After September 11, 2001, Americans almost universally proclaimed New York City firefighters, policemen, and even the mayor as flawless heroes. Some went as far as to call all firefighters and policemen heroes. Granted it was an emotional time, and most were willing to overlook the irrationality of a proclamation of heroism based solely on the performance of a job that one receives a paycheck for. It has become impossible to hold one’s tongue any longer though, as the proclamation of American soldiers as “heroes” has been used to inhibit critical speech of the American government’s disastrous foreign policy decisions.
Even looking beyond the 15 civilians massacred at Haditha, the torture of prisoners at Abu-Ghraib, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians that have been killed by US forces in conditions considered insufficiently atrocious to be worthy of investigation, American soldiers do not qualify as heroes.
According to one online dictionary, “Typically the willingness to sacrifice the self for the greater good is seen as the most important defining characteristic of a hero.” After looking through several different dictionary definitions I believe the following could be an acceptable universal definition of a hero: a person who shows great courage in an effort to help others, regardless of the personal risk. While some soldiers may fit that criteria, they do not fit it in any greater abundance than the general population, and by no means can we bestow the title of hero on all American soldiers.
Fighting to defend one’s homeland may be heroic, but blindly signing up for one of the most militarily aggressive nations in history, is not. According to most definitions of heroism, the heroic action must help others, or in other words, be in pursuit of a greater good. For example, if a mass murderer puts himself in danger to rescue his accomplice from police gunfire, most would not consider that a heroic action, nor deem the mass murderer a hero. As it stands today, most of the world has condemned the US for most of its actions in perpetrating the “War on Terror.” The pretext for the invasion of Iraq, the possession of weapons of mass destruction, has been proven to be a lie, and the American government caused more suffering to “liberate” the Iraqi people than anything they endured under Saddam. And now, after a decade of civil strife, occupation, and the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, there are few signs of the “freedom” America had promised in sight. The net outcome has been hundreds of thousands dead, trillions of dollars wasted, a huge refugee problem, ethnic struggles between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd, and a greater hatred of America throughout the world. To make matters worse, Afghanistan’s stability seems to be in greater question now than Iraq’s.
These wars were definitely not for the greater good, but can a soldiers’ ignorance of the justification of a conflict be a reasonable defense? Do American soldiers’ “noble” intentions to serve their country automatically make them heroes? If so, then shouldn’t soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany in WWII, who did not know about the genocide and truly believed they were fighting for their homeland’s “security”, be deemed heroes as well? Or, how about the Al-Qaeda soldier who believes in the justification of his cause? There should be no double standard for Americans. Either a belief in the justification of a country’s cause is sufficient, or the soldier should be held accountable for the net outcome of the morality of the actions of their nation or group. If it’s the former, then Al-Qaeda and Nazi soldiers are heroes as well.
I tend to agree with latter; even in an American criminal court one can not use ignorance of the law as a defense. If soldiers are held to the same standards as any other citizen, then they are individually culpable for their participation in their groups/countries’ actions.
American’s are probably reeling back in their chairs right now thinking, Al-Qaeda soldiers signed up with the intent to commit atrocities and therefore they can not be deemed heroes. But both soldiers signed up believing their cause was just, and both groups/nations committed atrocities. The Al-Qaeda soldier does not know that blowing up a building for his religion is wrong any more than an American soldier knows it’s wrong to press a button that will drop a bomb killing Iraqi freedom fighters and civilians. In on case, the soldier has been told by every respected individual and religious leader in his society throughout his life that his fight is right; and in the other case, the soldier has been told by his government, family, and friends that it’s right. The outcome is the same, people die and things get destroyed.
The next criteria that American soldiers must meet to be called heroes is selflessness. Are they really “risking their lives for other American’s freedom?” I have to wonder how an American killing Iraqis or Afghans will increase anyone’s freedom? Even if terrorists planted 10 nuclear bombs in the largest U.S. cities, the Constitution would not be changed. People would be dead, but Americans would be living under the same laws. They would still have the same shattered Bill of Rights they have now.
If anything, American soldiers’ actions have put American’s freedom into the line of fire. The “War on Terror” has created more resentment of America around the world, and been used as a pretext by two different Presidents to justify the theft of constitutionally protected freedoms through fear-mongering legislation such as the Patriot, Military Commissions, and National Defense Authorization Acts.
Further complicating the matter is the oath that soldiers take to uphold the US Constitution. There was no declaration of war in Iraq or Afghanistan, and therefore these wars were both unconstitutional. If American soldiers were upholding their oaths they would have fought against such illegal invasions, rather than for them. If the US Constitution is the source of American’s freedom, then a soldiers’ defense of freedom, or heroism in many American’s eyes, should be judged based on his defense of constitutional principles, not by his blind adherence to the orders of Presidents who recklessly disregard the Constitution at will. Instead of fighting inhumane, illegal wars, United States soldiers should be upholding their oath to defend the Constitution, even if that means standing up to the President for his treasonous actions.
