The Atlantic has called attention to reports that President Trump has called people (mostly young men, often of color) who die or are maimed or disfigured for life in military combat “losers”. An intermediate article by Jeffrey Goldberg lays out the concerns. It is titled, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and “Suckers’”. There is a tagline, “The president has repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members, and asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades, multiple sources tell The Atlantic”.
One of the most telling comments is that the president doesn’t get. One comment is “He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself” or of volunteering for some kind of possibly personally risky service. Other comments suggest he can’t understand doing things other than for measurable monetary gain, which is a double-edged idea indeed.
I’ve told the story of my own experience with the draft (1968) and how I leveraged it to make unusual arguments for lifting the ban on gays in the military in my first book (1997) in many posts. I remember that in my first platoon at Ft. Jackson, the squad leader was a charismatic black man who had been a pre-med student but not enough money to stay in school.
Since I was “behind” other boys physically growing up, I felt particularly sensitive to the idea of male sacrifice, particularly around the time of seventh grade (1955). I experienced this feeling in relation to the idea of having more to lose proportionately than other boys. It is easier to be generous in the way you deploy yourself around others if you “have” more physical assets in the first place. It’s when “it costs you something” that sacrifice is transformative. It was somewhat common, like in grad school before the draft, to hear young men say, if they were badly wounded in combat they did not want to come back.
Furthermore, given my inclination for “upward affiliation” in relations with others, becoming disfigured by combat would mean that I could never feel attraction for the person, or, conversely, if that happened to me I could never expect a relationship. This idea was a very big deal in those NIH days.
Yet we have a nation built on unseen sacrifices of others that we take for granted. You could start with slavery. The military draft and student deferment system that we had until 1969 implied that “smart people’s lives” mattered more than others.
Without getting too far into this, it’s easy to see that the idea of sacrifice comes up again any time there is social unrest as now, or a pandemic (and the idea of “survival of the fittest”).
The Washington Post has some more background on this (Teo Armus).
Update: Sept 8
Kait Wyatt, widow of a Marine, weighed in on Trump's behavior and his lack of understanding of submission to goals greater than the self. CNN story.