The ‘I fight so my child won’t have to’ lie

This piece by Jonathan Raab is heartbreaking and true:

It was a stock answer, and it came in many variations:

“I fight so my child won’t have to.”

It was a popular saying among soldiers during the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts, especially the ones you saw on TV. It’s a soundbite-friendly philosophy that communicates a sadness for having been at war but a hopefulness in what that war could accomplish. It lent meaning to the drudgery of day-to-day soldiering, and gave people at home (not exactly the homefront by any means, but home, even if upon returning to it it was almost unrecognizable) an insight into the motivations of those who would volunteer to serve, fight, and even die in the name of the United States. …

While we can spin such stories into narratives of honor and family values, they are also a portent of a terrible new truth. We now live in a culture where perpetual warfare with nebulous objectives against an abstract enemy is the norm. We have a whole generation of young people who understand that the nation is at war, has been at war, and will be at war for the foreseeable future, but don’t understand what that really means—or should mean—in the context of a civil, democratic society. This is war without sacrifice, war by choice, war without end. …

Another war is upon us, and in this coming conflict, the seeds are sown for future destabilization and war. Americans seem content to launch war after war against “moral outrage”, but don’t stop to consider that the monsters we fight may be so horrible precisely because we made them that way.

Looking back on all the times my brothers and sisters in uniform said “I fight so my child won’t have to,” or any of its variations, I can’t help but feel a pang of despair.

We thought it would be over, eventually. Our government—in its perpetual funding and arming of our future enemies—has other ideas.

I say ‘lie’ because that’s what this is. Servicemen and women who convince themselves that their children won’t have to fight a war that the government regards as perpetual and unbounded are lying to themselves. Empire never takes a holiday.

We all want our children to grow up in a country that is not in a state of permanent war. The way to do that is not to fight endless, undefined wars now, but to fight the ideologues, war profiteers, and entrenched interests that have a stake in prolonging and starting new ones.

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