Sunday, September 25, 2016

Won't somebody think of The Troops?

So here's something that always goes over really well, a foreigner wants to discuss something Americans hold dear.  Very dear. THE MOST DEAR in fact.  That's right, I want to talk about The Troops.

You love The Troops.  I know this because you keep telling me.  I'm half a world away and yet somehow you find a way to tell me constantly.  Lately, I've been hearing it more than usual because some NFL guys haven't been standing for the National Anthem and apparently that is a real slap in the face to The Troops.  America, I hope you know I love you lots, but we need to talk.  There is something very very weird about the way you talk about your troops.

So what do I know about loving The Troops you ask? (J/K, I know you didn't say that, you obviously yelled that.  The Troops get y'all very worked up.  Everyone knows this. EVERYONE.)  Well, actually I know quite a bit about loving The Troops.  More than you think.  More than you'll ever know.  See unlike you I grew up in the early 80's in Apartheid Era South Africa.  This may or may not mean anything to you, depending on what movies you have or haven't watched so let me explain.  If you - like me - were a white person from a small town in South Africa during the 80's your life had one purpose: To save the country from the coming onslaught of the black, communist hordes.  Growing up, we loved the troops.  My favourite T-shirt had a soldier on it and said "Fight Terrorism" (Full disclosure, I had no idea what that meant, I just knew Terrorism = Communism = Evil).  We had colouring books in kindergarden featuring the troops.  There were pop songs on TV about supporting the troops.  We held concerts for the troops.  We all wanted to be the troops, which was lucky because that wasn't optional.  Back then all dudes had to report for 2 years of mandatory service after high school.  So we cared about The Troops because we had to.  My dad was The Troops. My brothers were The Troops.  I was going to be The Troops one day and if I managed to not die or step on a land mine*, then so would my children.  Didn't stop there! Come High School, every Wednesday all the dudes had to dress up in military browns (yes that's our military colours, get over it) and learn things like marching, shooting and bomb detection.  No, I wasn't in a military school, this was every school.  Then there was the camps where we had to go into the wild, learn survival and camouflage and how to clean automatic rifles and the like.  So just trust me when I say I know a thing or two about revering The Troops, and over here that went way above and beyond wearing flag pins and saying "thank you for your service!" when you saw guys in uniform.

That's just half of it.  Look I know how proud you are of your flag and national anthem but full disclosure, you were held up as an example to us of people disrespectful to their flag and anthem.  Didn't see that coming, did you?  We felt we were far more respectful because unlike you, we didn't put our flag on cars, or clothing or bikinis.  That flag was sacred, it was treated as sacred as it was hoisted in front of the assembled students each day.  You didn't wear it, it wasn't a decoration, it was our flag.  Similarly, any artist singing the anthem and deciding to "make it their own" by adding 400 extra notes to it would never have worked again.  The was the right way sing Die Stem and then... well no that was it. You did it the right way our you didn't do it at all.

Of course with hindsight being 20/20 and all I'm not saying we were better at patriotism than you are or that we had it figured out and you don't.  After all, we were being prepared to serve as the enforcers of a fascist police state built on the brutal subjugation of all other races so I'm CLEARLY not saying this was a great thing, I'm just saying don't try to lecture me on Loving The Troops, you guys don't have the patent on fervent Nationalism or Military Patriotism.  All I'm saying is, maybe listen to me for 5 minutes, I may know what I'm talking about.

[OK so after thinking about this for a while I decided to put this break in the post.  Up to this point, when I used the word "you" I meant you personally.  You: the individual, intelligent, curious, citizen of America reading this post.  I may or may not know your name but I know the vast majority of my readers are American for some reason.  I appreciate you taking the time to read this whole post, trying to digest what I'm saying and not just looking for that one sentence to yell at me for in the comments.  I know you're not a monolithic entity, I've been to the USA, I loved it.  It's a great big beautiful country filled with a diverse range of truly interesting people, some of whom I'm very lucky to be friends with.  The irony is not lost on me that people from outside the US often criticize the US for not understanding the diverse nature of other nations while treating you as if you were all one big homogeneous community with the exact same ideas, beliefs and ideals!  That's very much what I'm trying to avoid here.  But from here on I'm going to talk to the corporate you, not the individual you.  A lot of what I'm about to say may not apply to you personally but that's not the you I'll be addressing from this point.  The "you" I'm speaking to now are the Talking Heads, the loud voices with the cameras pointed at them who do seem to think they speak for all of you.  They often seem to be of the opinion that you should all be one homogeneous community with the exact same ideas, beliefs and ideals (and that if you disagree with that you should leave the country).   So just keep that in mind and maybe disagree with them first and me second.  ]

The way you talk about The Troops is weird because you don't talk about them like they're people.  You say you love them, but you love them the way you love the Native Americans.  You love the idea of them.  You love the noble imagery.  You're proud to have a couple in your family tree somewhere. You love them as mascots, you invoke them as talismans to give weight to your own opinions.  Sometimes it seems like they're not people to you at all, they're more like crosses you can hold up to ward off dissenters.  Because when the real people - the troops, not The Troops - want something more than thanks you seem to love them a whole lot less.  When their actual imagery doesn't match the noble picture you paint, you pretend they don't exist.  The actual troops are far more than just the square jawed Marines in crisp uniforms saluting the flag.  They're more than the noble dead with the Stars & Stripes draped over their coffins.  They're also the homeless on your streets you wish could just go somewhere else.  They're the crippled and broken desperate for medical care from a broken bureaucratic mess.  And because of all that, they're also the victims of police violence more often than you'd like to think about.  But what right do you use their sacrifice and suffering as a cudgel against others?

I'm not asking you to stop loving your country or to stop having pride in those who serve it.  I'm saying that when you use them like objects instead of as people, then it's weird.  No, not weird, its wrong.  Ask yourself, who do you love? Do you love The Troops - some kind of platonic ideal that just happens to fit your exact concept of patriotism? Or do you love the actual people?  Because the actual people are not props to rest your opinions on, they're human beings from diverse backgrounds and they're not always going to agree with you.  And that should be OK.  As an American that is something you should be OK with**.  It should be OK to want things to be better, and to keep getting better.  Better for the troops and also for the civilians.  Is that really such an unpatriotic thought to you?

Way to alienate the only people who read your shit Eugene...

*Land Mines.  Because conflicts come and go but land mines stick around forever!
**Just going by what you say about yourselves and your ideals here guys.

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