Memorial Day is a national holiday dedicated to those who died in battle. While also the unofficial start to the summer season, it is a day America has designated for reflection on the commitment and sacrifices of US troops. In the bygone era of the Second World War, American war heroes were admired and praised around the globe. After the Vietnam War, however, a less flattering view of US troops began to emerge. Many people around the world, and within the US, started to see America’s noble warriors as the expendable tools of a bloody imperialist agenda. Today, most Americans still respect and honor their troops, but a growing number of people do not believe in the “nobility” of the causes US troops are sent to fight. They see the sacrifices of US troops as wanton abuse of these individualists’ willingness to serve their country.
For those who view the many sacrifices of America’s warriors as valuable, the squandering of their sacrifices is thoroughly intolerable. Reflecting on the failure of the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War to actually bolster US interests and/or improve the lives of those living in the Middle East, which is a truth growing increasingly difficult to deny, it would seem America’s political leaders, who decide when the US goes to war, have largely wasted the sacrifices of US servicemen and women. For those who have lost loved ones to war and lost time to war, as well as those who have been scarred by war, such recklessness feels a lot like a war crime. To carelessly spend the lives of those willing to sacrifice for a greater good is certainly not an act of loyalty or admiration. It is also an alarming trend toward an embrace of a historic perception of troops as sacrificial lambs.
The seemingly senseless loss of life due to faulted military tactics in pre-World War II conflicts, for example, are best understand as a failure to consider the interests of the troops. Society, i.e. people en mass, has certain interests, i.e. wants and needs, that it will seek to fulfill while those at the top of society, i.e. the powerful, have their own interests that they will seek to fulfill. When the interests of the powerful are misaligned with the interests of society, conflicts occur. In order to avoid conflict, the powerful will often distort what the actual interests of society are, so the interests of the powerful will be served. In doing so, the powerful can neglect the interests of the masses, but avoid conflict by manipulating those whose real, versus perceived, interests have been neglected. Alternatively, they can drive people to unnecessary conflict. In other words, they can sacrifice troops for their own whims.
Duty, honor, and nobility are examples of deeply rooted emotions, which can be used as social control mechanisms that enable the powerful to serve their interests at the expense of the less prominent. In the case of war, leaders seek what they perceive to be the interests of the state then convince their troops to serve those interests, whether or not those interests are trivial and cost the troops dearly. The underlying reason why British soldiers in wars before WWII were trained to throw themselves into a battlefield, which more often than not resulted in massive causalities, hinges on the fact that this is how military commanders believed wars were won. Before guns, this was more or less true, but the worldviews of military leaders were not updated until later wars when easily reloaded guns then automatic weapons resulted in far too many casualties, thus the interests of the troops could no longer be ignored.
In all cultures, troops receive financial compensation and/or special accommodations for their service, which. Where most modern governments pay their military personnel, countries lacking formal economies, such as North Korea or the American tribes, provide their troops increased food rations and other goods. In addition to financial compensation, the US and other modern governments promise to provide life-long medical, educational, and other fringe benefits to servicemen and women. In doing so, the potential loss of life or decrease in quality of life due to a serious injury, i.e. sacrifice, is compensated for economically. Although troops are paid to be willingly sacrificed, pay alone is no longer enough to justify their sacrifice. After the pre-WWI and WWII eras, leaders began to do far more to take the non-economical interests of their troops into consideration.
The monarchs of old Europe would start wars over the most insignificant, trivial matters, including personal tiffs; whereas, modern governments must offer convincing justifications for war and consider the interests of those fighting the wars, i.e. the brutality of war must be calculated when deciding to go to war alongside the cost to the troops. The post Vietnam War era was marked by a hypersensitivity to risk when it came to the lives of US servicemen and women. In terms of balancing interests, Americans were more willing to neglect US interests served by military intervention, often endangering and costing the lives of many more non-Americans as well as long-term US security interests, in favor of safeguarding the lives of US troops. Where the interests of those fighting wars had been thoroughly neglected in the past, America hyper-focused on the interests of its troops to the point military service lost its sacrificial component.
During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, this trend was reserved to the point the interests of the troops were being neglected for a faulted mission. This worrying trend may well reverse itself under the right kind of leadership, the kind of leadership that values the sacrifices f US troops. Alternatively, political leaders, who view the use of military might to be an effective and easy means to push their agendas, will help propagate this inhumane view of US troops. Leaders who do not truly value the sacrifices of troops are more willing to sacrifice them for trivial matters. They are willing to embrace war and destroy lives when doing so is unnecessary. These individuals will pay lip service to US troops and justify their wanton pursuit of war in terms of alleged state interests, but they actually seek war because they do not value the sacrifices of US troops nor are they willing to expend the necessary effort to resolve conflict without the use of military might before choosing to sacrifice troops and those touched by war.
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