Friday, October 15, 2010

What is Illegal in Civilian Life is Legal in the Military

In an earlier blog I wrote about the story a young woman told of her brother who returned from Iraq taciturn and withdrawn. Soon he returned to the wars, but this time in Afghanistan,

His sister asked him about the goal of that war. His reply was:” I am a Marine. I have been trained to take orders without question. I do what I am told, when I am told. I think about the job I have to do, not about its purpose.”

She was appalled by his passivity, his dependence and his total lack of citizenship.

But she added that the Marines had saved his brother's life. In his teens he had been into drugs and had had run-ins with the police. Given a choice between enlisting or going to prison, he chose the military. She was sure that he made the right choice. Had he not joined up, she thinks, he would by now be doing hard time.

But our armies in the Mid-East are not drug free. A recent government report states: “As we continue to wage war on several fronts, data would suggest that [our soldiers] are becoming more dependent on pharmaceuticals to sustain themselves. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that the force is becoming increasingly dependent on both legal and illegals drugs.” If such drug use is officially illegal, there have been no reports of prosecutions for drug use in the theaters of war. Drug use is, in fact, an accepted part of military life.

Out troops kill soldiers and civilians, women and children, destroy houses and fields. In wars, such destruction is not only legal, but if a soldier dies while killing and destroying, we call him a hero. If our Marine had remained a civilian, he would have ended in jail for doing what now it is his job to do.

We erect very different standards of behavior for civilians and for soldiers. Actions declared illegal and heavily punished when done by civilians, are taken to be facts of life of the soldier's job in the military. A soldier is a hero when he does what, in civilian life, would end him in prison.

That is an unpleasant truth that all of us need to take seriously. Soldiers do the fighting and face the dangers and the pain of war. But we vote for those war and we pay for them. It is not only their war, but ours only.

We support this startling double standards between military and civilian existence.