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A pair of good reads

… for the long, idle post-celebration hours ahead.

In The Atlantic James Fallows writes about “The Tragedy of the American Military”. How we can reflexively say, “Thank you for your service” and claim that all soldiers are heroes — precisely because most of us are so removed from the realities of their lives, their missions, and the management of military matters.

The German ‘zine Spiegel Online goes inside the NSA for an educated guess about what types of encryption the NSA has broken, which it’s working on, and which are so far safe from its prying eyes.

Both articles are longish but very worth a read.


  1. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau December 31, 2014 9:16 am

    I get tired of all the concern about the people in the US military, while no tear is shed for all the destruction they bring to every nation they occupy.

  2. Claire
    Claire December 31, 2014 9:26 am

    Paul, I didn’t perceive the article that way at all. Among its many other points, I perceived it to be a cautionary tale about how our entirely superficial and purely reflexive “respect” toward the military makes it easier to send them off to do all that destruction you rightly lament.

  3. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau December 31, 2014 2:17 pm

    Well, I disagreed with that point too. I doubt there has been much change in support of the average Joe for the military. I think all this “support the troops” crap is a top-down propaganda campaign designed to support the Empire. It’s all so the “new normal” is to be perpetually occupying countries, particularly those with oil.

  4. JWG
    JWG December 31, 2014 4:29 pm

    I once got into a conversation with a person who told me that he was “really big into the military”, which meant that he watched the military channel when football wasn’t on.

  5. jed
    jed December 31, 2014 5:48 pm

    Well, that certainly was a long read. Reminded of the documentary Why We Fight.

    The hero-worship bit is certainly a top-down propaganda effort, not just confined to the military. We see it as well, particularly post-9/11, in the proliferation of terms such as “first responders”. I find it grating. Not to denigrate the hard work of people who are firefighters and EMTs, but because I think it ends up becoming a wedge which furthers a sense of separation. And we see this of course all the time in the linguistic distinction of “civilian” vs. soldier or officer. I happen to believe that how we talk about things can have an effect on how we end up perceiving them. Words and meanings matter.

    And we can’t ignore the tribal aspect either. Many writers have touched on this, and I wish I could think of a good recent article. But we are, I think, at a core level, tribal. So the self-identification of being part of the cop tribe, or the soldier tribe, or some other tribe is going to have a large effect on how one thinks of those who are outside the tribe. So I’m really in agreement with Fallows on the issue of there being a disconnect. I do, however, have to leaven that with the observation that I have friends and acquaintances both current and former military, who, as individuals, don’t come off as insular or tribal. But collectively, or institutionally, there can be no doubt that it’s there.

    A tangent which occurs to me is the question of how much kinship the military tribe feels towards the political tribe.

    Fallows principle point seems to be that the ‘tragedy’ of the military is that it has become this ravenous self-serving politically-driven military-industrial juggernaut, whose base principles have become utterly disconected from its mission, or what he thinks its mission ought to be. Can’t really argue with that irrespective of what most people might think the military’s mission should be. While I don’t disagree on the disconnect, I think the real tragedy is the number of human lives wasted in the course of preserving the juggernaut.

  6. JWG
    JWG January 2, 2015 2:31 pm

    Jed, there may be a public appearance of kinship between the military and political leaders, but it is nothing more than ass kissing the boss.

  7. kevin mullis
    kevin mullis January 5, 2015 8:22 pm

    Random musings. A “system that forces out the best and rewards only the sycophants.” Yes this hits a raw nerve. On the overpriced weapons front the Marines unsuccessfully fought off having the V-22 Osprey foisted upon them. The CH-53 is a better aircraft and proven reliable. [I liked flying in them myself.] Shrinking the military is a good idea. I would start with pulling all troops from Germany, South Korea, and Japan. Bring the 3rd. Marine Division home and give Okinawa back to the Japanese. Cut the defense budget by 75%. Govt. commissions are less than worthless because even if they have good recommendations they will be ignored anyways. Meh.

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