Earlier this month, a little-discussed headline read “Muted Ceremony Marks End Of Iraq War.” 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). 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.
As a writer, I understand the appeal of military narratives, but more attention should be devoted, not to the fighting of wars, but to their beginnings. I’m not sure a single one would survive scrutiny. Of course, once wars have begun — once an endeavor is sprinkled with the blood of good people — it gains monumental significance and becomes its own justification.
Additionally, until a state of war becomes the new normal, the soldier’s suffering is painstakingly documented to be used as a bludgeon. With it, dissenters are silenced for their lack of patriotism. Taxpayers are reminded of the insufficiency of their sacrifice. Fiscal conservatives are condemned for endangering “our” young men and women in uniform. An idea essential to this propaganda is that the soldier, like the rest of government, is not “them”; the soldier is “us.”
As a former infantryman and six-year veteran with three combat tours, I feel free of the guilt that silences many dissenters. The myths and benefits of military service are powerful and practical. I don’t blame anyone for falling under their spell. Many people have rolled the dice on their physical safety for much less.
My own disillusionment had much to do with the painful realization that almost no one asked me to keep them safe; that I wasn’t, in fact, keeping anyone safe; and that despite this, I was thanked profusely by the very people whose taxes I consumed — a testimony to the powerful web of myths involving the state as our selfless protector.
Compare the status of the soldier to that of the mercenary. (There is much to criticize about the private security contractors doing business with the U.S. government in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is not capitalism, but corporatism.) Nevertheless, 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.
I welcome any scaling back of our misguided adventures in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. However, what CNN touted as the “end of the Iraq War,” can be described, at least partially, as a shift toward the type of warfighters more amenable to the state’s aims at this late stage: the silent type.
 Richard Allen Greene and Moni Basu, “Muted Ceremony Marks End Of Iraq War,” CNN, December 15, 2011.
 Erik Slavin, “Thousands Of Private Contractors Still In Iraq,” Stars and Stripes, December 15, 2011, Margaret Griffis, “Iraqi Critics Questions Size Of US Embassy Staff In Baghdad,” Antiwar.com.