Lies We Tell Ourselves

Authored by Major Danny Sjursen via,

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is, and we were young.

— A. E. Housman, 1859-1936

Seven of my soldiers are dead. Two committed suicide. Bombs got the others in Iraq and Afghanistan. One young man lost three limbs. Another is paralyzed. I entered West Point a couple of months before 9/11. Eight of my classmates died “over there.”

Military service, war, sacrifice - when I was 17, I felt sure this would bring me meaning, adulation, even glory. It went another way.

Sixteen years later, my generation of soldiers is still ensnared in an indecisive, unfulfilling series of losing wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Niger—who even keeps count anymore? Sometimes, I allow myself to wonder what it’s all been for.

I find it hard to believe I’m the only one who sees it. Nonetheless, you hear few dissenting voices among the veterans of the “global war on terror.” See, soldiers are all “professionals” now, at least since Richard Nixon ditched the draft in 1973. Mostly the troops—especially the officers—uphold an unwritten code, speak in esoteric vernacular and hide behind a veil of reticence. It’s a camouflage wall as thick as the “blue line” of police silence. Maybe it’s necessary to keep the machine running. I used to believe that. Sometimes, though, we tell you lies. Don’t take it personally: We tell them to each other and ourselves as well.

Consider just three:

1. Soldiers don’t fight (or die) for king, country or apple pie. They do it for each other, for teammates and friends. Think Henry V’s “band of brothers.” In that sense, the troops can never be said to die for nothing.

No disrespect to the fallen, but this framework is problematic and a slippery-slope formula for forever war. Imagine the dangerous inverse of this logic: If no soldiers’ lives can be wasted, no matter how unmerited or ill-advised the war, then the mere presence of U.S. “warriors” and deaths of American troopers justifies any war, all war. That’s intellectually lazy. Two things can, in fact, be true at once: American servicemen can die for no good reason and may well have fought hard and honorably with/for their mates. The one does not preclude the other.

Unfortunately, it seems Americans are in for (at least) three more years of this increasingly bellicose—and perilous—rhetoric. We saw it when Sean Spicer, President Trump’s former press secretary, had the gall to declare that questioning the success of a botched January raid in Yemen “does a disservice” to the Navy SEAL killed in the firefight. It got worse from there. Trump tweeted that a certain senator—Vietnam veteran John McCain, of all people—who talked about “the success or failure of the mission” to the media had “emboldened the enemy.” According to this fabled logic, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens died for his brothers-in-arms, and thus to even ponder the “what-for” is tantamount to abetting the enemy.

2. We have to fight “them”—terrorists, Arabs, Muslims, whomever—“over there” so we don’t end up fighting them “over here.”

In fact, the opposite is likely true. Detailed State Department statistics demonstrate that international terrorist attacks numbered just 346 in 2001 (down from 426 in 2000), versus 11,072 worldwide in 2016. That’s a cool 3,100 percent increase. Sure, the vast majority of those attacks occurred overseas—mostly suffered by civilians across the Greater Middle East. Then again, even domestic attacks have risen since the U.S. launched its “war on terror.” In 2001, 219 “terror” attacks worldwide were considered by the Department of State to be “anti-US,” and only four of those occurred in North America (the homeland). In 2016, by way of contrast, 72 terrorist incidents took place in North America, and 61 of those were in the United States alone.

Consider the data another way: From 1996 to 2000 (pre-9/11), an average of 5.6 people were killed annually in terror attacks within the United States. Now fast-forward 15 years. From 2012 to 2016, an average of 32.2 people died at the hands of terrorists here in the U.S. Since 2001, lethal attacks on the homeland and/or U.S. interests haven’t decreased. Quite the reverse: Such incidents have only proliferated. Something isn’t working.

That’s still a remarkably small number, mind you, about the same chance as death by lightning strike. Furthermore, from 2005 to 2015, 66 percent of terrorism fatalities in the U.S. were not perpetrated by Islamist groups. Besides, domestic mass shootings (in this case defined as four or more victims killed or wounded in a single event) are far more dangerous, with 1,072 incidents from 2013 to 2015. No doubt we’d hear more about these attacks if the culprits were a bit browner and named Ali or Abdullah.

It appears that U.S. military action may even be making matters worse. Take Africa, for instance. Prior to 9/11, few American troops patrolled the continent, and there were few recognized anti-U.S. threat groups in the region. Nonetheless, President George W. Bush (and later Barack Obama) soon sent more and more U.S. special operators to “advise and assist” across Africa. By 2017, al-Qaida and Islamic State-linked factions had multiplied and were now killing American troops.

