On this Veterans Day let me say thank you to everyone who has served in our military forces, willing to risk life and limb for the defense of our nation. Let me also send out a hearty Semper Fi to all my fellow Marines in honor of yesterday’s 235th birthday of our beloved Corps.
The very notion that a person would be willing to sacrifice his life for his country is alien to most Americans. Our nation is infected with a narcissism that is displayed by extreme consumerism— eating and drinking ourselves to death and maxing out our credit cards on every hot item that comes along. It has no sense of the future or the past. It has no sense of the world that exists outside the shell of the self-immersed. It is visible in our major political parties, both of whom bow to Wall Street. While being inherent in our human psyche, this narcissism is exacerbated by our capitalist economic system that teaches us that only material gain and personal security have merit. Our religions, all of which teach us to love our neighbor as ourself, seem powerless to subdue it. To the narcissist, there are no great causes to which one can, or should, lend himself.
This lack of fighting spirit was observed by French historian Jules Michelet in the years following the 1848 revolution in Paris. As a result of that revolution the petite bourgeoisie obtained its freedom. Businessmen, “professionals”, politicians, artisans and skilled craftsmen, etc., gained their rights, and through their representation in the national assembly they became the defacto ruling class. Although initially progressive in their political attitudes, they soon became comfortable with their position and lost sight of their less fortunate brothers in the working class. Michelet rebukes their smug elitism as, “the disastrous doctrine, that passive internal freedom, preoccupied with its own salvation, which delivers the world to evil”. The petite bourgeoisie of course has grown in size over the many decades since then, at least among the developed nations. Today they are the university educated class that is headed for positions in either business or government. They are the class which is looking to buy a nice suburban home with a three car garage. They are the class that won’t being going to war, because they don’t have to. They are represented by folks like Dick Cheney, who urge others to go to war to defend America, but who have avoided it themselves at every opportunity. They are represented by an entire class of politicians who didn’t serve and whose children won’t serve because they don’t have to. By definition, defending our nation is now “voluntary”. Consider that statement deeply, “defending our nation is voluntary”. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Up until the 1970s the petty-bourge did go to war. It was even advised that if you were seeking leadership in government, you should first serve in a military leadership position. This led men like John Kennedy, John McCain, and John Kerry to serve as officers in Vietnam. But those days are past. Fighting and dying for our country is now mainly the role of the laboring class. With leaders today who have no vision of what a great nation looks like, will our nation come to the aid of the forgotten people of the world who are starving, who are brutalized daily, or who work as slave laborers? For the past 40 years, our nation has been steadily turning inwards, absorbed only by self entertainment. As a consequence, we see the rise of politicians like Rand Paul, who professes a libertarian philosophy, and John Boehner, who spends most of his days on the golf course. Neither will go to bat for workers in Mexican maquillas or abused women in Afghanistan. Today we have few JFKs. Today’s libertarian leaders, like their narcissistic constituents, are very much prepared to “deliver the world to evil”.
I will close with a link to an essay written by fellow Marine, Jim Webb. He is a decorated Vietnam Veteran, an accomplished author, and now Senator from Virginia. He is an exception to the rule among Washington politicians.