There is a stubborn faction of the left which still seeks to redeem and organize members of the amerikkkan military, ascribing them with the qualities of a revolutionary class. They constantly seek to reclaim baby-killers as part of the masses which should be organized for the defeat of capitalism, and as such, ward off any defamation of their character. They insist that the volunteer forces that fall in line for imperialist warfare abroad and systematic looting of entire continents are somehow just as much the “victims” of capitalism in the u.$. as those they gun down abroad. One would not, in most cases at least, make these same arguments with regards to police in the united $tates. Why the disconnect?
This misconception generally comes from two baseless assertions: (1) the military disproportionately recruits the most impoverished and nationally oppressed masses, and (2) the experiences of those in the military tend to produce a proletarian class consciousness. These are hefty assumptions, which are entirely inconsistent with what we can see from the political tendencies of the military in the past decades. We question the validity of these claims, however it is insufficient to stop there; we must investigate the assumptions themselves, and how the context of recruitment constructs the consciousness of soldiers today.
The Warrior Aristocracy
Things have changed in the decades after the inflation of the armed forces through conscription during the Vietnam “war” (read: Genocide) and the subsequent defeat and deflation. In the transition to a primarily volunteer force, something counterintuitive to the first-worldist left occurred. The first-worldist left expected the military to be utilized as some kind of refuge for the poor periphery of the united $tates population. However that is not what happened. Especially in the decade after 9/11, the military has transitioned into a gun club for amerikkka’s wide-eyed middle class sons. The imperialist volunteer vengeance force that was raised to fight international “terrorism” in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as those who were trained to rain missiles on a dozen more) were less and less the victims of a “poverty draft” which had been imagined into existence by those who remembered the inequities of conscription and service in the 1960s.
This has been documented by the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation in their study on the recruitment demographics of the united $tates military, which found that only about 10-11% of the united $tates military recruits come from the poorest quintile (defined as making less than $33,000 annually), with a fourth of the military coming from areas whose median income is more than $65,000 annually. They gathered this information using addresses of personnel at the time of recruitment, which has faced much criticism by those who argue for the existence of a poverty-draft. What problems do they see with this method? Well, according to the Boise Weekly the statistics are unreliable because “[m]any recruits are college dropouts who list their last address—their college dorm—when they sign up”, which they believe would provide an inflated statistical portrait of average income. They assert that this is the case without actually presenting any evidence.
As for the validity of the claim that, by and large, the military is made up of college dropouts who use their college residence as their permanent address: that is already a questionable assertion. It also raises questions about the kind of people they assume are “forced into the military by poverty” who are still equipped with the financial support to move out on their own to attend university. Furthermore, their label of “uneducated” seems a hardly fitting descriptor for a military which does not accept people without a highschool diploma. This is a deliberate deception; their assertions rarely contain vital evidence and rely on definitions of “education” that hardly fit the bill. Even more interestingly, this article assumes that those who do not finish college or do not attend must automatically be poor and forced into the military for that reason. This assumption is further jeopardized by the fact that most amerikans have not earned a college degree. It is true that the Heritage Foundation, being quasi-fascist troop-worshippers, have their own motives for promoting a class-collaborationist and prosperous image of the military, however we judge their study on its merits rather than the inconvenience of its results.
Moving to the question of race in the military, it should not be surprising at this point that it is dominated by white people, who hold a numerical majority in every branch. Dealing with recruits, the study finds that Black recruits are overrepresented by 4% when compared to the overall population of Black youth aged 18-24, while at the same time white recruits are overrepresented by 5%. The only notably overrepresented group among recruits are Indigenous people, by almost 300% (though still making up only 2% of the total recruits). One must question whether these figures imply the armed forces are any less white-dominated with whites representing a 65% majority among new recruits during the height of the Iraq war. However the traditional first-worldist claim is that the military disproportionately composed of the poor and nationally oppressed who are the primary targets for recruiters. This claim is put in further jeopardy by the fact that as a whole, veterans are half as likely to live in “poverty” by u.$. standards, and in fact have consistently higher incomes than non-veterans.
However, this does not even recognize or attempt to explain why there is an ongoing deflation of the armed forces. This reflects a potentially more revealing trend in the development of the armed forces of the imperialist core; a strategic shift in the imperialist military program after the double-defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hands of the national resistance forces. With the intense mechanization of the military and strategic shifts in its campaigns, it has become politically useful to narrow down the military into a highly technical force, a force with access to some of the most expensive and destructive equipment in the world with which to maintain its military domination. Whereas before it seemed that just about anyone was eligible for military service, so long as they fit into very loose guidelines, it is now much more difficult to get accepted, with 80% of applicants being turned down.
It would not suffice to simply discredit soldiers purely on a basis of their economic position, because doing so fails to adequately deal with their interests and subjectivity as a class. The military is not simply another profession, but has its own distinct set of material conditions defined by the soldiers’ disciplinary functions as agents of the state, their role in the extended reproduction of world capital, and further by the process through which the ideology of the institution is imparted to those within it. This corporate unity within the military, the idea of each part playing an invaluable role necessary for success, is the basis for the reactionary collective mindset they maintain. Along with reinforcing imperialist and ultra-nationalist values, this has always made the military and the police the vanguard of fascism throughout history.
