Most of the stats in here are from Brown University’s Costs of War project. Also check out Dean Spade’s & Sarah Lazare’s Jacobin article There’s Nothing Feminist About Imperialism.
This discusses suicide, rape, racism, war.
“If you have a bun, you might as well have a target on your back,” a male captain breezily offered when I was a second lieutenant not yet in the fleet, one of a dozen women in a training class of 270. He had a short, bad haircut, rather than the slicked-back bun my long hair was tightly wound into.
I am not here to detail every trauma and indignity suffered while in uniform. I am not here to chronicle which friends and colleagues were raped, assaulted, humiliated, stalked, who overheard junior enlisted Marines discussing “hate-fucking” her. This essay almost veered into that, nearly wasted words and my energy recounting the wild west mentality and terrifying behavior that emerges in long-term training environments and combat zones, or the misogyny women Marines (including this former one) internalise, thinking their male coworkers will accept them if they can do pull-ups, and that women who can’t “make us all look bad.” I almost started cataloguing facets of everyday military existence that make friends neither from nor sympathetic to the US gape and say “that’s insane.”
This is not that essay. I refuse to submit to the inanity of a #metoomilitary hashtag, which is as exhaustingly banal as the gendered violence the twitterati thinks the hashtag will combat. It reduces the traumaporn circulating the internet this week to a cultural flaw of the military that could be remedied if only more females ran the imperial war machine, or if only uniformed rapists were tried in civilian courts, as if those juries and judges are known for dispensing justice to violated women.
The US military is a white supremacist, imperial organisation. This central, existential fact is unchanged by a Black Defense Secretary or “inclusive” recruitment campaigns. There is no further “reckoning” to be had, especially not one that considers its internal “women’s issues” in isolation from the obscene scale of the private defense contracting industry, the country’s illegal and covert operations in over 80 countries, the wars not kept secret but nonetheless farcical in their justification, and the war crimes (rape, torture, pillage, etc) edited out of the mythology used to indoctrinate recruits (instead they are taught about individual heroism in specific battles in wars barely explained). The US isn’t even competent at “spreading democracy” or “killing terrorists” or whatever bullshit propaganda mission it claims. This white supremacist organisation murders far more ordinary people than enemy combatants in its sloppy policing of the globe, and has displaced at least 37 million people since 2001. For a portion of my deployment to Afghanistan, I attended briefs for which a routine agenda item was the cash pay-outs to Afghan civilians for the killing of their relatives, or their livestock.
I hate writing in cliches, but to get to the root of anything, especially in the capitalist circle-jerk of America, follow the money. “Support the troops” is another cliche, regurgitated by opponents to military budget cuts, but over half the Pentagon’s spending goes to private corporations whose CEOs make millions annually. Our wars are financed by debt, which exacerbates domestic wealth inequality and permeates into things like house prices. The Department of Defense has squandered over $6.4 trillion since September 11, 2001. One third of this was funnelled into Afghanistan, where US troops are still deployed, although the Pentagon cannot account for exactly how many. Even if General Mark Milley could, he likely would not disclose how many private contractors and mercenaries are there anyway, whose diplomatic immunity and earnings dwarf those of uniformed soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The US military is a white supremacist organisation that wages non-stop war for private profit (and who knows what the CIA is up to).
Limiting the purview of an institutional “reckoning” to the treatment of its employees is typical American solipsism. I suggest anyone in the military who is neither white nor male nor straight nor Christian consider themselves out of the context of their uniform and simply as a person on a planet (Earth now, Mars next) over which the United States seeks imperial domination. Daily indignities, rapes, and murder within ranks then make sense as a natural functioning of the military, the immediate epitome of its feckless greed, a local manifestation of its juggernaut inhumanity. Its internal malpractice and exploitation cannot be divorced from its raison d’être.
So what is to be done? I’m not a foreign policy expert and I don’t know how to balance unfucking the United States while keeping China and Russia at bay. I don’t know what an appropriate military would look like, but perhaps its historical ignorance and cultural insularity (especially at remote bases) could be tempered if the armed forces were predominantly composed of reservists with full-time civilian lives. I wonder what alternatives (Americorps comes to mind, if not just universal social welfare) could offer the economic and educational ladders out of poverty that attract so many recruits.
That’s not my point, though. We do not need a diversified force subjected to the same brainwashing and dangerous deployments. We need a new conception in popular American media and consciousness of the military not as “a global force for good” with a pesky sexual harassment problem but as a death cult. We must abandon the romantic imagining of the military as a noble institution populated and led by noble men. The goodwill and deluded patriotic intentions of individuals are irrelevant in a broken system. Audre Lorde said the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house. At best, the master’s tools can make temporary, token changes. An investigation asking why boys cannot play nicely with girls, led by politicians who vote to bomb countries they probably couldn’t find on a map, cannot create a new command climate.
We instead need to regard the Department of Defense and its infinite installations, both foreign and domestic, as camouflaged fronts for money laundering and profiteering. The military is a death cult that dispatches its young people to die in profligate, pointless wars for fossil fuels, that discards members who fall outside its narrowly-defined wet dream of a warrior, whose own active-duty and veteran members abuse alcohol, each other, and their families, and kill themselves at epidemic incidence. Despite the pageantry of military ceremonies, the coffins solemnly hauled off C-130s, the gimmicky yellow ribbons and thankyouforyourservice, the death cult cares for no one, and nobody who plays by its rules to ascend its ranks will change that.
A Mexican-American friend resigned her commission as a Marine Corps officer the day after Trump was elected. She was planning on getting out soon anyway, but didn’t want to serve at the pleasure of a president who denigrated Mexicans (her own father left the Marines because his racist superiors refused to promote him). Last year, in response to Army soldier Aaron David Robinson murdering his fellow soldier Vanessa Guillen (Robinson killed himself before police apprehended him), the League of United Latin American Citizens called for all women, particularly non-white ones, to boycott joining the military until their garrison safety could be guaranteed. I think this was reasonable advice, but a “boycott” implies whatever is being withheld (in this case, enlistments) can resume if certain conditions are satisfied. I do not anticipate their demand can be met. Rape and racism are not transgressions of military culture; they are symptoms of the poison ideology of American exceptionalism and entitlement that destroys whatever is in its path and will ultimately, maybe someday soon, cannibalise itself too.