This week in my International Honors Experience of War course, we discussed Phil Klay’s piece on Citizen Soldiers from earlier this year. Article It was, as always, an interesting discussion and I would like to highlight a couple points that came up.
First, there was much discussion about whether the moral sacrifice (the idea that war may require military people to sacrifice or harm their souls, consciences or moral character) is part of the contract between society and the military. Its clear that the potential sacrifice of life and limb is part of the contract, as is agreeing to live by a certain code and even sacrifice (for a while) some political liberties. But is the moral sacrifice part of the deal? Some students thought that civilians thought that it was, but that some the military perspective this was not part of the deal. This is an interesting question that merits much more discussion.
Second, we focused on the idea that there was something missing when veterans came home. When spent a good deal of time puzzling over what this missing link is? Some thought gratitude or appreciation, but for what and in what form? Others thought it was a sense of connection or relevance – that they were still needed? Still others focused on the ideas of vets coming home to a society that was ‘worth’ the sacrifice that was made. For many the idea that people at home seemed unaware or uninterested in the wars being fought resonated.
Finally, the students raised the distinction between patriotism and nationalism as we got into the discussion about the Kneeling during the National Anthem controversy and what this had to do (or didn’t) with veterans. I think that this is a helpful distinction and I am hoping that some of my students will do more work on this! Worship of the nation clearly has some problematic aspects (especially if it is uncritical), while for my students patriotism (not jingoistic) as love of country and heritage seemed to capture something that allowed criticism and protest; patriotism opened the possibility that civilians could participate with the military in the defense and work of the country..
Let this discussion continue! What are your thoughts?