The sunshine was the icing on the cake, and we were all cheering. As the crowd swelled in numbers that could rival the Yale-Harvard Game, our campus rejoiced in what was a truly gripping victory against Army. Some sober, some drunk, others a blissful medium between cross and faded. We won.
But I doubt many of us would have mourned a loss. After all, our reverence for our opponents was a little more than pronounced. With all the saluting, singing and officers soaring through the sky with giant flags strapped to their backs, the crowd’s automatic admiration for the U.S. military left me increasingly confused.
Full disclosure: I’m not an American. As a Brit, I rarely see my country’s flag outside of the Olympics or the World Cup. Overt expressions of patriotism are rarely seen outside of the United States.
That being said, every military is deserving of respect. After all, their job is risky. However, the degree of hero-worship awarded to military service people in the United States is problematic. It emotionally precludes civilians from being critical of military conduct.
A “man in uniform,” is stereotypically sexy for a reason. In fact, when we see men or women in their military uniforms, we make a lot of assumptions about their characters.
We assume that they are remarkably brave. But surely some service members might be motivated by a free ride to college, while others may enlist to follow in their father’s footsteps or travel the world.
We’d rather indulge in our imagination of what a storybook soldier would be like, when in reality, many are just decent women and men trying to make an honest living. Most soldiers are economically rational agents who weigh the costs of their career options and pick whatever benefits them the most.
We devalue the term “hero” when we ascribe this term to every single service member. Certainly there are many heroes in the U.S. military, men and women who have performed exceedingly brave tasks in the call of duty; but it is difficult to adequately celebrate them when we label every service member a hero. Moreover, our veneration of the military often overlooks the bravery and sacrifices made by the local forces that fight alongside us.
Interestingly, we seem to be more prepared to accept that members of certain other professions can be flawed.
Police officers keep us safe too; their occupations can also lead them into the line of fire. However, when we see a police officer walking down the street, we do not typically stop to salute them for serving our community so bravely. Rather, the public and the media more readily criticize cops when their conduct is not on par with our expectations. Just look at the outcry in Ferguson, Missouri.
The media sensationalizes possible threats to sell newspapers. In turn, we fear the worst and believe only our military can save us. When these threats do not materialize, we assume the armed forces valiantly secured our safety. In reality, we are often not in as much danger as we were led to believe.
This makes us more willing to turn a blind eye to the Pentagon’s estimate of 26,000 uninvestigated cases of sexual assault from female and male service members alike, individuals who feel unable to speak out due to fears of being labeled unpatriotic. We become a lot more blasé about military atrocities conducted abroad, such as when soldiers fire on civilians, or military intervention results in cycles of violence.
The dialogue surrounding military activity abroad frequently avoids pertinent questions. The number of civilian casualties our military causes in Afghanistan is classified information, for example. And if we push for it, we are either ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media for being “unpatriotic.”
It is easy to get distracted by the dashing attire of military service people, but it is unrealistic to make wide-eyed assumptions about 1,367,000 distinct personalities. Our deep-seeded emotional reverence towards the military makes objective scrutiny distinctly difficult. We ought not salute and celebrate the uniform, but wait to be impressed by the character.
While the military is an important profession, we should be aware that our cheers render objective scrutiny impossible.
Amaka Uchegbu is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.