It all appears rather counterproductive. For one final example, let us look at Yemen, just across the Red Sea from turbulent Africa. The U.S.-backed Saudi terror bombings on Yemeni civilians is doing more than just killing tens of thousands, spreading cholera and causing famine. That’s bad enough. It turns out that by helping Saudi Arabia pummel Yemen into the Stone Age, the U.S.-backed coalition is diminishing state control over broad swaths of the country and empowering al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula—which now holds sway in much of eastern Yemen.

Let’s review: The threat from terrorism is minuscule, is not even majority “Islamic,” pales in comparison with domestic mass shooting deaths and has not measurably decreased since 9/11. Remind me again how fighting “them there” saves soldiers from having to fight “them here?”

3. Americans are obliged to honor the troops. They fight for your freedom. Actively opposing the war(s) dishonors their sacrifice.

This is simply illogical and another surefire way to justify perpetual war. Like the recent NFL national anthem debate, such rhetoric serves mostly as a distraction. First off, it’s abstract and absurd to argue that U.S. troops engaged in the sprawling “war on terror” are dying to secure American freedom. After all, these are wars of choice, “away-games” conducted offensively in distant lands, with dubious allies and motives. Furthermore, all this fighting, killing and dying receives scant public debate and is legally “sanctioned” by a 16-year-old congressional authorization.

All this “don’t dishonor the troops” nonsense is as old as war itself. These sorts of “stab-in-the-back” myths were heard in Weimar Germany after World War I and in post-Vietnam America. You know the shtick: The soldiers could’ve won, should’ve won, if only they hadn’t been stabbed in the back by politicians, and so on. Let’s not forget, however, that the First Amendment—for those who bother to read it—sanctifies the citizenry’s right to dissent. Furthermore, the Constitution purposefully divides responsibility for war-making among the separate branches of government. Those who claim peaceful protest dishonors or undermines “the soldiers” don’t want an engaged populace. These folks prefer obedient automatons, replete with “thanks for your service” platitudes and yellow ribbons plastered on car bumpers. As far for me, I’ll take an engaged, thoughtful electorate over free Veterans Day meals at the local Texas Roadhouse any day.

The half-truths, comfortable fictions and outright lies are more than a little dangerous. They are affecting the next generation of young Americans. For instance, a full decade and two wars after I graduated, I taught history at West Point. Best job I ever had. My first crop of freshman cadets will graduate in May. They’re impressive young men and women. They’re mostly believers (for that, I envy them), ready to kick ass and wipe the floor with Islamic State—or Islamic State 2.0—or whomever. No one really tells them of the quagmires and disappointments that lie ahead. A few of us try, but we’re the outliers. Most cadets are unreachable. It has always been this way.

Truthfully, I surmise, it wouldn’t matter anyway. A surprising number of the cadets want to end up like me and so many others: disenchanted, lost and broken. There’s a romance to it. I felt the tug once, too. Some of my students will excel, and 10 years from now, they’ll come back to West Point and mentor cadets en route to the same ugly places, the same never-ending wars. Those kids, mind you, will have been born a decade after 9/11. Thinking on this near certainty, I want to throw up. But make no mistake: It will be so.

A system of this sort—one that produces and exalts generations of hopeless soldiers—requires millions of individual lies and necessitates discarding inconvenient truths. Only maybe, just maybe, it’s all rather simple. Perhaps we’re just pawns, duped in a very old game. Maybe soldiers’ sacrifices offer nothing of any real value. Nothing, that is, besides a painful warning: Trust not your own policymakers, your leaders or even the public. They’ll let you down every time.

* * *

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a Truthdig regular contributor, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, "Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge."


J S Bach Zero Point Sat, 01/06/2018 - 21:03 Permalink

I read this article earlier today on the Truthdig site.

It's good to see actual veterans speaking sanity to the brainwashing lies of "fighting for democracy" which sold most of them into the armed services of  the United States of Israel.  It's got to be especially hard for them - assuming they come from dyed-in-the-wool 'Murican households who wave the flag at everything.  Hopefully, some of their friends and relatives will listen to reason and finally figure out for themselves what a farce our foreign policy has been for the past 30 years.  Bring the servicemen home to protect OUR borders and forcibly evict the (((dual citizen traitors))) and their lickspittle puppets who have brought all of this upon us.

In reply to by Zero Point

Cry Baby Moe dirty fingernails Sun, 01/07/2018 - 05:49 Permalink

baby soldier poo wants his mama. hurt his biddy finger when he bumped his hand on rocky?

