NoThanks to the Troops

That is what Justin Doolittle would have liked to say to the veterans yesterday. Mr. Doolittle wrote a piece that appeared in this Veteran’s Day which has gotten some little attention from conservatives and veteran’s groups. Doolittle does not believe the troops really deserve any thanks from us for protecting our freedom because they do not, in fact, protect our freedom. Here are a few excerpts.

The millions of Americans who regularly watch nationally televised NBA games are, by now, familiar with the “NBA Cares” commercials that run quite frequently during the season. The series of promos is meant to illustrate the league’s commitment to serving the community in a variety of ways. One particularly touching example involves a collaboration between the NBA, the V Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; in the spot, several prominent players are shown visiting children stricken with cancer, many of whom look genuinely thrilled to be meeting their heroes. The league deserves credit for encouraging its players to put their fame to good use by bringing some badly needed joy to these children’s lives.

Not all of the “NBA Cares” promos are about serving the least fortunate members of our society, though. The league is determined to show its commitment to both ends of the spectrum of power. In one spot, NBA stars can be seen, not playing board games with children devastated by cancer, but, instead, touting the greatness and indispensability of the most powerful institution in the world, the United States military.

We discover that Brooklyn Nets star Paul Pierce is incredibly grateful, at a deeply personal level, that the men and women of the U.S. military are willing to “protect” him and his country (“I’m so thankful that they are able to do that for me, to make this a safer place for me to live”). Roy Hibbert, starting center for the Indiana Pacers, sees Pierce’s gratitude and raises him in a big way, making the latter’s sentiments seem woefully weak by comparison:

They’re protecting our country, they’re protecting the world, and, you know, obviously we wouldn’t have freedom without them.

This is just an extraordinary sentence. It contains three distinct, factual claims. While the first two are highly debatable, let us suspend consideration of them in order to focus on the third, which is actually an outright falsehood. Not only does Hibbert confidently assert that “we wouldn’t have freedom” were it not for the beneficence of the U.S. military, but that this is “obviously” so.

The corollary to the claim that our freedom exists only at the pleasure of the military, of course, is that the same military can revoke said freedom if it so desires. Indeed, as Hibbert so bluntly put it, “obviously we wouldn’t have freedom without them.” This widely held belief, that our freedom is bestowed on us by soldiers, has obvious implications for how the public views the military. One such implication of the ubiquity of this myth is that people will feel they owe boundless gratitude to the military as an institution and all the men and women who serve in it.

The undercurrent of all this is that “support” and “gratitude” for the military and those who serve in it is intrinsically apolitical. It’s just something that all decent Americans understand and respect. This approach serves a very important purpose, which is to further blur the lines between patriotism and support for the military. Americans of conscience who do not “support” the troops, particularly those who volunteer to fight in wars of aggression, are not allowed a seat at the table in this paradigm. Their existence is not even acknowledged, in fact. These are “very different times,” in the words of Yastrzemski, and our society has progressed to the point where such shrill voices are no longer relevant.

Supporting the military, though, and expressing gratitude for what the military is actually doing around the world, are nothing if not explicitly political sentiments. To suggest otherwise is fundamentally dishonest. It reduces sincere dissent on these matters of such tremendous consequence to our culture and our politics to nothingness.

He has more to say but these are representative samples. I suppose I ought to get upset over all of this, but somehow I’m not. I am not going to rebut, parse or analysis Mr. Doolittle’s screed. The reason is that I know what kind of game he is playing. There will be the usual expressions of outrage and will issue a mealy-mouthed non-apology apology expressing their regret if anyone was offended, as if they didn’t know already that his sentiments would offend a great many people. Maybe Salon will issue a homily in which they explain how much they are in favor of free expression, even when it is offensive to some. That is a lie. I have no doubt that if someone had written something that any member of a liberal protected class might conceivably find offensive, that writer wouldn’t write for them again.

Well, if Justin Doolittle is not grateful for the ones who really have protected the freedoms we cherish, that is his right. That is what generations of Americans have fought for. Most of us do appreciate their sacrifices and if Mr. Doolittle doesn’t like it, that is really too bad.


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