American Killing Machines (and the Cowards who Lead Them)
I don’t use Twitter, for the same reason Donald Trump does use it, namely that it’s a forum perfectly suited to encourage mindless attention-seeking and tribal lynch mob bravado from people too cowardly and lazy even to march at the rear end of any real mob. Occasionally, however, I come across a Trump tweet while reading a news item or reader’s comment. Most people’s tweets would be of no importance to me, since I prefer more substantial and cerebral forms of communication, but in the case of Trump there is no more substantial form of communication, as there is no functioning cerebrum at all. Toilet typing is his most serious means of engagement with the world. And yet he is, sadly, a person whose “thoughts” carry some historical import these days, a fact which I believe may be interpreted as the seventh seal.
So today, from the edge of the apocalypse, we have this beauty:
The case of Major Mathew Golsteyn is now under review at the White House. Mathew is a highly decorated Green Beret who is being tried for killing a Taliban bombmaker. We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill! @PeteHegseth
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2019
“We train our boys to be killing machines.” Is Donald Trump aware that he is talking about over two million American voters (active and reserve military), not to mention roughly twenty million living veterans. These people, mostly men (the “boys” to whom President Bone Spurs refers in his Hollywood war movie lingo), are the sons of American mothers, the brothers of American girls, the husbands of American women, the fathers of American children.
Killing machines? Yes, they are of course trained to handle themselves with courage and dutifulness in life-and-death situations, to stand their ground under fire and in the face of extreme personal peril, and to do the most terrible deeds to enemies when called upon in the name of defending the freedom and well-being of the aforementioned families they left behind, and millions more like them — basically, they are expected to exhibit all the manly virtues their perpetually pampered and minutely manicured commander-in-chief manifestly lacks.
But killing machines? Certainly, as part of their training, these “boys” are teased up to accentuating the virtues related to bravery and aggressive protectiveness, while dampening those related to moderation and reflection. That is, they are trained to an exaggerated emphasis on characteristics that should normally be somewhat subdued and constrained in the peacetime life of civil society. And then, however, they are reintegrated into civil society, usually without serious incident, as they are encouraged to moderate those aggressive, protective reflexes in the name of contributing to their peacetime community as productive citizens in good standing. It is essential to this necessary reintegration process that they not perceive themselves as “killing machines” — instruments of conquest for its own sake — but rather as defenders and protectors of those civilian goods to which they themselves will in principle return some day.
“Killing machines” is a label of denigration, using the language of Jane Fonda or a hundred generic leftwing Vietnam movies. For this label implicitly denies these young men their dignity and free will. It strips them of their rationality and judgment. Most of all, it portrays them as unprincipled followers or instruments, mere tools of mercenary or automatic violence to be used and manipulated at will by their human betters.
In this sense, Trump’s expression reveals the mind of its user. For Trump is what is commonly called a sociopath, a man addled at an infantile stage of moral development, never having developed the proper human capacity for empathy and an understanding of the worth or full humanity of other people as such. He therefore sees everyone as a tool of his desires, to be used and discarded as he sees fit, without concern for their independent personhood or personal interests, let alone for any normal human considerations of truthfulness, consistency, or honor. He sells his country’s foreign policy to the Russians, sells major post-WWII allies to the Chinese and North Koreans, sells strategic partners in the Middle East to massacre at the hands of the Turks, and never feels so much as a twinge of self-doubt or simple compassion for the millions being forsaken in the process. For none of those millions are him, and therefore none of them are of any consequence, except as two-dimensional cutouts among the anonymous, cheering crowd in his imagination.