I'm an Anarchist, and I Don't Hate the Troops

January 30, 2008

First, let it be known that I despise the State and everything it stands for. Let it also be known that as long as people like me exist, Judgment Day forever reigns upon this amoral, criminal institution. Let it further be known that I am under no natural obligation to support its functions, monetarily, morally, or otherwise -- the only reason I cooperate is because I will be arrested, detained, and imprisoned if I fail to do so. If I resist too boldly, I will be shot by the cops. So it goes.

So if I hate that State so much, why don't I hate the cops or the troops? After all, it's a fairly common thing among anti-authoritarian circles to sneer at cops, soldiers, any armed agent of the ruling class. Look at the infamous riots during the G8 protests in Seattle back in 1999, where anarchists and others battled with the cops in the streets, as the corporate fascists looked on in their suites. Counter-cultural music and art is filled with motifs of resentment and resistance against armed authority figures.

To be quite honest, despite my contempt for the State and its violent wars, unjust extortion, and wanton abuses of power, I find it rather hard to conjure up a reddened face, a trembling fist, an agitated mood, and a mouthful of spit when I see a politician or soldier or cop. Oh well. Maybe I'm just a bleeding-heart after all.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin." I'm not a religious person, but this phrase keeps coming to mind when I think on this topic. It's the only concept that comes close to describing my position.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

To be annoyingly precise, it's hard to hate and condemn everyone for believing in and supporting the State whilst I pay my taxes and obey its edicts like everyone else. After all, a small part of my salary went to pay for the bomb that killed a kid in Iraq today. I'm not a collectivist, but considering that we all are forced to pay into this system, we all share a part of the collective blame for its acts. We are a part of that horror whether we like it or not.

And yet the mailman is at most an example of ineptitude, not a petty tyrant. The crossing guard is not Darth Vader. The clerks at the court where I did my jury duty a couple months ago were not agents of Satan. The cops I pass in the train station doing random searches are not genocidal maniacs. And the military men who kill Iraqis and Afghans -- and soon maybe Iranians -- even they started out as guileless babies in the cradle.

But they were all taught to believe in the State, to support it materially and morally. They're all part and parcel of that system. So are you. So am I, unfortunately. If I hate you and them because of that fact, I might as well hate myself too. And I'm not very good at hating myself.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Some say that the police and military naturally attract an unsavory sort of people -- brutish, power-hungry, unprincipled bullies on a power trip. But as often as not, their ranks are staffed with people who are neither sociopaths nor eager little fascists at heart (indeed, it's the martial culture that makes them that way). Many of them sincerely believe that they are protecting their friends, families, the community, and in a larger sense their country, their people, their way of life. They sincerely believe that they are serving the needs of others, that they are serving a greater good in every act they do, big or small, harmful or benign. Deep at heart they may have good intentions, not evil ones, in joining the State apparatus.

After all, we're raised from birth to believe in government -- after all, we're bad little creatures who need to be shepherded lest chaos ensues, right? Of course, governments are run by people, presumed to be the best we have, yet they're cut from the same cloth as the rest of us "low creatures". It makes it easier to deal with this fatal contradiction if you hold the State to a different (note: lower) moral standard than everybody else, and then hide your head in the sand: "Well, it's a necessary evil...that's just the way things are!" The climax: If one person kills, he is a murderer, but if a General or President orders ten thousand people killed in a war, by God, he's a hero!

It should go without saying that an anarchist sees things more objectively; he or she sees that right is right and wrong is wrong  no matter who does it, no matter the stated reason, no matter what flag they fly or anthem they sing. We see the unintended consequences of State actions that others don't acknowledge. We see that taxation is extortion; we see the draft is slavery; we see that government welfare is perverse bribery and turns people into dependent children; we see that most laws enshrine the State's powers and not your rights; and we see politics and elections are just a means of channeling State force to get what certain people want. We also see borders as lines on a sheet of paper called a map. So it goes.

But sometimes our prized objectivity blinds us to what everyone else has been taught to see. We don't understand that while we have overcome our indoctrination, others see it as a source of meaning and structure, and still others live to defend that -- the cops and the soldiers that some hate for defending this system.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

The average age of a soldier killed in Iraq is 21 years. 21 years! At that age people feel invincible, they feel they can take on the whole world, their hormones are boiling and they lack the maturity and life experience to help them think clearly. Kids just out of high school, people from poor families, recent immigrants trying to make it -- these people make up the main demographic of the military, in America at least.

Now, add in a recruiter dangling a carrot in front of their faces: free college tuition; job security; glory; honor; medical; even American citizenship... Do I really have to do the math for you?

Look at the Vietnam vets, who were forced into service by their government and thrown into the trash after the job was done.  Look at the Walter Reed scandal, where our beloved troops languished in decrepit conditions'look at those promised bonuses vanish and watch the limbs fall off in battle'and dude, where's my body armor? The fact of the matter is that these folks are duped, indoctrinated, exploited and used as pawns, then thrown out like soiled Kleenex when done.

The people who start the wars, the people who profit off them -- they are the biggest, baddest villains of all. They're mostly educated men with Ivy League diplomas; they've been bred for leadership and they know exactly what they're doing. They have the power to do it, and they don't care if they abuse it, they don't care how many lives must be destroyed, how many people's lives have to be used, how many windows must be broken, how much must be destroyed, to get what they want!

So, how can I hate the troops when they are victims of statist oppression and callousness just as much as the people they are ordered to boss around and even kill?

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Let me make something clear: "I was only following orders" is not an appropriate excuse for acts of legalized crime, corruption and murder. 20 million Russians murdered by Stalin proved that viscerally. Any act of police brutality, government corruption or legislative boondoggling is wrong and shows the naked immorality of the State at its core. "Our troops" don't get a free pass; I certainly wouldn't give one to the Iraqi troops either. People who willingly kill and bully for the glory of God, Country and Empire -- never for my freedom and security -- are forever accountable to themselves, to God, and to whomever they hurt in the process.

That said, offering blind hatred and contempt fixes nothing, it alienates people who could otherwise be receptive to anarchist or libertarian ideas, and more critically, it prevents an accurate understanding of the issues behind State oppression.

I think of this in the same vein as understanding the social and economic factors behind crime, and the life circumstances that make one turn to that lifestyle. If we try to understand more about these things, we can be in a better position to act to prevent them and rehabilitate people. Critics retort that we should just lock people up and let that be the end if it. They call this being "tough on crime" even thought it fails to address the root causes of crime. Similarly, my critics will say that I shouldn't show "sympathy for the Devil."

It's easy to condemn the government when it screws up, pursues a policy that hurts people, prosecutes a murderous war for oil or land or bragging rights. It's easy to damn the paper-pushers and gun-fondlers who represent this entity. Too easy, in fact. That doesn't strike the root of the problem with the State -- the institution itself, and how it works on people's minds. That's the larger picture that we need to focus on.

And so I say, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

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Marcel Votlucka's picture
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 Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY.  His work focuses on the connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics.  Visit his new website at http://marcelvotlucka.wordpress.com/