Monday, July 4, 2011

The Military, Nationalism, Pacifism, Equality and The American Way

“Everything can be explained in context” is one of the common axioms of Attachment Theory; A new scientific/philosophical/psychological/theological/anthropological explanation of how we are innately tied together in a form of universal collectivity (or what I simply refer to as the “universal”).  We depend upon each other down to what many call the soul or spirit level more than we ever knew, and it is being proven in the various fields mentioned above. 

I point this out, because it can be so easy to discredit others if they don't conform to our ideals, and thus discard any attempt at empathy, and by doing so, to de-humanize.  This can be seen just as much with tyrants as with pacifists.  In the sometimes insular world of academia, I have seen it as well, even with people who claim to be all-inclusive.  One need look no further than a pacifist’s view of those in the military, and the common assumptions that are derived from the outside view.
Master Sergeant Stan Goff, U.S. Army, Retired
I credit Eastern Mennonite University, a school widely known to hold a pacifistic stance, with attempting to bring military viewpoints to campus over this past year.  I remember one coffeehouse panel in particular that opened my eyes to my own strong biases, and how much I tended to lump the entire military together; almost as if it had one collective opinion; a de-humanization that seemed to assume the most unrealistic possible definition of “collective consciousness”.  In many ways, I had failed in looking at the military as comprised of individual humans.  Those individual humans represented on this particular panel described their individual lives and brought an entirely new perspective to their own humanity, which I have often subconsciously and consciously stereotyped as perpetrators of injustice.

Stan Goff, a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant, has further opened my eyes to the reality of the individual in the military.  An individual that is often tired, that can see no further than the foreign climate or daily task (often mundane) in front of him/her; that is faced with a thousand tedious mind-numbing daily orders and that is simply looking to go home most of the time; home to the familiar.  His description of the U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994 was spectacular in detail, and proved to be a significant element in his own intellectual evolution, which, in his case, meant that the Haiti mission was to be his last. 

Goff described the military as a “system”; very much a microcosm of the macro society in which we all live.  The petty political games, the individual moves for power, the struggle to be one-up over the next person, and the frustration with mindless actions and decisions by others in an imperfect world are humorously described at times:

“Master Sergeant Goff, the Sergeant Major says you need to move your tent over one space”.  “Just who in the fuck engineered this goat fuck anyhow?  Maybe the fuckin’ sergeant major would like to set the motherfuckin’ tent up his motherfuckin’ self.  Maybe we’ll just sleep under the motherfuckin’ stars.  It don’t look like fuckin’ rain, now, does it?  What the fuck has been going on here for the last two days?  Sunbathin’?  Shell collectin’?  Sippin’ cocktails on the fuckin’ veranda and watching the fuckin’ sky change?”

When we are faced with reality, as illustrated so eloquently above, most of simply want to get through the fuckin’ day.  We find ourselves enmeshed in a system not of our own making.  Get up, go to work, pay for things:  food, clothes, water, a place to live and the right to legally stay there, taxes so we don’t go to jail, and even to pay for the fact that we were born, breath and occupy space.  Yes, it’s absurd, but we’re caught up in it, and if anyone gets in our way, or doesn’t see things like we do, we very quickly forget that they also have their own absurdities in their own lives that they’re trying to deal with, and we fail to take those into account through our limited vision. 

Now, none of this is to excuse the inexcusable.  Goff, though it took many years, and the courage to go against his deeply ingrained military training, eventually began to ask the tough questions, and to bring himself to an awareness; the kind of awareness that truly can connect with the universal.  When he wrote his book Hideous Dream (in 2000), about the 1994 U.S. invasion of Haiti, Goff’s evolution wasn’t yet advanced to the pacifist stage (where he now is), but he was heading closer in that direction, making a stop at Socialism, in somewhat of a parallel to how my own worldview has developed; although I never was a member of the military. 

Goff finally began to put all the pieces together from his years of service beginning in Vietnam, and realized that what he had been seeing in U.S. military action, despite all the pretenses passed down through the chain of command, were naked power grabs for money and resources.  None of this is a surprise to many, but for a man who came out of the very system he was beginning to recognize, it was a major step, and made me question:  Why is it that some have the ability to step back and realize what is going on, while others either refuse to see or are incapable?  I believe the answer has nothing to do with intelligence, as there are many people much smarter than any of us who continue to be caught up in the absurd.  I think Attachment Theory is right in that it can only be explained through context. Societal context is a construction of countless tiny actions, decisions, conceptions, perceptions, conditioning, etc... Depending on how these happen to be ordered in any individual's life, and the timing with which they encounter them, combined with the uniqueness of their own humanity, can make all the difference in the questions which are brought to the surface.

Goff claims as much in that the system’s very construction is the answer.  We live in a world (at least in the developed world), where everyone is looking out for their own individuality, and of those around them; resembling the new appreciation I have for buddies who only look out for each other on the battlefield, with not much concern for the bigger picture.  Again, we can see Attachment Theory at play.  The question is, how do we use Attachment Theory for good in this world rather than, as some do, exploitation of others?

The upper echelons of power, as well as the “average citizen”, look to their own interests, but, and this is the key point, those interests are all tied to each other.  So, even in the context of power, we see that we cannot survive without the other.  Wouldn’t then, it make more sense to work with the other, in a spirit of community, rather than competition; in a recognition that we are all the same?  This is the conclusion I believe that Goff came to, and why he ultimately became disillusioned with the American way; a way that on this Fourth of July is well-articulated in many of our country’s documents, but, in practice, has missed the point of what equality means.  No, we should not look at equality as having an equal chance to succeed just as much as the next person, but that each human life is valuable in and of itself.  With that adjusted outlook, only then can we start to break down this Western system of individualistic absurdity and greed that we all live under, and only then can we change those individual daily relationships that, as a whole, construct both the society and culture that we live in.  For what is success by the American definition?  We can choose to take our “equal” opportunity at success to succeed materially and ultimately exploit others as would need to be done in modern American society, or we can look at success as bringing us closer together and form a more cohesive advancement towards the universal.  A mindset change, a paradigm change is required of all involved if the system is going to change; a system that manifests itself through the minutiae of countless everyday actions and decisions based, ultimately, on particular societal protocols.

I am inspired by people like Goff, who after a 20 year military career was still willing to question, and continue to question, ultimately becoming a pacifist at what is now a late stage in his life.  As he said, what does loving your country mean?  His answer was solidarity expressed to those left out of the system in an effort to be inclusive, but ultimately changing the injustices by changing the system itself.  My answer is similar in that loving your country is no different than loving those in it, and for that reason, I believe we should discard the nationalistic question, because nationalism is no longer relevant when love is brought in.  Love fully expressed IS revolutionary, and is not easy.  Love is also more inclusive than we can ever imagine and is not limited by anything human, such as the arbitrary borders (of all kinds) that separate people.  For after all, how does one put limits on love, which is the true "higher power", no matter what the context?

Note:  All quotations were taken from Stan Goff's book Hideous Dream: A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti published by Soft Skull Press, Inc. in 2000

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