combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2003

The Good Citizen

[United under one government, we] will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.
by George Washington (17 Sep 1796 Farewell Address)
The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.
by Thomas Jefferson (28 Feb 1807 letter to Chandler Price)

It must be difficult for the doctrinaire pundits of the Brave New World to parse the nuances and complexities of their synthetically parallel universe. The conventional wisdom keeps changing, and propaganda needs to revise yesterday's account into conformity with today's alternative reality. Like cabalists decrypting mystical data and metaphysical analogies into logical substructures, they interchangeably condemn the laws or the government, politics or religion, soldiers or leaders for the status of the current war. If you disbelieve the latest depiction, then the next misrepresentation will proffer a plausible substitute.

If the reportage concerning remote events is mutually contradictory, then any hypothetically Reasonable Man would surmise that the evidence is counterfeit. Such a dismissal ignores the possibility that such contrary depictions accurately reflect the disparate factions in contention, or accurately reflect the different elements of the conflict ... not unlike the legendary appraisals of the elephant by the blind men. But the modern media has essentially coalesced, which imputes censorship or conspiracy to their revisionism. Such unified ascription is unnatural. It is practically impossible to find, from twin studies to legal testimony, such conspicuously harmonious agreement ... except as conducive to the sociopolitical agenda of The Anointed and their Neo-Puritan brethren. So while coherence vies for credible integrity, and patriotism is perniciously impugned, the real war that genuinely affects authentic lives persists.

Until our recent penchant for humanism's Ultimate Man, Americans have been anomalous. We respected talent more than tradition, and we admired diligence as much as achievement, and both more than entitlement. We believed that a poor but honest man was nobler than a rich man without scruple; and a man's chosen work and worship were better accounts of his character than his piety and position. We did not eschew eccentricity and imperfection, even if others thought us too independent and unsophisticated. Our rude intelligence and brash methods would rearrange the world! It is too soon to tell whether our remodeling has been adversely or effectively done.

As colonial militia, Americans were too unregimented to be considered good soldiers, but in the throes of revolution, this rabble[†] succeeded where others had failed. The attribution of military misfit persisted until Civil War loyalties spawned innate combatants from the pool of conscripted civilians. The formulas of military science were recast by champions of pragmatism and necessity; and they compelled all future engagements to emphasize ingenuity ... in fact, the United States would eventually collapse the force majeure of the communist bloc with brainpower! It took the mass mobilization of World War Two, with our natural resistance to petty authority and monolithic structure, to finally endow the military-industrial complex[‡] with perennial purpose. The military professionalism of other cultures, which usually degenerated into mercenary bands, had always been tempered by the American persona ... an acute awareness that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It was the Old Breed that got the job done regardless of the regulations, and bestowed rank upon inborn leaders. It was the New Breed of aspirant priests who rationalized the need for maintaining a standing army, and serving as the world's policemen. It is claimed, by the ones who always sympathize with the Common Man but somehow never suffer, that the world has been made smaller by technology, and that threats can develop too rapidly to ensure security. When has it ever been otherwise? ... and, when have the usurpers not made reasonable excuses for abating our freedoms? When repression is imposed upon us, it will be treacherously disguised as egalitarian emancipation.

The Ordinary Man in America still tries to balance his responsibilities. He pays more for less than his grandparents received, and considers himself fortunate to live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. He accepts diminished buying power and qualified benefits, higher taxes and increased bureaucracy, elevated crime and decaying infrastructure. He tolerates biased news and costly entertainment, revised mores and ineffective codes, impersonal employment and institutionalized inequality. He endures schools that won't teach, churches that won't preach, and plastic money that won't reach. He accepts vulgarity and profanity and desecration in the guise of free speech. And when he is called to fight in a foreign war for some vague or dubious cause that will benefit an ungrateful people ... he willingly complies. He is stalwart and steadfast. And his blood has soaked into every kind of soil on earth. His letters are stored in the attic, and his name is besmirched by an ardent pacifist at some trite protest rally.

Our postulated EveryMan had the chance to be otherwise. In fact, temptations of every sort constantly bombarded him; and he regarded them not as tests of himself, for he was not enticed, but as challenges to his country. He was no more of a stereotype than the episodes of his existence were clichéd. He always had options, and he envisioned the world as a continuum of choices, some more desirable, some more challenging. He knew there were limits, that time and energy were finite, but he was most concerned with self-imposed strictures. The battles he fought hardest were for mastery and potential; and each possessed a myriad solutions, some right or wrong, some easy or hard, some violent or peaceful. When he confronted his Enemy, he knew that there was a man inside the uniformity, a man with sensations and commitments that were not unlike his own. He wended his way through the complexities and contradictions of his sworn duty until Fate or Destiny or God intervened.

Our theoretical subject, the Good Soldier, exchanged his uniform status as a Pawn in the war game played by the Big Green Machine to become a symbolic token for every faction wielding political power back in The World. Having once been a civilian non-entity, he was now a governmental statistic. He was lauded by his self-aggrandizing legislator, and he was cited by journalists substantiating their reports. He was acknowledged by acquaintances, remembered by associates, and mourned by family. All of his knowledge was forfeit, and all of his insights were lost. He had been a normal person, a man of his times, and he left almost nothing enduring. He was, and then he was not; and as soon as those who knew him were gone, he too would be entirely gone. He was a Good Citizen, and now he was a grave marker; and one day his remains would be removed so a highway or hospital or hotel could be erected. Life goes on.

There will always be more wars ... because the people in power want more power, and a patriotic lie is just another weapon in the Arsenal of Democracy. If our Good Citizen had survived that war and reared a family, then his children would've fought in the next, or the next. He disagreed with many things in his own era, but he believed the lies and accepted the distortions. He thought he was contributing to the welfare of the whole community, and he was, but negatively. He was playing the game by the rules, and the rules guaranteed the persistence of the status quo. He was working hard to keep himself subordinated to the powers that be, and they delegated appropriate rewards for conformity. He accepted his station, and fulfilled his expectations. And he died for no good purpose.

Had our Good Citizen been a better man, or a worse man, he would have toppled his overlords! ... that the resultant vacuum would have undoubtedly been filled by something much worse is merely an historic truism. We live in ignorance, and call it happiness. We live in illusion, and call it heaven. Then one day it's all over. Death is not a tragedy, but the circumstances which impel it can make it so.

The feeling about a soldier is, when all is said and done, he wasn't really going to do very much with his life anyway.
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr (11 March 1983)

[†] : A typical opinion of the time expressed in a 2 July 1813 dispatch by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, about the rabble comprising the military, "We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers."; however, in an August 1810 dispatch, the Duke of Wellington said of his generals, "I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they terrify me.". The latter is often misattributed to the ordinary troops at Waterloo.
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[‡] : "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." by Dwight David Eisenhower, in 17 Jan 1961 Farewell Address.
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by Pavlovich Bakunin
... who is retired from the U.S. Army, and now writes freelance.