Monday, January 5, 2015

The Stadium Thing, explained

The Atlantic Magazine cover story, “The Tragedy of the American Military” by James Fallows has stirred up a quiet storm of activity in some of the corners of the internet that I frequent. Briefly, the article contends:

(a) There exists a disconnect between the public and the military in that the former holds a “reverent but disengaged attitude” toward the latter...

(b) which has resulted in a “chickenhawk”1 nation that manifests itself in various cultural, economic and political apparatii...

(c) in which “careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win”

That is the Cliff’s Notes edition of an article that is very long and broad in scope, as are the countless pieces written in response (links below).  Writer’s far smarter and more interesting than I have contributed thousands of words in a debate that will rage on forever without any meaningful effect on anything.

For my part, I am mainly interested in the first point concern the disconnect between the public and the military.  This phenomenon is generally referred to as the “civil-military divide.”  Fallows did not invent it, and both sides of the divide continue lengthening the gap through indifference.  Fallow’s view is best summed up in his own words: “The country thinks too rarely, and too highly, of the 1 percent under fire in our name.”  

That’s half true anyway.  The country does think “too rarely” about the military, but as for “too highly?”  There are a few warmed-over reference points concerning this perceived hero-worship put forth by Fallows and others that deserve to be addressed by someone a little closer to the pointy edge of civilian-military relations:

  1. The “Stadium” Thing:  Reading through the responses to this article, one might think that any person in a uniform can walk right into the Super Bowl and demand to be paraded across the 50-yard line en route to a private luxury suite.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The person you see standing in the end zone in ACUs waving like an idiot is a kind of contest winner.  His prize was free football tickets; the standing, waving and being forced to wear a uniform to a football game is the extracted price. The industry figured out a way to cram one more piece of marketing into their marketing-rich fan experience. They correctly presume that the people who ”revere” military things sometimes overlap with the people who care about football.  This does not mean all people “revere” military things but the fact that there are some is sufficient for the team to spend 2 unsold tickets and a previously-unoccupied 30-seconds in between quarters to “honor” Joe from Staten Island for his great sacrifice.  Joe would rather be wearing his discounted Michael Vick jersey and starting a fight in the 400 section.  If peer pressure induces you to stand up and clap for him that’s on you - sit on your hands if you want to, nobody will even notice.
  2. The Military Discount:  In my 13 years of military-discount eligibility, I can count on one hand the number of times that I've participated.  Generally, the military discount is exactly the same as the discount offered to members of AAA, American Express, Frequent Flier Programs, etc - and the price is still probably lower at Costco2.  It’s a nice gesture, but it’s just that - for business that are outside the range of a handful of major military installations, it rarely even comes up.  Meanwhile, Applebees gets to put a bunch of American flag stickers on their menus for being so military friendly.  
  3. The “Thank You for Your Service” Thing:  This is a nice thing that some people say but it really doesn't mean anything.  “Thank you for your service” is to servicemen as “God bless you” is to sneeze. Occasionally someone is utterly sincere and thanks you for your service earnestly and with burning intensity… encountering these people leads to the most awkward personal interactions in life. “um, you’re welcome?”  I know it’s ungrateful to complain about a simple, nice gesture, but there it is… I think most modern-era vets kind of wish this little habit would go away3.  You’re killing us with kindness.  
  4. SEALs:  SOCOM, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, No Easy Day, Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty, Seal Team Six!  LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Charlie Sheen, Tom Selleck and Hulk Hogan have all portrayed SEALs.  America loves Navy SEALs.  America worships and reveres Navy SEALs. Most of us are not Navy SEALs - that reverence does not extend to E-2C NFOs.

America does not think "too highly" of their military.

They think the military is a landing spot for rednecks who can't get into college - I've had to explain the concept that I was in the military and I went to college to more than one confused interviewer.

They think anyone can do it - I can't even count the number of "I almost joined the military but decided to have a life instead" stories that I've endured in my 3 years as a civilian.

They know less than nothing about anything military - Several times I've had to explain the fact that the Navy has their own aircraft and that is different than the Air Force. Imagine trying to explain the concept of an Individual Augmentee.

In reality, what little time America does spend thinking about the “1 percent under fire in (their) name,” is spent thinking about:sexual assault, PTSD, and shirtless Navy SEALs.  

1. Chickenhawk is a political term used in the United States to describe a person who strongly supports war or other military action (i.e., a war hawk), yet who actively avoids or avoided military service when of age. (Wikipedia)

2. Similarly, the commissaries and exchanges don’t offer much in the way of savings - the argument that this is somehow a perk for servicemen is mythology created by recruiters.  I’m sure there is some racket in place where-by Dick Cheney’s cousin has a billion dollar subsidy to keep the Panda Express open at NS Norfolk, but it doesn’t mean a thing to the average serviceman.

3.Maybe it’s just me.  I can be something of an insufferable prick and it may very well be that others are very grateful for this kindness.  I didn’t conduct a poll.  


“The Tragedy of the American Military” by James Fallows | The Atlantic

"The Tragedies of James Fallows" | CDR Salamander
"The Tragedy of James Fallows" by Bryan McGrath | Information Dissemination

Chickenhawk Responses No. 9: Meanwhile, the Realities | The Atlantic (With links to responses 1 through 8)

Leave some comments please - it makes this whole effort a lot more fun for me