6/18/2008 7:53

Brave Soldiers

I got a letter from my dentist the other day. No big surprise there; he just moved his office and is looking for as many excuses as possible to remind us of where we should send our friends and relatives who are looking for dental services. (Curiously, I did have a friend looking for a dentist recently, but it turns out that yet another friend had already mentioned this particular dentist so I didn't have a chance to claim a referral credit.) These letters cover a variety of topics and always come on business stationery with a map to the office, so they can be paid for under business development account.

This particular letter had no direct relationship to the dental practice. Hello! it read. We wanted to inform you that we are gathering supplies to send to Iraq, showing our support for our brave soldiers who are fighting for our rights and freedoms.

My first surprise was that they are only intending to support the brave soldiers. What about the other soldiers? I would think that frightened soldiers would be at least as much in need of small comforts from home. And then there is the question of how they will be able to distinguish the brave soldiers from the others.

But my whole line of thought is gratuitous. The adjective was not meant as a discriminator. The implication is that every soldier is a brave soldier. I doubt that the dental staff is consciously engaging in military propaganda; I think instead that they are merely caught up in the illusions fostered by the military and its supporters.

If every soldier is brave, and every dead soldier a hero, then it is a little bit easier to explain why we allow our friends and colleagues to be thrown into extreme danger to be ingured, maimed, and killed. They are brave; they are heroic; they are facing death because of the greatness which is within each and every one of them.

Or not.

And because they are brave and heroic, the loss of limb or life is somehow just a little bit less awful than it would be if they were merely human and driven into battle by despotic masters uttering lies and half-truths.

Or not.

The folks at the dental office say that they want to make life in Iraq a bit more comfortable. But their reason is not that the military personnel there are suffering human beings. (That would be a noble sentiment but it would open up the possibility of providing further support to the Iraqis, who are also suffering from this battle, and even to other people who are suffering in other places.) No, the reason to provide some small comforts to brave soldiers is because the brave soldiers are fighting for our rights and freedoms.

Truth is less of an issue.

There is good reason to doubt that the battle in Iraq was ever about rights and freedoms, for us or for anyone else. The original motivations are probably lost forever and it is likely that many different motives impelled different people who were involved in the decision to go to war. Today, however, many of the possible motivations for fighting have already been discredited and it is the Supreme Court of the United States where the battle for our rights and freedoms is being waged in connection with the Iraq war. But if the military is facing dangers for the sake of Iraqis, that isn't a good enough reason to send them music and magazines.

If the motive is not selfish, it isn't acceptable.

I suggest that this is not because Americans in general are so unusually selfish, but because the leaders who developed the techniques of propaganda over the centuries are themselves motivated only by selfishness. I'm suggesting that the masters of propaganda and persuasion honed the techniques which they knew in their own lives and applied them to the rest of us. Those techniques work, and so they are repeated and cultivated from generation to generation, from war to war.