Even within what Dr. King called the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, there used to be one constituency you could count on to speak up for world peace: beauty contestants.
No more. And the switch has produced no scandal. Last year, when Miss Italy said she wished she could live during World War II, survivors of that worst ever horror that humanity has inflicted on itself, and other people of normal intelligence in Italy, were scandalized.
But when a soon-to-be Miss USA recently praised the U.S. military as a member of it, as a participant in it, despite the world’s view that the U.S. military is the greatest threat to peace in the world, the U.S. media adored this new development.
This is a 180 degree reversal of the traditional stance of beauty contestants, who had endlessly said they favored world peace. But of course it’s framed as something else entirely. With war totally and amorally normalized, a female (and African-American) member of the military, even a beauty contestant, is interpreted as a symbol of enlightened progress, along the lines of the current neoliberal push to force every young woman to register for the draft.
Miss USA joined the military at age 17, the Washington Post tells us in passing, something illegal under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty ratified by every single nation on earth except the United States.
For those interested in the draft question, I refer you to my handy guide on “How to Oppose the Draft for Women and Not Be Sexist.”
You think this is all tongue-in-cheek and war’s not been normalized? Go ahead and name the seven nations where the United States is at war right now, the seven that the current U.S. president has bragged about having bombed.
Can’t do it? O.K., well, surely you can explain which of the seven wars are justified and legal and which are not?
No? Or perchance you were outraged and raised objections and organized protests when a presidential debate moderator asked a candidate if he would be willing to kill thousands of innocent children as part of his basic duties if elected?
What? You didn’t? Well, maybe you grew concerned when announcers of a televised sporting event (any major U.S. sporting event) thanked U.S. troops for watching from 175 countries? Surely, you got out the list of 175 and asked someone to explain what U.S. troops were doing there.
No? You didn’t? Did you read about kindergarten teachers pushing militarism? Did you know that Starbucks says choosing not to have a store at Guantanamo would constitute a political statement, while having one there is just normal? Did you know that the United Nations now says war is the norm rather than the exception? The United Nations!
The University of Virginia’s magazine has an article in its summer 2016 issue praising and interviewing an alumnus named Robert Neller who is commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. The big focus? The super progressive step of recruiting women into greater participation in wars. But did UVA ask about any of the numerous disastrous wars the United States has been waging? About the troops now fighting on the ground in five nations?
Actually, toward the end of the interview, the interviewer Dianna Cahn (who, like the interviewee, also works for the U.S. military, at its propaganda magazine Stars and Stripes) asked something about the U.S. troops dying in Iraq and Afghanistan (nothing about the 95-plus percent of the deaths in those wars/genocides that are Iraqi and Afghan). She asked something (she doesn’t print the questions) about the futility of fighting over and repeatedly winning and losing the same bits of ground in someone else’s country. Neller said this in response:
“Somebody asked me that when I left Iraq nine years ago . . . ‘What would you tell the families?’ I was really tired. I got all emotional and I said. ‘I’d tell them they did their duty.’ I hated that answer because it sounded just so inadequate.”
Inadequate? I was going to say fascistic. Never mind, Neller has a new answer:
“What I really wish I’d said was, ‘Imagine we lived in a country where if people were called to go do something like this nobody would stand up. Imagine if there were not men and women who would pick up the challenge and go to a faraway land to help somebody live a better life. That would be terrible.'”
Terrible? Imagining and working to achieve such a thing is what keeps me going every day. And not just me. The majority of people in the United States have told pollsters that the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq should never have been started. (And of course they didn’t help people “live a better life” and were not even ever marketed on that basis.) Well, here’s one way we could have kept those wars from being started: everyone asked to go could have refused.
Of course, a majority of those who join the U.S. military say a major reason was the lack of other educational or career prospects. But the majority of those who like the idea of the United States being able to attack faraway people at will have no interest in actually being in the U.S. military themselves; yet they have their whole identity wrapped up in the fantasy of going to war from the comfort of their own couch. Watch this video from the National Rifle Association urging people to buy lots of guns and shoot lots of stuff while fantasizing about attacking Iran.
In a Gallup poll, 44 percent of people in the United States say they “would” fight in a war. What’s stopping them? Fortunately, they do not mean it. Now, try imagining a country in which most people said “Hell no, I would never fight in a war.” Or don’t imagine it; look at that same poll: In Italy, where even beauty queens are held to a certain standard, 68 percent of Italians polled said they would NOT fight for their country. In Germany 62 percent said they would not. In the Czech Republic, 64 percent would not fight for their country. In the Netherlands, 64 percent would not. In Japan only 10 percent would fight in a war for their country.
Let’s work toward emulating those nations.
And let’s restore, in this season of lesser evils, inane speeches in bikinis about wishing for peace on earth.