I've been doing some thinking lately, which is never a good sign.
First of all, I don't have anything inherently against the military. I don't have anything inherently against Christianity.
Something I've always noticed, though, is that reading a lot of what recent writers have done to praise the military and those who serve or have served in it (e.g., Thomas Ricks, Stephen Ambrose, and Ed Ruggiero) always made me feel vaguely uneasy. Until recently, however, I didn't quite know why. But lately, it seems to have become a lot clearer in my mind.
Last Friday, when L., A., and I were at dinner, L. was talking about one of her characters, who was some hardcore elite commando-type guy, and the difficulties she had in getting into his head. And the whole discussion about it really set me on edge, for reasons I didn't know why. I have a student in one of my classes who writes a lot about his military life and why being in the service is important to him, and at first, I thought this was just a reaction to him--but as I thought more, it's really not. So this past week, I've been considering my reaction.
It's like this, near as I can figure. The reason why I don't like a lot of people who talk about why we should respect the military and those who serve in it is very similar to the reason why I don't like Evangelical Christianity. Because both groups present rhetorical images that are the same in a lot of ways. Both present a man (well, the military presents a group of men, but close enough) and say "He sacrificed himself for you. He went through inhuman agonies for you. He offered his very life as a gift to save you." Oh, granted, there are important differences--freedom drives one, salvation drives the other--but the underlying message of pain and sacrifice is the same. And so is the secondary message "If it weren't for this sacrifice, you'd be in Hell" (or under tyranny, which is the same thing in this discourse).
And so is the final exhortation to the listener: "Because of this sacrifice, you owe this man your love."
This wouldn't be bad--except that showing the love carries with it a bunch of political overtones that I don't quite agree with. For example, in order to show you love Jesus, you have to vote pro-life/anti-gay/etc.; in order to show you love veterans, you have to vote pro-military spending/refrain from criticizing our foreign policy/etc. In short, the rhetoric of sacrifice becomes used to justify anything done in the name of those who sacrificed.
And rhetorically, if you come from a position of "I sacrificed for you; I offer you a gift," that tends to put you above criticism or reproach. After all, if you're giving a gift to someone--particularly an expensive gift--you can't easily refuse it or speak ill of the giver. This is where my creeped-out feelings come in--the act of giving becomes not a way to benefit others, but a way to control them instead. A way to say "I did this good thing for you, now you owe me." The gifts of salvation or freedom are not given free and clear, but with conditions attached to their use.
Oh, I realize that not every Christian takes this attitude. Not every Evangelical Christian takes this attitude. And as chaobell rightly pointed out to me some time ago, not everyone in the military takes this attitude. And yet...well, it seems to me that most of the people who are vocal about Evangelism or military virtue do take it. So the opinions of a few (or at least a minority) become the perception that most other people have toward their groups.
And I realize that not everyone reading this will agree. Very well; you have the right--indeed, I fully expect someone to say that the people I disparage suffered and died to guarantee all of us that right--to make comments below. But before you do, I invite you to consider this:
My aim is not to persuade you to agree with me, or to change your opinion. What drives my opinions here is not disloyalty or insult, but the belief that nobody should be above criticism. Not even if they suffered agonies unimaginable.