Signing up doesn’t make you a hero

If you read this blog, you know I have a hoarding problem. That includes hoarding half-written, incomplete blog posts. This is one of those posts that has been languishing in my Drafts folder for months. Since March 14, to be exact.

The original post had been inspired by an invitation one of my American Facebook friends sent me to join a Facebook group to support the troops. The group was (and presumably still is) remarkably one-sided: all soldiers are heroes and, if you disagree, you’re not supporting the troops and thus are anti-American/unpatriot/the spawn of Satan.

The post came to mind again on Tuesday, July 7. The driver of the taxi I took to work in the morning was listening to Steve Madely’s show on CFRA. A frequent caller topic was Michael Jackson, unsuprisingly since that was the day of the memorial service in LA. One caller in particular offered the same opinion that congressman Rep. Peter King used in his Youtube video, that we should be honoring the “heroic” men and women serving in the military in Iraq instead of Michael Jackson.

That idea disturbs me, not because I think Michael Jackson should be glorified (you already know what I think about high profile deaths like his) but because there is this unfortunate tendency to paint all members of military organizations with the same God-fearing, patriotic, heroic brush.

I come from a family of military people. My grandfather fought in WW II. My father and all of my siblings were in the military, sometimes taking part in peacekeeping missions overseas. My extended family includes past, present, and future military people. I grew up on and around Canadian military bases until I was in my early 20s. I may not have ever been a soldier myself, but I’m not unfamiliar with the military world, and I’ve known an awful lot of military families, both in Canada and abroad.

Soldiers — military people of all classifications all over the world — are human and, as humans, their personalities run the entire gamut of human foibles and virtues. They are good spouses and adulterers, loving parents and child abusers, heroes and cowards, generous souls and brutal bastards, saints and sinners of all shades and nuances, just like the rest of society. Basic training doesn’t hone you into a perfect specimen of humanity. A bully joining the military doesn’t suddenly become less of an asshole just because his butt is dropped into the middle of the action in Iraq.

Many young people join the military, not because they believe in serving their country, but because it pays reasonably well (when you’re single, anyway), provides you with free training in a trade, and allows you to travel. My sister, for example, as our high school graduation neared and she wasn’t going on to higher education, was given a choice of either finding a local job or joining the military. Joining the military was easier (and in retrospect was the best choice) so she enlisted. Her son is currently preparing to sign up, not because he longs to serve his country but because he’s having trouble finding other work. He may find himself in situations where he has an opportunity to be brave or even heroic but the mere act of his becoming a soldier won’t make him a hero.

(LarryE’s post, Heroics, from June 2008 provides an interesting overview of much of what I’ve been thinking and wondering about Americans and their overall attitudes towards their soldiers. The post and its comments are a thought-provoking read.)

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