Today I realized that what I should say, and what I think almost all Americans should say to someone who fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq, is simply I'm sorry. Sorry for letting you be sent over there. Sorry the antiwar movement wasn't able to stop Bush and Cheney's evil plans. (Those who supported the war should apologize for that.)
By chance I also happened yesterday on a 1960 discussion, now available online, of Robert Heinlein's notorious sf novel Starship Troopers. I haven't read all the contributions yet, but Damon Knight's startled me. This part:
To a dedicated pacifist, "War is horrible" is a basic premise and is interpreted literally. It follows that no recognizably human being could be a professional soldier. But professional soldiers exist. Therefore they must be essentially depraved and brutalized people. When professional soldiers are depicted in fiction as being normal human beings, the pacifist's whole position is threatened; and he screams. So would you.I'm not a pacifist myself, dedicated or otherwise, but I'm alert to the use of "pacifist" as a straw man to distract attention from the issues when war is being discussed. I have not read much of the literature of pacifism, a lack which I suppose I should rectify but doesn't seem all that important to me, because (as I argued in the post I just linked) the real question is whether a specific, given war should be fought, whether the default answer to that question should be (as it normally is) "Yes." The burden of argument, I insist, should rest on the person who advocates bombing anyone else into the Stone Age, not on the person who opposes going to war. But that goes against every instinct of civilized life.
My lack of literacy in pacifist studies is relevant now because I can't say for certain whether or not avowed pacifists hold that "professional soldiers ... must be essentially depraved and brutalized people." I have never seen this asserted (though I welcome citations if my readers can supply any). The only time I encountered such a suggestion (though not by pacifists), I argued against it. Since Knight's accusation is so similar, rhetorically, to accusations generally made against opponents of war (they spit on our troops! they want us to be overrun by the dirty Reds!), I think it's safe to dismiss it. I can't imagine such a defense made of mundane-fiction books about war; those I've heard of or read don't depict soldiers as essentially depraved -- not all that surprising since they are often written by veterans. It's the governments they serve, the men and women who run those governments, who are depraved, as we see over and over again.