The grades for the president’s State of the Union are in and the critics have been kind. In fact, it’s chilling to see just how few hits the president takes for couching his entire address in unqualified celebration of the US military.
Speaking of the troops, President Obama began: “At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations.”
Post-show pundits on cable news praised the president’s comfort with his commander-in-chief role, but none saw fit to mention recent news—of marines urinating on Afghan corpses, say, or Staff Sergeant Wuterich walking free after participating in the killing of twenty-four unarmed men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq. Accompanying Obama’s next phrase, “Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example,” no one thus far has played vile viral video. The critics have been kind.
The president chose to celebrate the US military; the press chose not to raise a peep about the spread of US militarism. Yet US targets proliferate—abroad—with unmanned drones assassinating unconvicted suspects in innumerable undeclared wars. And militarism spreads at home. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act makes indefinite military detention without charge or trial a permanent feature of the American legal system. It’s kind of the critics not to mention that—or the president’s four-year-old pledge to close Guantánamo, and to restore the “rule of law.”
“They’re not consumed with personal ambition.… They work together,” continued the president (again, speaking of the troops). There are surely plenty of troops who would disagree. The tally is long of commanders and pigeon-hawk commanders-of-commanders who’ve dodged responsibility, fingered underlings and permitted rank-and-file “bad apples” to take the heat for US war crimes.
“Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops,” the president concluded.
There are indeed things we can learn; things that many US troops have begged us to learn. That war dehumanizes the killer and the killed, and that war tactics have a habit of spreading from the war zone to the home. Successive generations have told us that military recruiters lie, and that “rules of war” exist only in legal minds. (Ninety percent of casualties in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were civilians). Troops have begged us to learn just what we are celebrating when we celebrate “winning” and war.
As far as I can see, Ralph Nader on Democracy Now! was the lone voice of disgust on national TV.
Clearly we have a lot to learn.