The Burden of the Soldier

Earlier this month, a little-discussed headline read “Muted Ceremony Marks End Of Iraq War.”[1] Of course, neither the war in Iraq nor the occupation are really ending. Thousands of private security contractors remain in the country (as do the fifteen thousand employees of the Baghdad embassy).[2] The end of conventional military operations reflects the changing usefulness of the soldier to the state.

Generally speaking, the soldier’s role as provider of security is secondary to his role in propaganda. Regardless of an individual soldier’s motivation in joining the military, his primary function is to serve as a rallying cry for the fellow subjects of his state.

The nefarious motives behind wars, the endless political treacheries, and the massive fortunes accumulated by military industries must all hide behind the image of the soldier. He is portrayed as the best reflection of a grateful society, and elevated to the shining status of a religious icon, in the hope of blinding everyone to the cesspool of narcissism, corruption, and corporatism behind every war.

. . . the fact that parades, monuments, political speeches invoking their suffering, and streams of fawning news coverage are not only nonexistent for mercenaries, but scarcely imaginable, says much about the role and primary purpose of the soldier.

The soldier’s role, however, also burdens the state. Once an ongoing condition of war is cemented as the new normal, the soldier becomes, in many ways, a nuisance to the state. Soldiers invoke their own image and become outspoken critics, either of incompetence within their endeavor or of the endeavor itself. Soldiers write blogs, record embarrassing pictures and videos, and share them readily through social media, eroding the myths upon which the state relies.

Also, to justify the suffering of soldiers, the state is increasingly pressured to explain its endeavor and demonstrate progress. Neither mercenaries, mindful of their employment status, nor clandestine forces, carefully screened and highly disciplined, present such a burden. . . .

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