05/26/2007 02:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

NPR, Military Training and "The Good Old Days"

A recent Talk of the Nation was strange indeed. Like most major media discussions, it was a conversation between the right and the far right. But the conversation was disturbing because of the shared assumptions of everyone on the air.

The "issue," based on a current article by Brian Mockenhaupt in Atlantic Monthly was that perhaps we are treating military recruits too gently. They are not getting the tough, old, grizzly treatment that real soldiers got in the good old days. Is the new method working, they wondered? Will it backfire?

No one was questioning the mission. No one was wondering if it was right for us to have killed 600,000 Iraqis. No one questioned the mission of empire. It was just a calm talk about how to go about the business.

Absent from the discussion was any consideration of the real mission of the military - to train young men and women to kill, eviscerate, explode, sear, and generally tear apart the bodies of other human beings. All this reality was masked under the smooth corporate speak about getting U.S. soldiers "prepared for their mission," and "up to standard," and "properly prepared." I mean, give me a break!

The most difficult task in military training is to turn a company of civilians into killers. Yes, it's hard to risk your life, too, but basically soldiers hope and pray they won't get killed and they are shocked when they receive wounds. The conscious work, though, the thing they have to do with precision and commitment, is to kill. Take any classroom of teenagers. They may be surly. They may be resistant. But tell them to walk out of the classroom and start killing people - they have your permission. It won't happen. Oh, maybe one in a hundred would be delighted, would jump into the task. But most. . . no way. It's horrifying -- morally and physically.

Turning a company of youngsters into trained killers takes a certain brutalization. Perhaps NPR should have been asking why a recent poll of military attitudes found astoundingly large numbers of American soldiers who think torture and abusing civilians is OK and reporting atrocities is not OK. These are some well-trained soldiers.

Everything about the military points to the Orwellian double-speak we have gotten ourselves into. It is not called the military killing force; it is "the service," as in, "Oh, what is your job? Oh, you're in the service, how interesting." Service is really not what soldiers do.

By the way, I went through training in the apparent "good old days," when training was badass and men were men (or whatever). I did basic at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. in 1969 and advanced training (infantry mortar) at Fort Polk, Louisiana in 1970. Here's an interesting truth: by the time I got to advanced training, the drill sergeants, mostly black, mostly lifers, mostly from the south, were the most openly against the .U.S involvement in the Vietnam War. Hated it. After all, they had been there. They knew how ridiculous it was. Their advice: lay low, stay out of firefights, don't be stupid or a hero.

The truth is, an imperialist army that is winning is disgusting. Lots of killing and raping. Lots of triumphant chest beating. Dangerous young men with weapons. An imperialist army that is being defeated, as we were in Vietnam, is much more humanized. These youngsters start thinking about the meaning of life; the deception that got them sent over; the humanity of the apparent enemy.

The wonks on NPR could debate back and forth how to make the GI's most effective to "carry out their mission," but it was all quite antiseptic, devoid of the real business of the U.S. military.