Former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is being roundly criticized for his Twitter comment on the killing of celebrated former sniper Chris Kyle. The sniper was gunned down by former Marine Eddie Routh at a Texas shooting range while Kyle was attempting to help Routh overcome his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from service in the war in Iraq. Paul’s comment on Twitter was as follows: “Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense”
Some are smugly pointing out that this disorder can be treated by repeating the trauma-inducing phenomenon under controlled conditions, thus making a shooting range a plausible site to attempt to aid someone with PTSD. Of course, it is not this part of Paul’s Twitter comment that is being criticized as “appalling”–it’s the part of the statement that says “Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’”
In an American society in which nationalism (not patriotism) and militarism have converged, it has become taboo to criticize the U.S. military or military personnel. This taboo in a republic is dangerous and actually unpatriotic—that is, if patriotism is defined as it was during the American Revolution, as defending American society and its unique individual liberties against its government, which used a standing army as a tool of repression. Thus, the nation’s anti-militaristic founders, including those at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, were almost universally suspicious of standing armies. Also, in the American Constitution, they believed they were enshrining adequate congressional controls over the U.S. military to prevent the president from imitating the then-monarchs of Europe, who inflicted on their peoples the costs in blood and taxes associated with unending far flung wars of choice. The founders knew that war erodes liberty at home through higher taxes and expanded government power. Therefore, the Constitution, in two places, says that the government’s role is only to “provide for the common defence.”
The United States in the 21st century is far from what the founders envisioned. Even with the limited threats facing the American people and territory after the end of the Cold War, the United States has increased “defense” spending drastically from those already elevated levels and continues its globe girdling military presence, alliances, and armed interventions into the affairs of other nations. All of this is not only needless and costly—in terms of blood and treasure—but exceeds the constitutional limitation of providing for the common defense.
The current taboo against criticizing the military or military personnel is a reaction to the excess denigration of returning military personnel during the Vietnam era. Of course, the Vietnam era condemnation has probably been overstated, but was unfairly inflicted on returning veterans, most of who had been shanghaied by their government to serve against their will.
The situation is much different today. The forces used into today’s unnecessary wars are extremely well compensated volunteers (compared to civilians of equal education and experience and even before adding the combat pay received by the small percentage of military people who actually see fighting). These volunteers willingly join a force that has not been designed for “defending the nation’s freedom” or even territory but is structured and equipped to project power overseas to intervene in brushfire wars unrelated to U.S. vital interests. In the militarized American society of the 21st century, such soldiers are nevertheless lionized as “patriots,” forgetting that the nation’s founders would flip flop in their graves at such a definition of patriotism.
Nonetheless, it is tragic when U.S. military personnel die or are maimed in foreign hellholes or experience post-combat PTSD at home. The nation feels guilty at their supreme sacrifice while it watches the Super Bowl in Lazy Boy recliners—thus slathering them with praise and honors and enforcing the taboo on criticism.
Most of these young men and women had good intentions when they joined the military and went to fight. They had been mesmerized by “patriotic” appeals after 9/11, and one can make a case for limited military action in Afghanistan after those attacks. But the “war on terror” (it is even impolitic to call it this now) continued for many years in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and other countries. Yet ostentatious and prolonged U.S. military action is often counterproductive to U.S. security. For example, the Iraq War actually led to a worldwide increase in terrorist attacks. Similarly, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have created new terrorist enemies, which are now attempting to attack the United States. And of course, the U.S. government, in aiding Islamist rebels during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, helped create al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
When blowback terrorism, such as the 9/11 strikes, occurs, the same intervening U.S. government, which helped to cause the terrorism problem to begin with, takes away American freedoms at home. So can we say that the U.S. military, which instead of defending the republic is policing the empire, is fighting for the freedom of us all? Hardly. Quite the opposite.
Given these facts, criticism of Ron Paul’s statement—based on crass nationalism and militarism—is what should be appalling, not the statement itself.