How We Perceive the Military: A Distortion

Ian Swenson

Jackie Reich | Student Life Newspaper
While flying home for the winter break, I noticed, as I’m sure many of you did, literally hundreds of soldiers wandering the airport in uniform on their way home. For me, this meant that I was reminded of my feelings toward the military and the way in which our country uses our armed forces around the world. I understand that defense is an unfortunate necessity and that our soldiers are volunteers filling that need. However, it bothers me that in this country there is a narrative that our armed forces are fighting to defend our freedom and that they are, as one Navy advertisement proclaims, “A Global Force For Good.” This just isn’t true. A quick look at American military actions and their intent since the Second World War shows that:



El Salvador—Imperialism (Support a Capitalist government with weapons and training that then slaughters around a hundred thousand of the opposition.)

Argentina—See above.

Peru—See above.

Guatemala—See above.

Nicaragua—See above while also consorting with Iran.

Panama—See above without Iran.

Colombia—See above and include a “drug war” that is fought in a way that makes it impossible to win and sustains the three-way civil war.

Grenada—Boost support for Ronald Reagan by “winning” somewhere.

Iraq-1—Imperialism and oil security.

Iraq-2—See above.

Beyond this, the greatest threat to the freedom of American citizens comes from the actions of our own government. In the past decade, we’ve seen the introduction of the Patriot Act, learned what waterboarding meant and have watched a small military base in Cuba become one of the most important topics in American politics. The Bush administration showed us how to manipulate the judicial system, how to monitor American citizens and how to make the airport an even greater headache. I’m not advocating for a particular view on how our military should intervene in international affairs—that discussion is too complicated for a Student Life op-ed—but I think it’s important to be intellectually honest about what it does. This is especially true given that in 2011 (the most recent year for which we have a solid number), we spent $695.7 billion on the military, which is roughly six times that of the next largest military budget in the world (China).

The military doesn’t only affect how we as a nation are perceived abroad, but also how we perceive ourselves and what we are able to do with our tax dollars. Each tax dollar spent not only represents support for a given program but also the choice not to fund something else. Given that our economy is still not 100 percent, our public education system is all over the place, we have basic infrastructure in need of renewal and replacement for the 21st century and the budget is one of the biggest issues facing our federal government, we cannot afford to lie to ourselves. So, you support the military and role it plays in pressing for American interest in the 148 countries around the world in which we have some number of active military personnel or that we have at least 662 military bases in 38 foreign countries, then that should be the pro side of the conversation. But don’t tell me that there is an imminent legitimate threat to American sovereignty and security and that defending America is the bulk of what we do abroad, because that’s false.

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