Saturday, April 27, 2013

Just thinking about war and peace

No, not the book. This'll be much shorter.
I've never served in the armed forces in any capacity. I am a soft, squishy civilian who is hopelessly out of shape, I bleed readily, and would generally be out of place in a war zone. That said, I've been friends with a few people in uniform, and I read Terminal Lance. This is in part because I want to feel some tenuous connection to a community of people I have a great deal of respect for, and partly because Max is just a good comedy writer. That most recent comic sort of struck a nerve with me. More precisely, a bit from the commentary.

To summarize, the comic and commentary are about how fairly callous and insensitive one can come off when asking a soldier if they've ever killed anybody. It makes sense. I mean, if you'd never served but I walked up to you and asked if you'd ever killed anybody, wouldn't you feel weird? It's a pretty intensely personal question being thrown around so casually, especially to someone you barely know, so why would anyone feel comfortable asking it to someone in uniform? Does the uniform make them any less of a human being?

I think Max got down to the painful truth of the matter when he said this:
Regardless, the obvious insensitivity of the question shows the nature of the average civilian. They don’t care about the war, they don’t care about what actually goes on overseas. They don’t care about counter-insurgency, they don’t care about all the time you spent with the local population or what it meant to you.
They don’t care.
If media coverage of our military engagements is any indication, the average American really doesn't want to know what our people do overseas. Sure, we claim to "support our troops," financially or spiritually, and we get upset when we hear about another IED claiming the lives of Americans. On the other hand, the news basically gives us what we want, and we don't see much in the news about what our countrymen are actually doing over there. To a lot of people, the phrase "all the time you spent with the local population or what it meant to you" wouldn't even make sense, because to them, a soldier's job is just to shoot the bad guys, plain and simple.

Except it's not plain and simple. Taking human lives in the first place isn't plain and simple. Compound that with the challenges of trying to keep the peace in a region where the population is split between people who are trying to kill you, people who sympathize with you, people who think you're wrong to be there, and people who just want to stop living in fear, and suddenly the question "Have you ever killed anybody?" isn't just insensitive; it's fucking disrespectful.

Look, I have no illusions that I'm somehow more insightful than the average person. I'm a spoiled middle-class white kid from the suburbs and I'm utterly out of touch with a lot of this stuff. So, if even I can see how our men and women in uniform rightly deserve to have their work, their privacy, and their basic humanity respected, how is that concept hard to grasp for anybody else?

I can't expect the whole world to fully appreciate the true horrors of warfare. I don't even expect that of myself. I just want everybody to make more of an effort. Once again, we come back to that elusive human quirk known as empathy. If we can't even empathize with the plight of our own soldiers, it's no wonder we completely devalue the lives of our enemies. And it's really no wonder they do the very same to us. One begets the other, you know.

Alright, that's enough ranting for tonight. I hope I at least made a couple of good points. I realize my sign-off is a lot to ask for, but I'll say it anyway:

Peace and love, soldiers of humankind.

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