Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Duty, Honor, Country

Ezra Klein:

TAPPED: I loathe the tendency -- by politicians and pundits, liberals and conservatives -- to dreamily speak of the great sacrifice, magnificent courage, inspiring intellect, and extraordinary characters of our troops. It's bullshit. And it's bullshit designed to make us feel better, so we don't have to face what we've done to these young people, and don't have to imagine the toll a warzone takes on real humans, rather than imagined supermen.

They're not doing a magnificent job. They're not approaching each day with stoic courage and endless optimism. They're doing their best. These are kids. I knew them in high school. They entered the military because they sought discipline, or loans, or redemption, or very occasionally, honor. They were not a wiser breed, or a braver strain -- they were just kids, they made a decision that seemed right at the time, and now they're doing their damnedest to survive. It comforts us to speak of them all as Rhode Scholars, automatons who run on courage and faith and perform with grace and cheer. It comforts us to speak of them like that because it allows us to deny the image of twentysomethings lying terrified in the desert, straining to make it through that day, and the next, and the one after it. By so lavishly honoring them, we transform our mental picture of who fights in this war, and we allow their imagined stoicism to ease our onrushing guilt....

The difference between going to war and imagining it is that when you daydream about battle, it's hellishness takes on a sort of beauty, it allows men to emerge heroes and courage to reign. In our minds, it can be magnificent. For those fighting it, it isn't. Homelife takes on the glow of heaven.

That doesn't mean war is never necessary, or battles should never be fought. But society must reckon with their toll more realistically. We shouldn't deny the horrors of combat by overwriting the humanity of those conducting it.... [T]hose who went endured despite their unreadiness. And we who stayed behind do them a disservice, we dishonor the troops, if we pretend they were somehow prepared for this life, rather than thrust into it.

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