No one wants to spit on American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rightly so. But the media have leaned so far the other way that they frequently — almost ubiquitously — ascribe the motive of these soldiers as fighting for America’s freedom, thereby bestowing on each of them (no matter how they actually behave in combat) some level of heroism. This, of course, is quite common in a lot commercials these days, as companies pander to right-wingers and the families of service men and women. But it also occurs in the mainstream media. Listen for it. It isn’t necessarily that the media people are saying that the official mission is freedom fighting — they know that would be viewed as partisan. But they are not shy about saying something like this: “Eve Smith’s son is in Iraq fighting for his country’s freedom.”
Even after the horror of Abu Ghraib, we don’t seem willing to acknowledge that putting young people in the situation many of these soldiers now find themselves in does not necessarily make them heroes; in fact, it too frequently turns them into monsters. Watch this recently released footage from 2007 taken from a helicopter gunship. It shows American soldiers mowing down a group of civilians on the ground. Watch all of it, including the part in which they shoot men trying to come to the aid of one of the fallen wounded. Then tell me those soldiers are fighting for our freedom.
Listen to the chatter. These soldiers appear itching to shoot. For them, blasting away at a group of the “enemy” seems to be sport. They even laugh when a ground support vehicle runs over the body of one of their victims.
When the media mindlessly call what these men and women are asked to do “heroic,” it masks the very real ugliness that is an inevitable outcome.
I’m not saying all of our soldiers react this way. And I’m not saying that if I were in their position I would react any differently. I don’t know how I would react. My point is that war sucks. It should never be entered into lightly or under false pretenses, because this kind of thing is inevitable, because most people are not heroes. Even ones who put on a uniform.