At this point it may even be better for the average American’s freedom if another country invaded the US. With draconian laws, a higher percentage of the American population under some form of correctional supervision than any other country in the world, and a non-existent Bill of Rights, an invading country may bring more freedom with it. After all, the United States has ranked fairly low in freedom of the press and other human rights world rankings. Although highly improbable, if the Netherlands invaded the US and implemented their own political system, Americans would actually be significantly more free than they are today.
Looking beyond all of the propaganda and illusions, one must see that soldiering is not a heroic profession. These people are getting paid to do a job, and one that has done significant harm to humanity at that. Although governments have glorified the honor and heroism in killing for one’s country it is no different than killing for any other reason. It may even be worse. Usually when a person kills another it’s for a rational reason like the other guy was sleeping with his wife, for monetary reasons, or maybe that the other person had committed an atrocity. When one kills for a country, they get no personal reward, and they may not even know if they’re on the right side of things. In a war, soldiers have no idea if they’re killing a great man or a bad one. They may be killing a person who won the Nobel peace prize. At least in common murder, one usually knows who they’re killing and why. When one goes to a criminal court no one really cares if they had a good reason to kill the other person. They can get a lesser charge for it, but whether its murder 1, murder 2, or murder 3, they still call it murder.
Garbage men, janitors, teachers, and many others are paid to do jobs as well. What differentiates these people from an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is that they actually do something productive. One thing we know for sure is that soldiers aren’t getting paid for their contribution to humanity. The inherent danger is what makes people falsely label soldiers as heroes; but of course that very danger is what they are getting paid for isn’t it? That is the job description. For example, what would happen if firefighters only got paid to put out fires that posed no risk to their lives, or if policemen only had to catch the non-dangerous criminals?
Though the government, the press, and even the soldiers continue to play up this image of sacrifice and personal risk to bolster their image, the truth is, many of our current military overseas signed up before the war, in pursuit of safe positions in the National Guard or the Reserves. Military recruiters often lied to recruits and told them that they would never be called to war if they signed up in the guard or reserves. They told them that wars are now fought with technology and not people. Even after the commencement of the Iraq War, CNN caught recruiters lying to kids about the war being over and telling the recruits that they wouldn’t have to go overseas if they signed up. If one signs up not despite the danger, but because they don’t feel there is any danger, then they are not really consciously taking a risk. When the war comes, they have no choice, either they fight, thereby “take a risk” or they are court-martialed for cowardice and possibly shot; or at the least discharged and forever disgraced back home. When the consequences for not fighting are certain and the potential consequences of being injured or killed are small, then fighting a war is not much of a risk at all. In fact, the real risk would be doing the honorable thing and refusing to fight an illegal war. Going to Iraq or Afghanistan was the easy way out. In Iraq, soldiers faced a 10% chance that they would be wounded or killed, but by acting morally they faced a certainty of being court-martialed and disgraced.
If it’s not the danger then maybe it’s their selfless motivation that we admire, but do soldiers really enlist for selfless reasons? While we like to pretend that the pay does not motivate a soldier to enlist, or a fireman to apply, that is a fairly naive perspective. There’s a reason the United States military has to offer a free education and many other benefits to get soldiers to sign up. If people were enlisting for patriotic reasons alone, recruiters would not have to sell the economic benefits. In fact, recruiters shouldn’t have to sell it at all. When we add up all of a soldiers pay, including: tuition, medical benefits, retirement benefits, housing, hazardous duty pay, etc… they are making a very nice living relative to the private sector. With all of the added wartime pay, a brand new enlistee can make as much as $50,000 a year, tax free. That’s far more than other 18-22 year olds would make with similar education and experience.
So what are they expected to do for that money? Their only job is to train to fight, and then fight when necessary. Should they be praised then for doing what they are paid to do? For example, what would you think of a person who signs on as a crab fisherman; which by the way is actually more dangerous than enlisting in the military during peacetime, and didn’t fish? The public would think they are worthless, and as well they should. What would you think of that same fisherman that took the job, got paid, and fished? That would be expected, just as fighting is expected for a soldier. There is nothing heroic about doing a job that one is paid to do. If one doesn’t do it they are derelict in their duties, and if one does it, it’s not heroic, but simply what they have been paid to do. In this case, the fisherman has actually done more for his country than the soldier. He is providing food for his countrymen, and some economic benefit as well. The soldier in Iraq on the other hand is busy destroying things and killing people, which hurts our freedom.
This article was written a few years after the invasion of Iraq and recently revised for today. Very little has changed since its original publication, and therefore very few revisions were made. The scrutiny that Americans must place on the false idolization of government employees has become even more critical in recent years. American police are now gearing up for massive civil unrest in America by purchasing hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition and military grade weaponry. On the foreign front, Romney and Obama are preparing for a possible intervention in Syria and an invasion of Iran. Both of these actions would be disastrous for America, and the rest of the world. American soldiers, police, and federal agents need to remember that they are not flawless heroes, but rather paid civil servants who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and American citizens need to remind them of this fact, rather than falsely worshipping their “sacrifice” and “defense of America’s freedom”.