Soldiers on Facebook and the worship of Death
Facebook, of course, has its plusses and minuses. One of the much talked about plusses is the ability it gives its users to reconnect with people from their pasts. As is well known to FB users, this can also be a minus when the reconnection proves awkward.
Today I received a “friend request” from a high school friend. I went to a small Catholic high school in West Virginia and because we had a small class, we were pretty tight. Before approving his request I clicked to his (limited) profile and noted that since high school he had joined the Marines. His profile picture showed himself and a military friend showing off their (gigantic) guns. Thinking to myself, “Let’s see how this goes,” I approved the request.
As I usually do, I clicked back to his profile to see the rest of it, and saw that he had posted, approvingly, the following video. (Warning: Although it depicts cartoonish violence, the content is undeniably racist. The backing track also includes extreme language.)
Facebook, MySpace, blogs, etc.—for better or worse—provide a glimpse into how real people think. There are a growing number of stories which relay the extremities of these glimpses, many of them involving the online behavior of soldiers.
What soldiers think is funny and what they are willing to share online with their “friends” is quite revealing. These are not soldiers-as-abstractions. This is what my Marine “friend” David thinks is funny. This is how David thinks. To my recollection, he did not think this way in high school. He was a just a burnt hippie who skipped school a lot.
To clarify, then, this is how David now thinks. Something in the meantime made him think this way. Is it unreasonable to presume that military training had something to do with it? As I argue in a paper currently under review for publication, military discipleship is a cycle of dehumanizing conversion that seems condemned to end always in death. Death becomes the very center of the person shaped by today’s u.s. military. It shapes his praxis, training him to kill without thought and without remorse. It shapes his ultimate concern, leading him (and u.s. society at large) to believe that his own willingness to die is what gives us freedom, what gives us “the good life,” what makes “our” country “great.” And it even shapes his sense of humor.
We tend to call the center of a person’s life—whatever that may be—the “god” that that person worships. We are beginning to see, in large and in small ways, that soldiering for the u.s. empire leads quite literally to the worship of Death.