Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"The FBI has long worried about military tactics seeping into general culture. . ."

Last week, criminals with military training murdered a "wealthy Florida couple known for their charity toward children." Disturbed law enforcement officials are commenting on the pervasiveness of military culture throughout our society. As usual the case is either an isolated incident or a societal critique depending on how you look at it:

Military strategy has become "normalized" in American culture through video games, movies, and the common use of police SWAT teams for even low-level drug raids, says Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University criminologist who studies SWAT tactics.

"For criminals to take the same kind of approach shouldn't surprise anyone," Professor Kraska says. "You would not only see certain police types attracted to it, but ordinary folks – if they're seduced by it in popular video, they might be seduced by it in real life, as well."

Okay, here's the societal critique bit:

Our government trains hundreds of thousands of people in military disciplines, sculpting them to become one of a group at the expense of their individual personalities, to value the priorities and orders of their superiors without question. This may be necessary in the military but it's a fact.

Certain political stripes of our society talk up the benefit of a strong military and enable this system, encouraging us to unconditionally respect those in the military. Even as civilians we are thus brought into the military system through the constant encouragement to equate the wars of politicians with the inherent good of "soldiers," who deserve the type of respect that requires them to fight and die whenever those who command them give the signal. Simultaneously the military often lets discipline fail at the lowest levels, making excuses for those who commit atrocities.

These selfish double standards unconsciously teach us to value military action for its sake alone, ostensibly as the arm of justice or freedom but in practice as another symbol of the authority of our leaders. In essence we have an inherent respect for the military but nothing to do with it. "Our" soldiers are inherently good, while people who feel they are fighting for their freedom elsewhere are considered "insurgents," to be hated and arrested forever. Thus we are taught to value only our own goals and priorities, to demonize others because of their origin and perspective, and that individual inhuman behavior is all right as long as you're a part of a disciplined, cohesive group.

Finally, we release scads of military folk back into normal society, some small percentage of whom will act like monsters, while arresting those who dare to undergo nongovernmental weapons and tactics training in other countries on evidence we refuse to release. Surprised?

While it's tempting to be even more bold in drawing a connection between this individual incident and these larger musings on society (and some of you will feel I have gone quite far indeed), I'm not qualified. But you have to admit that it's tempting to make certain connections.

Military precision of Florida slaying is worrisome, analysts say (Christian Science Monitor)

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