The first-worldist left continues to mistakenly consider discontent within the military as a chief indicator of openness to revolutionary politics. Furthermore, they suggest that if this “path from poverty” is truly the motivator in military service, Communists can and should quickly seize upon this discontent in a progressive fashion. However, even if we are to throw all of the statistics of the previous section in the garbage and start from left-liberal assumptions, we are still hard-pressed to arrive at their conclusions. Soldiers are not inclined, except in the case of the tiniest activist minorities and on an individual basis, to reject imperialism or settler-colonialism. In fact, we see veteran support for the most aggressive forms of imperialism, evidenced by the fact that twice as many veterans voted for Trump than for the neocon Clinton. With many voters expressing disapproval of the current trajectory of the united $tates, we can see that the expression of “discontent” among veterans is far from progressive.
Furthermore, regarding this “path out of poverty” thesis we must ask ourselves what this “path” entails. What better way to ingrain the core principles of the imperialist society than to reward the hard service of “our fighting men and women” with a generally higher standard of living? For the lower classes who join the imperialist armed forces, it serves as a transitory period wherein they are lifted into a state of greater social and economic mobility. This is their “reward” for serving on the frontlines as the workhorses of militant imperialism, ingraining a petit bourgeois and fascistic consciousness. Their ideology and world outlooks are morphed by this experience, this much is obvious through the conservative and ultra-nationalist tendencies of veterans and veteran organizations, and the political groups they find themselves increasingly involved with during and after service, such as (drumroll) the KKK. The discontent of soldiers is expressed in classic “stabbed in the back” rhetoric, and is more commonly used as a measure for disciplinary outbursts toward those “treacherous” segments of society, rather than toward any progressive anti-war policy.
The few progressive and revolutionary organizations which have historically been made up of veterans have necessarily rejected amerikan military interests, and have made up a nearly insignificant minority of those who served. Even in the 1960’s and 70’s when organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) were passing out leaflets detailing the genocidal crimes of the amerikans in Vietnam, the actual number of veteran supporters of the organization famously represented by arch-imperialist John Kerry only numbered roughly 30,000 by their own estimates—less than half those soldiers killed in Vietnam, and less than .5% of all veterans having served in-country during the Vietnam war. However if we were to turn now to the contemporary examples of veteran peace organizations such as the Iraq Veterans Against the War (which also includes those veterans serving in Afghanistan) we would see ~2000 members throughout 61 chapters in the united $tates. What’s more, IVAW cannot claim even an iota of VVAW’s praise, having organized many of their activities around ensuring soldiers gain better access to health services overseas and even going so far as to front a fundraising campaign to supply soldiers heading to Iraq and Afghanistan with better helmets and body armor. These campaigns are nothing short of imperialist solidarity with the war effort despite whatever “anti-war” rhetoric they may be promoting.
Even on the most liberal or “left” spectrum, the inclinations of soldiers who have not consciously aligned against their national interests have lead them to a continued endorsement of imperial and colonial occupations. The military has not just been a vital component of the historic fascist movements in the imperialist countries, it has also played the vanguard role, and often led the insurrectionary push to take on state power. There are more examples of this than of military organisations acting in a “progressive” manner. The veterans of the Freikorps, Sturmabteilung, Secret Army Organization, Black Shirts, etc. have served as the militant vanguard in the struggle for fascism. The class consciousness demonstrated most widely among the disenchanted imperialist butchers being that of the “legionnaire”, is eloquently described in a fabricated quotation from a Roman soldier’s letter that opens Lartéguy’s The Centurions:
We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens settled overseas, so many years of our presence, so many benefits brought by us to populations in need of our assistance and our civilization.
We were able to verify that all this was true, and, because it was true, we did not hesitate to shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes. We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by this frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are rife, that treachery flourishes, and that many people in their uncertainty and confusion lend a ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment and vilify our action.
I cannot believe that all this is true and yet recent wars have shown how pernicious such a state of mind could be and to where it could lead.
Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow-citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the Empire.
If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the Legions!
Fuck the Troops
So what is to be done? The first-worldist left has proven unable to mobilize, in a progressive way, the mass of veterans (although, “mass” in this context relates to a very small minority of the whole amerikan population) and yet would ask that we pity them for their sacrifices. This patriotic nonsense does nothing to actually mold an alternative political culture of opposition to imperialism, and in fact only reinforces the hegemony of the ruling class. They continually ask us to think of soldiers who they claim have only taken up arms for amerika as a way out of poverty, but then ask us not to question, first of all, if that assertion is even true, and furthermore the logic of paving one’s path out of poverty with the blood of occupied peoples. The revolutionary movement should not be relegated to tailing the reactionary demands of those most willing to fight and die in service of imperialism, but should rather work to combat the enemies of the world proletariat. The only way for the veterans of amerika’s army and colonial occupation forces to mobilize themselves effectively against imperialism must inevitably include their own class suicide.
Of course we do not condemn on any moralist basis those who have made the terrible mistake of being a foot soldier of imperialism without considering their current class outlook. Instead, what is argued here is principally that we must take a proactive and aggressive stance toward class enemies and the enemies of the world proletariat. We should not give room to the liberal feel-good inclinations of first-worldist sympathies for imperialist butchers; instead we give support to those comrades who have betrayed the interests of the united $tates and its army in order to fight on the side of the oppressed people of the world whom they were enlisted to occupy, murder, and enslave. The contingents of the oppressor classes which we break off to fight alongside the world proletariat in the global struggle for communism must not become the focus of our revolutionary program, but must align themselves under a program of the world proletariat. This is why it is imperative to remind ourselves who our enemies are, and why we still say “fuck the troops!”