever they address our “warfighters” as a show of “support” for them and a symbol of the increasing militarization of the imperial presidency. (Imagine if Matthew Brady had taken a picture of “honest Abe” wearing a flying jacket during the Civil War.) It has become standard practice for presidents to refer to the United States military as “the finest military in world history” or “the greatest military in the world,” as Obama did in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams from Normandy last week. Further exaggerating the truth, these same troops are celebrated across the country in the most vocal way possible as hardened “warriors” and benevolent freedom-bringers, simultaneously the best and the worst of anyone on the planet, and all without including any of the ugly, as in the ugliness of war and killing. The presence of military recruitment vans at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (complete with video game systems) makes sense in light of this. Given the benefits of military service, it makes sense to excite the nation’s 12-year-olds about the possibility of entering the armed forces.

It’s not surprising that so few Americans worry about any of this. They are, after all, already recruits. Even if the thought of all this makes you sick to your stomach, you can’t even burn your draught card to show your displeasure. It’s best just to salute and follow. You can expect to receive a good behavior medal soon.

That wasn’t always the case, though. In 1981, I visited Worcester, Massachusetts, and I still remember how nice it felt to wander around town in my freshly pressed ROTC uniform. Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now were just a few of the antiwar films that were still playing on the big screen barely six years after the Vietnam War’s end. The myth of Rambo’s “stab in the back” and the release of First Blood would not occur for another year. Although I did not feel threatened, I did notice that some individuals regarded me with a mix of apathy and thinly veiled contempt. It concerned me a little, but I knew even then that an understandable skepticism of massive, permanent military installations runs deep in the American psyche.

Never again. When a member of the armed forces dons their uniform today, he or she is greeted with thunderous applause and hailed as a hero.

The history of the United States has shown us that genuflecting before our armed forces is not a healthy gesture of respect. We can take this as proof that the administration is now concerned with everyone’s problems.

Abandoning a militaristic frame of mind

As evidence, I can show you an old military officer’s manual that I still have in my possession if you think I’m exaggerating. It dated back to the 1950s and was sanctioned by the man most responsible for the United States’ victory in World War II, General George C. Marshall Jr. At the outset, it was emphasized that a man’s core character as an American citizen was not changed by his promotion to the rank of officer. He’s just enrolled in the master’s program where they teach you how to be a leader who respects individual liberties. While it may be challenging to achieve, the manual’s overarching goal was to shed light on the healthy conflict that existed at the heart of the original citizen’s army: the struggle for power vs the desire for individual freedom.

Another quote from an anonymous admiral was included to remind the incoming officers that they were stewards of American freedom: “The American philosophy elevates the individual above the state. It has a negative view of authoritative figures and uses of force. Implies that there are no men who are crucial to society. By doing so, it proclaims that the principle must always come first.

Those remarks were, and continue to be, an effective remedy for the authoritarianism and militarism promulgated by the state. Individually and collectively, we must prioritize individual freedom and constitutional ideals, not as GI Joes and Janes but as Citizen Joes and Janes. Doesn’t it make sense to start dismantling Fortress America and letting go of our militarized mentalities in the spirit of Ronald Reagan, who famously challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “take down this [Berlin] wall”? If we have the guts to do the right thing, future generations of Americans will be grateful.


Original Article from William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) who has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School.

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