Soldiers Are Not Saints

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We’ve all seen those memes on the interwebs. There’s a picture of a living or dead soldier or soldiers. There’s a flag and then some schmaltzy patriotic message designed to grab American by the heartstrings and get them to agree that the American serviceperson is the closest thing the United States has to saints and demigods. Alternatively, how about the ones where they pose the children of the dead Saints by caskets, grave sites, or for the love of sanity being handed the folded flags at the graveside services. Moreover, mind you I’m not even talking about all of the ones directly connecting the actions of the dead Saint to service to god.

The totality of this makes me sick.

Now, before the hate flows strong and all of you start screaming that I’m an unpatriotic piece of shit and that if you find me, you’ll staple your freedom cloth to my ass and have the freedom birds carry my fat ass to Venezuela, listen (or read if you will) for a minute. I do have reasons for the way I feel.

I am the son of a veteran. My father served in the Vietnam war. I am the nephew of a Veteran. My Uncle served in the Vietnam war. There have been and still, are many other members of my extended family serving in one branch of the US Military or another. I was raised to respect people who have served and to understand that it is not an easy job. Hell people, I wanted to join the Navy after high school, but apparently no matter how well you do on the assessment tests being legally blind in one eye and having a slight heart murmur is enough to keep you out.

Let me boil it down. I have nothing but respect for American service members.

Now the but.

But in no way are service personnel better than the people they have enlisted to protect. They are normal men and women who have signed on to do an admittedly hard job. But so, do a lot of civilian men and women. Loggers, Fishers and associated workers, aircraft pilots and flight engineers, roofers, sanitation workers (refuse and recycling), iron and steel workers, truck and sales drivers, farmers/ranchers/agricultural workers, construction and extraction workers, grounds workers, mechanics/installers/repairers, police officers, electric line workers, taxi drivers and chauffeurs, telecom installers and repair techs, athletes, electricians, painters, and HVACR technicians all have more dangerous jobs than American service personnel. Just think about that. All of those occupations and many I didn’t even add are more dangerous than serving in one of the United States armed forces.

However, I have to repeat it. I have nothing but respect for men and women who willingly enter a combat zone and face the potential of death. But they are not saints.

When the men came home from Vietnam, let’s just continue to ignore all of the women who served in a support capacity in the warzone, they were treated like shit. It wasn’t their fault that the government committed international war crimes in Southeast Asia and it wasn’t their fault we were there in the first place. However, they took the brunt of the blame. They were spat on, screamed at, attacked, denied jobs, denied mental and physical care, and generally treated like monsters by civilians and the government alike. It was and still is a national disgrace that needs to be addressed.

The Persian Gulf War (aka The Nintendo War) was the first large-scale military action post-Vietnam. I was fourteen when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and I can attest that the media treated the “War” like it was a game. The war crimes we committed were largely ignored. The damage we did to the region was largely ignored. Our abandoning of the Kurds after convincing them to rise up wasn’t completely ignored, but it was explained away and forgotten. However, not of that was the worst part.

When the soldiers came home, they were treated like minor demi-gods.

I am not kidding you. Talk shows and news programs had random servicemen, remember let’s not talk about the women, had hundreds of them on so they could lavish praise and worship on them. They were all called heroes, and there was even a ticker tape parade for them in New York City. There was also a fucked up heroes parade in Los Angeles, but that atrocity was an entertainment clusterfuck of Star War Holiday Special proportions.

I’m sure part of the reason for the excessive adulations was an overcorrection for how their fathers and grandfathers were treated after Vietnam. However, part of it had to be purposeful propaganda.

Why?

American service personnel are treated like dogs by their paymasters. They are paid subsistence wages. Their healthcare is uneven at best and dangerous at worst. The homes they are supposed to be able to live in as a benefit of service have been shown to be poorly constructed deathtraps on multiple locations. The college benefits which were groundbreaking after World War 2 have been cut and rearranged to the point that many men and women are no better off than civilians trying to get an adult education. Moreover, to me the most egregious thing of all, Veterans count as one of the largest percentages of homeless Americans. So what does the government do to abrogate some of the resentment? Turn service members into saints.

Even as a teenager who dreamed of joining the Navy it all made me uncomfortable.

Now we get to the rub.

On Septemeber 11th 2001 the transformation of the United States of America’s military from a group of men and women (yes we can finally acknowledge the distaff members of the services) brave, honorable citizens to Saints set above us all in the order of society was complete. Now the flag is a sanctified freedom cloth we must all worship. Now the anthem is a solemn and hallowed song to be honored and lay ourselves prostrate to. Now it doesn’t matter how incompetent or villainous a current service member is they are still better than all of us.

Moreover, please, Please, PLEASE try and remember that I respect the sacrifices and commitment to the country of the regular American service member. They are not the enemy. The enemies are the media and the government.

Regularly we see the freedom cloth flying while politicians and media talking heads beat us over the head with the Sainthood of our brave men and women before they try to convince us of one political position or another. The real sacrifices of our men and women are not used to advocate for peace by these people they are used as a reason for more war. For more death. For more nation-building. For more war crimes that doesn’t give a flying fuck about said, men and women.

Historically the men and women of the American Military have stood between all of us and our adversaries. Yes, bad things have been done by American personnel, but much good has been done as well. There is no such thing as a perfect person and this there is no such thing as an American Saint.

We all have the potential for greatness and darkness within and therefore so do the people who defend us. I have not listed the atrocities committed by American service personnel, and there are so truly awful ones because it’s not necessary. We all know they’re not perfect. We all know they are as damaged as we are. We all know they have done some genuinely heroic and amazing things in the course of their duties.

However, so have countless Americans who’ve never even considered serving.

So the next time someone takes a knee instead of standing for the anthem, maybe you could stop and wonder why you’re mad.

Authors Note: I know a segment of you will be pissed reading this no matter how many times I scream I respect service personnel and none of this is their fault. If you are one of these people all I can say is I’m sorry you can’t see beyond your personal horizon.

Josh Hilden

When I was born on August 3, 1976 in the great state of Michigan the hills shook and the sky was swept with fire. These were portents of the greatness for my future that was written in the stars ... I'm still waiting for that greatness. My name is Josh Hilden and I am many things. I am a husband, a father, a son, a friend. These are all important things but at my core I am an artist and the medium that I work in is words. I am a writer of Horror, Science Fiction, Drama, and Role Playing Games. I worked for Palladium Books (www.palladiumbooks.com) and Third Eye Games (www.thirdeyegames.net) before striking out on my own and founding a small press publishing company Gorillas with Scissors Press (www.gwspress.com). I also work for Fat Goblin Games (www.fatgoblingames.com). In the everyday world I can be found spending time with my family and friends. I have been married to my lovely wife Karen since 1996 and we have six amazing children. We tend to be a family of unabashed geeks and gamers who were geek before geek was chic. If you are really interested in me I am very active online with a personal and a writing blog along with a plethora of social media outlets. If you have any questions or just want to chat hit me up!