Scoundrels, Patriotism, and No Skin in the Game

Wounded veteran honored.   When I look at my newsfeed and google search, this is the primary message just after the otherwise unremarkable State of the Union address given by President Obama.  Sitting next to the First Lady was Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, dressed in full military regalia, along with his father.

As John Cassidy, blogging at the New Yorker, remarks,

it was truly hard to watch.  But even harder to look away.

The pop culture web sites laud Remsburg’s presence at the speech and service to the nation, but are silent on motive for the invitation to this very public national event.  Even the political and rabidly anti-conservative social media site, Teabonics, wants us to commit to a false dualism that pits Republican bad guests (Duck Dynasty) to Democratic good guests (Remsburg).


Time called it the State of the Union’s most despicable moment.  As Cassidy on his New Yorker blog notes,

… it was a political ploy—a fiendishly effective way to leave us with something else to talk about than an embattled President defending his policies and seeking to turn the conversation from whether he’s a lame duck.

In his speech, Obama said,

My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy…. The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.

In our evermore politically divided nation, if you are inclined to believe him, you want to, either because the oratory is good, or because you back his policies, or because it’s better than the alternative. But he’s being disingenuous.

It is easy.  It’s easy for a huge percentage of our nation that is not asked to share the burden of military service.  It’s easy for the children of all, or nearly all, of those people in attendance at the State of the Union who have not fallen under the pall of what is called economic conscription.  (More than half the members of the Senate and House are millionaires and the average net worth, I kid you not, is $7 million.  So sayeth the Center for Responsive Politics.)

Yes, we have an all-volunteer force, but it is a misnomer.  The widening economic disparity in our country makes it so.  This means – and for the past fifty years, this has been true in the U.S. – that poor people, primarily men, and primarily men of color, bear a disproportionate burden that comes from serving in our military during wartime.  Less than one percent of our population.  Loss of life.  Loss of limb.  Loss of brain function.  Loss of psyche function.  Loss of family stability.  Loss.  Often unremitting loss.


This is why Representative Charlie Wrangel continues, over and over, to introduce into our Congress a bill that would reinstate the draft.  And not just for men, but for women, too.  He is no hawk, thrilling to our military might.  He is, however, clear about the injustice of how our all-volunteer system works:

Since we replaced the compulsory military draft with an all-volunteer force in 1973, our nation has been making decisions about wars without worry over who fights them. I sincerely believe that reinstating the draft would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation.

I don’t mean to make light of this but it reminds me of an old Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon,” where Captain Kirk encounters two planets long at war.  Both planets developed a computer-simulated system that calculates damage and identifies causalities, who must submit for disintegration.  This system was based on a treaty after conventional war was deemed too destructive – both environmentally and to society as well.  Made easy, the war had lasted centuries. No inspiration or motivation to stop it.


Though the standing ovation was for U.S. Army Ranger Sargent First Class Cory Remsburg, isn’t the applause complicit with the system that allows one man to go on deployment ten times while others never have to worry about it?  Our nation can do this, and does do this without much thought, because so many of us – too many of us – have no skin in the game.

Bob Dylan sang, based on Samuel Johnson’s quote, “patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings,” and I can’t help myself feeling like Obama is not the only scoundrel in this equation: I think we all find ourselves clinging shamefully.

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0 Responses to Scoundrels, Patriotism, and No Skin in the Game

  1. Kinda odd to have a peacenik rationale for reinstating the draft. But it makes sense. What would be really cool is if we had plenty of soldiers and no wars, so we had to give the soldiers other things to do. Like insulate houses and stuff :^)

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