Such initiatives are beneficial, certainly, for military recruitment. And, admittedly, recruitment is necessary for our system of defense and democracy to function in this country.
But historically, mass appeals for the kinds of martial veneration we’ve been seeing have fostered and inculcated cultures of war.
Most American adults can distinguish the concept of support for the military from blind endorsement of a foreign war.
Children, however, may not.
This was disturbingly evident in events staged in towns across the country last Memorial Day. You probably saw a video clip on your local or national news, featuring children of varying ages scrambling to plant flags or wreaths on soldiers’ graves – soldiers they never knew.
Eight and ten year olds interviewed were breathless and excited, as from a game. On camera, they explained what they were doing with dutifully recited platitudes about dying for one’s country.
In their minds, the vague nature of war, death, and patriotism were bound up in an amorphous but festive competitive pep rally.
But war is nobody’s glory game.
It’s closer in grotesqueness to mining coal. It’s a painful, and questionably necessary evil, that destroys landscapes, cities, and whole societies. And it erases, in the blink of an eye, countless lives of brave and innocent young men and women, while it guts their families. It alters world history, but seldom in a constructive way.
Despite war’s torturous rigors and fatal risks, our children dream of becoming soldiers and pilots because we invent war heroes for them to emulate: G.I. Joe, or the flashy fighter pilot Maverick, played by actor Tom Cruise in the film “Top Gun.”
Contrary to the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, when returning military men were vilified and spat upon, we now goad our children to celebrate uniformed heroes in Fourth of July parades and stirring ceremonies at sites of war memorials.