I read the Times story, “After Failures to Curb Sexual Assault, a Move Toward a Major Shift in Military Law: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has fought for years to remove commanders from deciding assault cases. Now, more colleagues and a Pentagon panel agree.” And I thought, “Good for my senator. She stuck with this for years.”
A few connections popped up in my head.
Gillibrand’s work is an example of how long it can take for something important to get done by federal agencies and Congress, and why it’s crucial to vote for people who are smart, know the law, have firm ethics, a lot of patience and persistence, and believe that one major purpose of government is to correct wrongs.
But even more, this story leads into another big, multi-part story: how white supremacists are drawn into, trained and honed by the military, and how, after their military service, they often infiltrate police departments and show up at violent insurrections.
For a long time I’ve been uneasy about the raison d’étre of military forces everywhere and anywhere: defending the country by confronting a declared violent enemy and killing it. The essential purpose of the military is training people to fight and win wars by killing. And to convince them they are operating under a moral code that subdues their consciences, absolves them from the criminal act of ending another person’s life.
During the Vietnam War, I said something to my father about how crazy war was, how monumentally dreadful. We’re not primitives, I said. “There has to be a more intelligent way for advanced civilizations to address conflicts other than war.”
He didn’t reply, except by throwing at me a look of icy condescension meant to permanently squelch my opinions.
Yes, my expressed thought was naive. But as I’ve matured and complex information has been gradually added to my knowledge of life, the idea my father sneered at has not changed in me. Indeed, I’ve become convinced that war is mankind’s incomprehensible moral flaw, a glitch in the brains of men.
(A couple of day’s ago, my brother and I were in a bus going through a part of Jersey. We passed an attractive, large brick building which looked like a high school, set back from the road with an expanse of green lawn. On either side of the front door was a big war tank. I said, “What’s with those tanks?” My brother’s response was, “For us boys who love to look at tanks.”)
We don’t have a huge, heavily armed defense to make friends and allies; that’s what other agencies, like the State Department, try to do. But if a country trains a massive force in killing, relieved of the heavy moral burden of killing as a fundamental evil, what happens to the cogs in the killing machine when they leave the military and go on to other careers?
I think we’ve been able to see pretty clearly what happens to ex-soldiers. Too many who have been trained for violence are traumatized, too many have become cops. And far too many have joined paranoid white supremacist groups.
And they all have guns.
Do armed uniformed agencies have some kind of de-programming system for people who leave or retire? Or do they pull their helmets over their eyes and assume the cool rage engendered by training to kill will somehow dissolve, rather than be re-directed into a general rage at everything, with no sense there will be consequences?
Why should there be consequences? They were all taught they were doing our civilization’s crucial work.