“My almost perfect army will be picturesque as well as fearless. Their uniforms and flags will be designed by the foremost Hollywood scene and costume designers. The army will be as reckless as a suicide squad, as shifty as an American backfield, as merciful as the Red Cross, as relentless as the Northwest Mounted Police, as swift and terrible as a tank division, as heroic as the Coast Guard, as resourceful and tender as Tarzan, as chivalrous as a knight. It will be copied by all nations — which will be its chief merit. At home or abroad it will meet life bravely. It will swoop down on lynching parties and annihilate them. It will break up the Daughters of the American Revolution whenever they try to keep Negro singers from singing their lovely songs. It will rush to the aid of every country whose land is being invaded and whose homes are being destroyed and whose people are being murdered. If it were in existence today my army would be in Europe, helping to stop the German tide.”
— E.B. White, The Atlantic, June, 1940
His Awfulness says he is sending the United States Army to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border and round up the horrible horde that is supposedly on its way to defile our precious soil.
The United States Army says it is doing no such thing. The Pentagon even decided the efforts its personnel were making at the border — stringing some barbed wire and such — weren’t even worthy of a code name.
The Current Occupant says that if the migrants who are trying to cross the border throw rocks at the soldiers, the soldiers will answer with rifle fire.
Officers and soldiers of United States Army, current and former, say they will do no such thing. To engage in such an overreaction, they know, would be a war crime.
At first, the order to send the military to defend the border from a nonexistent threat seemed like a really bad idea. Until we heard reassurances that the military also thought it a fool’s errand. And until it was reported that some self-appointed militiamen with lots of guns were going to go there to do the kinds of things the real Army wouldn’t do, when having the real Army there suddenly sounded quite reasonable.
People who aren’t very good at taking orders don’t make good soldiers. People who are very good at taking orders don’t make good Americans. In fact, our soldiers have a record of killing and imprisoning other soldiers who try to defend the indefensible with the excuse, “I was only following orders.”
Thus has the American military — as many people who have served it in as many places as it has been — always been a bit of an oxymoron.
Much to its credit.
Utah has been mourning the loss of one of those wonderful hybrids. Maj. Brent Taylor, a Utah National Guardsman killed while on assignment in Afghanistan, was a good citizen-soldier who was also a politician who pushed for transparency in government and took great pride in the fact that his presence in Afghanistan promoted democracy in a very troubled neck of the woods. The friends he made there cast him as the very opposite of the ugly American.
His widow, the mother of his seven children, even had the public-spirited presence of mind, on the day her husband’s body arrived back on American soil, to note how appropriate it was that he returned on Election Day. She echoed his previously expressed sentiment that all these soldiers and arms and deployments of our army — unlike some others — are kind of pointless unless people on our side take full advantage of that protection to participate in the freedom they are out to protect.
Our military is a reflection of the society it serves. There are Cherokee and Comanche and Mexicans and Filipinos and some Vietnamese who may have a racial memory of a day when American soldiers were not the defenders of democracy and self-determination that they and their World War II progenitors can rightly claim to be.
Sunday is Veterans Day, born 100 years ago as Armistice Day, marking the end of the War to End War. (The phrase is attributed to H.G. Wells, who later pronounced it a particularly stupid thing to have said.)
As Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in the state’s official (and a bit early) commemoration of that day, there is still evil in the world.
Some of that evil will continue to be opposed by Americans taking up arms. Some of it may well be opposed by Americans refusing to take up arms when ordered. There is significant reason to hope that they will know the difference.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is frightened of, and would likely be incompetent with, all forms of firearms. That’s why he has sons. firstname.lastname@example.org @debatestate