Veteran’s Day, American Exceptionalism and the American People

“Thank you for your service”. This is going to be said a countless amount of times to many veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. What are we thanking veteran’s for? This question must be asked. After analyzing the mainstream campaigns surrounding this worship of the Military Industrial Complex, I have come to the conclusion we are using euphemisms to describe the U.S. Armed Forces’ actions in the past 15 years: Killing in the name of America.

We are thanking veterans for their violent participation in a misguided war in Iraq resulting in between 145,464 – 166,140 civilian deaths in addition to epidemics of birth defects (BD), child and adult cancer since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and their use of depleted uranium shells. We are thanking veterans for their violent participation in a misguided war in Afghanistan resulting in over 451,000 civilian deaths and a disturbing increased production of opium and subsequently its product: Heroine.  We are thanking veterans for their violent participation in an unauthorized war in Pakistan and targeted assassinations of individuals without trial. We are thanking veterans for their violent participation in Operation Ocean Shield – a war against Somalian pirates since 2009 that no one is even aware of.

Thanking a veteran for his/her service is an incomplete statement. Service encompasses everything the U.S. Armed Forces have done that includes the aforementioned atrocities but also explicitly includes this underlying notion: thank you for killing foreigners when we, the citizenry, cannot bear the sight of blood on our hands.

Now that we have defined what “Service” means as a veteran, I want to get to the crux of this post: State sponsored Patriotism/Nationalism. I use these interchangeably but allow me to define both terms. Patriotism is noun created in 1720-30 used in describing the devotion, love, support, and defense of one’s country; a willingness to sacrifice oneself for one’s country (1 & 2). Nationalism is a newer term created in between 1830-1840 and expounds upon Patriotism. Let us examine the multiple definitions here:

  1. spirit or aspirations common to the whole of nation
  2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own country; patriotism.
  3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
  4. the desire for national advancement or political independence.
  5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
  6. an idiom or trait peculiar to a nation.
  7. a movement, as in the arts, based upon the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc., of a nation. 3

Number 1 makes sense as a standalone definition. This has no negative or positive connotation.

Number 2 uses patriotism to describe it. Number 3 also uses patriotism but applies the modifier of “excessive” to it. Number 4 is deceiving as national advancement is different from political independence, e.g. national advancement can be political independence but the latter can only be the former in terms of revolution. Number 6 and 7 are not applicable here in relation to patriotism. Number 5 is the one I wish to examine further and assign as the practical application of nationalism. This type of nationalism is dominant in the modern American culture from textbooks in the 4-5th grade describing the American Revolution to chants of “USA USA” at domestic sporting events.

In the United States, we believe ourselves to be of the highest standard in morals, economy, military, culture, etc. We believe our country is greater than yours. This is called American Exceptionalism. It is the logical combination of excessive patriotism combined with nationalism. As a member of this society and culture all my life, I notice my peers often forget what it means to maintain a high standard in the aforementioned arenas. I do not agree with this arrogance. I do not agree with beating our chest every moment we can. I am also guilty of American Exceptionalism when interacting with foreigners or as I like to call them – citizens of other nations. This is ingrained within us from a very young age. But why? Why do we practice blind devotion to a government that we do not approve of as shown by Congress’ 2014 approval rating of %15! Congress and the Executive branch commence wars with soldiers also known after their active duty is over as veterans.

If our country’s approval rating of those in charge of starting wars is %15 then why do practice blind devotion and 100% approve of veterans? This is the question that has perplexed me growing up in the post 9/11 environment. With the advent of the Telecommunication Age where we are all interconnected coupled with the progressive spirit of the 1960s’ anti-war protests, what happened to us as a people who freely thought? I will answer this with a quote by the Godfather of Public Relations and nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays in the first line of his book, Propaganda (1928):

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” 4

(Note: I have included a free pdf of the book here and encourage everyone to read it.) Along with Walt Lippman, Edward Bernays was one of the first U.S. Propagandists. He performed his first job in garnering support for American involvement in World War I against “The Hun”. Mr. Bernays argued that manipulation of the masses was necessary in democracy. He distrusted the masses and regarded them as cattle with “a herd type instinct”. I do not disagree because in my experience as a political operative has shown me that mass manipulation through commercials is easy and supremely effective due to our lack of critical thinking in everyday life.

Now we come full circle to my original question of what happened to the America that questioned the government? The America that did not blindly follow the government? The original question: If our country’s approval rating of those in charge of starting wars is %15 then why do practice blind devotion and 100% approve of veterans? My answer to this question is state sponsored Nationalism and Patriotism through movies, books, editorials, newspapers and sports. This movement or propaganda has always existed in my opinion as it should by a government to impress upon its populace what those who control the government desire. This began in 1986 with the movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise that we now know is famously produced by the Department of Defense (DoD). Here is a list of DoD assisted movie productions evidence by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. 

What is most disturbing is this trend is more pervasive than we are allowed to know. Recently, Senator John McCain, of all people, came out with a report stating at least 50 sports teams were paid by the Department of Defense for patriotic displays. The report, here, does not take issue with the fact there is state sponsored Nationalism and Patriotism via military displays but rather that the sports teams should be ashamed of receiving money for these “heart warming displays”! If a report like this came out in Russia then would we not criticize them as a country? The national anthem is one thing but for these militaristic displays to be pervasive in all of sports is more than troubling. It screams of an evolved form of democratic fascism where we, the people, are complicit in our manipulation and domestic demise. I believe we, the American people, have been inundated with pro-military industrial complex propaganda that we allow water shortages in Detroit but get up in arms when the mention of “military sequester” enters the conversation. This militarization of our society has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. Here is the logical break down of the argument:

  1. We, the American people, do not approve of Congress, e.g. %15 approval rating in 2014;
  2. Congress (theoretically) initiates and declares war;
  3. The American people who enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces Serve Congress’ declarations.
  4. We, the American people, thank and appreciate those who participate in the wars that we do not approve;

Therefore, we indirectly approve of Congress through worship of the those have served Congress’ wars. I believe state sponsored propaganda and promotion of American Exceptionalism (a combination of Patriotism and Nationalism) has allowed us to do ignore the logical fallacy needed in order to proceed from premise 3 to premise 4. This is why propaganda is dangerous. Propaganda is a strong tool and has been around for hundreds of years. To Mr. Bernays’ credit in Propaganda (1928), he repeatedly argues for the practice of ethics in the practice of propaganda but ethics are found few and far between the realm of public relations.

I will close with a hypothetical picture painted in word form. Imagine the term Service was assigned to a national scientist program. Imagine that we praised and worshipped those who made scientific break throughs in medicine, robotics, engineering and other STEM related fields with the same zealotry reserved for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Imagine a society where “Thank you for your service” meant thank you for helping AIDs research, thank you for saving lives not taking them. What if we actually got mad as a country when our military bombs two Doctor Without Borders’ hospitals in direct violation of the Geneva Convention’s Medical Neutrality doctrine? What if we are thanking the wrong people now? What if we realize we are being manipulated to thank those who take lives and not save them? What if instead of saying “Thank you for your service” to veterans, we asked, “Do you agree with what you did in the U.S. Armed Forces”? If we are the greatest country in the world then we are the greatest people in the world. It follows from this American Exceptionalism that we must practice excellence in all arenas especially critical thought of our government. Aristotle said it best, “We are what we repeatedly do; …Excellence is not an act but a habit”. Those who put their lives on the line have courage but it takes courage to ask why and we must never forget this.

Till’ my words appear again.

Brancis Facon

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