The Great American Vet Fet, Part 2: Magical Thinking
By Matt Cricchio
If we want to do our part to break The Great American Veteran Fetish the first thing we must do is to stop all of our magical thinking. Magical Thinking? Is that what your boy did when he told you his dependapotamus was really, for sure, going to finish her nursing degree after 14 semesters at the University of Phoenix (online), finally, and spare him from financing their third Mustang at a 21% interest rate? That’s definitely one type of magical thinking.
Here are three more types—
Personal magical thinking: It’s 2012, and in my little corner of the war, instead of sloshing through a fresh dusting of empty shell casings after a brutal TIC, I’m in a plywood hut kicking mini Rip It cans out of the way to get to my Toughbook. My Warrant is already there, nose so close to the screen it looks like he wants to push it through. We’re winding down with our nightly ritual: bullshit coffee in a Styrofoam cup, mouth full of dip (affectionally known as a lipperccino) and surfing conspiracy theory websites long before John Q. Public began storming pizza parlors to free enslaved children from lizard overlords. My Warrant loved conspiracy theories. His favorites involved the actions of a certain unnamed (I signed a goddamned NDA, people!) unit conducting clandestine operations in support of Hilary Clinton’s nefarious international goals.
It always gave me a good laugh. We were co-located with black SOF. Shit, we were in a SOF unit ourselves. If HRC really had this much pull and ambition, wouldn’t we be the motherfuckers she sent to do her global dirty work? My Warrant would look away from the computer, spit a dark slash of tobacco into his empty water bottle, stare at me and say, “you’re so naïve about the world, Cricchio.”
Until our CO committed suicide with his issued pistol in the middle of our deployment. My Warrant saw the body with his own eyes, was involved in CACO duties. I didn’t think much about it at all, unless you count being shocked out of my skull as not thinking about it at all. It just seemed like one of those things that happens, in or out of deployment.
After the body was returned home and we got back into the war (let me hear my motivators) we’re back to the wind down ritual. More good stuff on The Ice Queen Clinton and, this time, something particularly juicy. The conspiracy circuit was convinced that our CO was just another body on the long list of Clinton victims. You may recall that Madame Secretary suffered some sort of head injury around that time, and the nuts claimed that it was from an aborted take-off out of Iran while negotiating the Obama peace deal. HRC had wanted to conceal the extent of her injury and it turned out that our CO was on her PSD, so he—along with everyone else—were suicided to keep the secret.
I’ll never forget my Warrant’s look as we read it together. He’d been an operator for almost 30 years at that point. I’d never seen him shook by anything—not even when the CO killed himself. But his face went blank looking at that screen. I think he even swallowed all his dip juice. He turned to me, just like every other time I ranted about the impossibility of these sad little stories. And he knew that I knew that he knew. I liked conspiracy theories because they’re funny. He actually believed them. Magical thinking.
All he said was, “goddamnit, sonofabitch.”
I said: “maybe we’re next.”
Historical magical thinking: America isn’t a warrior culture. Drafts have been instituted for six major conflicts to varying degrees of success. In fact, Daniel Webster (who invented the dictionary and ruined my life by making spelling bees a thing seven-year-olds are supposed to be good at) argued that drafts are unconstitutional. The draft in World War I was particularly effective because—are you ready for this, patriots?—cultural sensitivity practices were instituted in ethnically distinct units to create cohesion. That’s right, the Italians got spaghetti and opera and were able to babble in their mother tongue all while identifying as Americans and fighting against the old country. Same goes for other major ethnic groups. Buncha snowflakes, if you ask me.
The only peacetime drafts in America occurred during the periods between World War II and Korea and then again between Korea and Vietnam. How’d that go? There were at least 11 different ways to avoid the draft (beyond bone spurs and graduate school) and nearly half a million people avoided serving this way. You know the story from here, if you were black or a poor white rural or inner-city kid you went to Vietnam. In fact, South Boston—a poor, white, working-class Irish neighborhood—had men die at a rate seven times higher than the entire nation in that war.
Many Americans heeded the call and served and served honorably, no doubt. But not for some trumped up warrior history. We’ve always valued the solitary gunfighter, and if you look at the popular culture of this nation, the Western and its outlaws or loner lawmen were national heroes almost 90 years, only to be replaced by the gangster—Michael Corleone, Avon Barksdale, Walter White—who are, to this day, the fighting ideal of American men.
But maybe you’re Kyle from Minnesota and you don’t like gangsters. How about a ronin—the samurai without a master? Only in America, is this traditionally shameful, lone fighter revered. We like self-reliant, rugged individuals standing up to forces bigger than themselves no matter the cost. This is why a Terminal Lance is funny. It’s why the ironic name of this website hits home. If you think that America is built on the back of warriors, then you are the most magical of thinkers.
Societal magical thinking: This country sent us to war with no plan for the return. Or really no plan at all. The drawback of ending the draft is that the war—like so many other things in American life—became someone else’s problem. An all-volunteer force is easy to forget. And though I strongly believe that a democracy founded upon the sovereignty of an individual that’s educated themselves free of superstition and uses logic and reason to discover truth has no room for primal warriors, I’m not stupid. War is about killing and killing is done by killers.
It’s a job, sure, but it’s also about doing and seeing things that you feel in your blood from the time you’re a boy. This GWOT generation has been in more sustained combat than any American generation previous, we are feted by the public as heroes, protectors, sheepdogs, warriors. They unlock their homes, businesses, and wallets for us.
But why the fuck aren’t they terrified that we’ll take this thing over the minute we get tired of the nonsense? We have all the skills and ability. The past experiences to create cohesion. It’s ours, if we want it. Forgetting to guard the guardians—as the Roman’s would say—is the worst kind of magical thinking and maybe suicidal.
Except we won’t. Forget brovet infighting and internet meme wars that come between us, the reason we won’t start forming units and running ops is because the military brain washing that really trickled down to the base of our spines is professionalism. It’s the advantage of an all-volunteer force. You train people for a job and set them on a course to master the tasks and skills required for that job. They do it reasonably well (except for the dirt bags, obviously) and not for money, or recognition, or rank (except some of you slimy motherfuckers) but for respect. Professional respect. In the end, being a true professional: capable, accountable, skilled is the true reward, the real title we should all want.
A professional joins up, goes to war, sees madness and beauty, does their job, and returns home. Not a hero, not a warrior, but a citizen who has learned and operated under pressure, at the point of friction, and has the tools to learn another job—or several—to be useful to their society. Warriors aren’t useful to anyone but flag waivers and “thank you for your service” hurlers. But professionals? Shit, they might be able to have nine more good lives after the war is over.
Let them have their fetish. I’ll keep my work ethic. They’ll still be the ones sitting at home while we’re making it happen wherever we end up landing.
Written By Matt Cricchio
December 28, 2020