Today, as many narratives swirl around veterans and the military, I am reminded how much work is still needed to “unlearn” the toxic narratives that have been ingrained into our subconscious as a society. Engrained messages and societal norms that we must unlearn tell us that a man must behave a certain way to be considered masculine, women must be quiet to be considered “feminine”, what relationships should look like, who is deserving and who is not, whose lives matter more than others, etc., etc.
We, as a society, still have such a long way to go towards unlearning all of these messages. Almost everyone at some point had a moment that "awakened" them to the idea that what they thought to be true was not.
My story wasn’t more extraordinary than any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who join the military. I was young, bored, working three jobs and wanted something more. I had struggled with authority and wasn’t joining out of any strong sense of patriotism, although I did like the idea that I’d be doing something good for my country. My story is like that of many working class people—my father and grandfather had served, I had few prospects and wanted to travel so I joined up.
A few weeks after I joined the military 9/11 happened. What had seemed like an adventure suddenly turned real. I was eventually deployed to Iraq as a sniper with the First Infantry Division.
There are no words left to describe the horrors that the U.S. military continues to invoke on the Iraqi people.
My awakening moment happened my first day there. I knew, without a doubt, that everything everyone had been saying about our fight there was wrong. And I was participating in it. Many things have been written about the folly of the war. There are no words left to describe the horrors that the U.S. military continues to invoke on the Iraqi people.
The fact that we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan and operating in secret in countries around the globe is shameful. Most folks that I talk to are against war and in most progressive spaces it’s known that the war is a lie and that the money spent on war destroying lives in other countries could be spent on much needed programs here at home.
So why do they still continue to exist? Yes, we have massive corporate involvement in our government. Yes, capitalism is a beast to figure out how to make dents in. And yes, there are so many problems here at home that our progressive movements are splintered and over extended and exhausted from trying to save peoples lives in their own backyards that it can be overwhelming to think on a global scale.
However militarism is so INGRAINED into our collective conscious. Veterans, like me, have long been used as political subterfuge to justify the massive U.S. military spending. Even on days like Veterans Day, many, many progressives thank me for my service. I was happy to see the pushback on Trump’s military parade last year, but the reality is is that those military celebrations happen all over the country ALL THE TIME, with very little pushback—from military air shows to parades to celebrations of a city’s partnership with weapons manufacturing.
The reality is that almost EVERY SINGLE domestic platform on a progressive agenda can be funded by the overinflated military budget.
We absolutely need to start pushing back on militarism in all its forms and regardless of who is in the White House. Not just on gross displays like Trump’s proposed circus but on how we organize and how the effects of militarism show up in all of our spaces and communities. The reality is that almost EVERY SINGLE domestic platform on a progressive agenda can be funded by the overinflated military budget. We outspend more than the next seven nations in the world combined, five of which are U.S. allies - so not even considered a threat to the U.S.
Every single community is affected by this military budget and surplus weapons that are bought from defense corporations. Our culture of militarism and our thirst for more markets has led to an out of control militarized police force that show up on our streets with military grade equipment against people who are holding nothing more than cardboard signs. Our border communities are being forced to watch barbed wire fences and metal walls block them from neighboring communities. We have generations of people who have been held in cages for being poor.
So on days like Veterans Day, I can’t help but see a celebration of a culture that has only enforced white supremacy and colonialism here at home and across the globe. At Veterans For Peace we attempt to “Reclaim Armistice Day”. As many of you know, Armistice Day was the original meaning of the day—a day to celebrate peace after World War I ended. Unfortunately it was not long before the day changed into a celebration of militarism. However, our history shows us that there are great moments where our collective will has stood up against power and oppression and created transformation. So today, as I hear the messages of militarism, I’ll be holding up hope (and a sign!) that seeks to reclaim a moment that is rooted in justice and ending wars that disrupt livelihoods and take resources from people around the globe.