Fighting For Our Country

Ted Rall claims, in an article reproduced on the Common Dreams progressive website, that American soldiers killed in Iraq (and Vietnam, Korea, and even WWII) have not died “for their country” but merely for their country’s “geopolitical interests.” Rall bases his position on the fact that throughout its history the US’s military actions have almost never been in defense of its national existence.

But the sense in which Rall is correct is so narrow that his argument amounts to an oversimplification and probably doesn’t contribute to the cause of peace.

It is specious to distinguish so sharply between an actual invasion, such as occurred in the War of 1812, and an enormously destructive attack such as 9/11. Although 9/11 itself may not have threatened the very existence of the nation, Rall’s argument falls apart, for two reasons.

First, the war to dislodge the Taliban, who nurtured and protected Al Qaeda, was an act of national defense: defense of the lives of our citizens from further attacks by an enemy that had in effect declared war on us. Rall doesn’t even mention the action in Afghanistan – could it be because it doesn’t fit his argument?

Second, the real possibility of terrorist organizations acquiring weapons of mass destruction forces us to consider scenarios in which our national existence is, in fact, threatened.

Rall, however, focusses on the past:

For one American president after another, winning or losing doesn’t matter. For an empire, military action is its own reward. Our willingness to wage war intimidates adversaries and their neighbors into giving us what we want: cheaper oil, military bases, favorable trading terms. When American sailors invaded the Falkland Islands in 1832, it was “to defend American interests.” Ditto for 1855, when U.S. forces stormed Fiji. Ditto for the 1903 Dominican Republic action (where defending U.S. interests meant suppressing a popular revolution), Honduras in 1911, the Soviet Union in 1918, Lebanon in 1953…you get the idea. The soldiers who fought in those invasions were told they were fighting for their country. Those who lost their lives were called heroes.

American soldiers who die overseas in wars of intimidation or wars over oil may not be, technically, national heroes. But that’s only if you consider a nation to be purely a moral entity. Real nations, by nature, want to benefit themselves and gain advantage.

Not to mention the fact that the soldiers may still be heroes to their families, friends and communities. A soldier may put him or herself in harm’s way for a “greater good” that is merely family or personal honor, a sense of duty or tradition, or merely the pride of doing one’s job to the best of one’s ability. Cartoonists and bass players might not know about or relate to some of these things.

Yes, “since Iraq neither threatens our freedom nor our borders, [our soldiers are] neither protecting our freedoms or (sic) fighting for America.” But demoting the soldiers from heroes to sacrificial lambs doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. They’re not victims. They’re part of the system. It’s a volunteer army. The opportunities offered to people who enlist in the armed forces are real, the risks known. The fact that soldiers who die in Iraq are called heroes may bug Rall, but no matter how you look at it, they died for their country. Whether we like what the country is – or has become – is the real question.