Either the guy who wrote this snapped or should not have been in the army to begin with.


All the stupid statistics that they warp to fit their narrative have no basis in reality.

We support our troops and the security they provide for us. The best defense is a good offense!

In reply to by dirty fingernails

Endgame Napoleon cpl8140 Sun, 01/07/2018 - 08:25 Permalink

This guy truly needs to write a book, not that I agree with him on everything.

The US had to respond to an attack, in which nearly 3,000 Americans were killed. It was the biggest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Bush II had zero choice in the Afghanistan War.

The writer’s comparative statistics are interesting and used much more honestly than most wagging of statistical data. People hurl statistics like the figures represent objective truth, rather than just one mathematical angle on truth. 

However, when he points out that 66% of terror acts in America were committed by Islamist groups, he needs to put that in proportion to their presence in the US population. A tiny minority is committing 44% of the acts of terrorist mass murder. 

In reply to by cpl8140

rejected Endgame Napoleon Sun, 01/07/2018 - 12:21 Permalink

Another one that believes the 9/11 BS. Three buildings that collapse INTO THEIR FOOTPRINT and only 2 hit by aircraft.

Then we're told Kerosene melts steel. Then were fed the pancake BS. Then we're fed the Airplane that hit the Pentagon was going soooo fast it disintegrated! Then we're fed the entire American Air Defense System failed because the military was practicing civilian airplanes hitting buildings that later Condesleezy Rice said no one ever considered that, even though a TV show,,, The Lone Gunman,,, aired 6 months prior with a plot that was exactly that. Then we're fed a few morons with Box Cutters did all this.

Man,,, there's no hope!



In reply to by Endgame Napoleon

Rabbitnexus rejected Sun, 01/07/2018 - 22:19 Permalink

I think you'll find they actually demolished 3 more WTC buildings that day..I am retired demolitions/pyro and whilst people in this game are naturally reticent, given all their work requires government permits....(God bless Danny Jowenko)...and I could swear I heard 2 or three more skyscrapers got demo'd at the time. 5 or 6 total!


Everyone knows about the North and South Towers and most know about the WTC7. but look up WTC 5 and 6.  ALL equally impossible in the time frame given of course, unless pre-wired!

In reply to by rejected

Baron von Bud Cry Baby Moe Sun, 01/07/2018 - 07:27 Permalink

Yeah, Moe, wave that flag. We spend $800B/yr on that "good offense". How is that helping you or anyone's family? It's all bs. Global Warming is bs, 9/11 is bs, Bush ... Obama, etc etc. What's not bs is real jobs where a working man can save money for his family's future. Is that even remotely possible for most young working people? That could be a topic at the next ZH Symposium in Marfa, TX.

In reply to by Cry Baby Moe

new game Baron von Bud Sun, 01/07/2018 - 08:31 Permalink

until the money source is dealt with nothing changes...

seeing in the future a russia/iran/china silk road alternative as the (self imposed) outcome, with a no good for merika reality evolving from current policies. sad reality of get real critical thinking logical outcome of current fed policy dragged by congress spending and future promises.


In reply to by Baron von Bud

Cloud9.5 Anonymous Liberty Sun, 01/07/2018 - 09:55 Permalink

The seven countries slated for invasion were countries closely tied to the world’s remaining oil reserves.  These wars are resource wars.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Trillions in conjured money support the military industrial complex that is coming face to face with the simple fact that the energy expended in its conquest is not being replaced by the energy captured by those conquests. Occupation is even more energy intensive than the initial capture.  Resource wars on this scale are approaching a zero sum game.  Collapse is in the wind.

In reply to by Anonymous Liberty

shitshitshit dirty fingernails Sun, 01/07/2018 - 05:55 Permalink

 the wars (and abortion) are the harvest of the (((chosen ones))).

As much as alcohol got Amerika rid of its native Indian population, as much as drug and firearms are taking care of proud niggahs and Hispanics out there, there needed to be something to round up and suppress the best white people, and this thing is war. 

Think about how the military system is more oriented towards white males than any other group and then you'll realize what depletes or race from its youth. 

In the meantime other groups breed like rabbits. 


In reply to by dirty fingernails

Chris88 Bes Sun, 01/07/2018 - 12:02 Permalink

1% tax cuts?  Please let me know where, thanks.  Even if it was true, the idiocy of that statement is astounding.  "The government stole a tiny bit less of a percentage of your income even though you still pay the vast majority of taxes in the US, therefore your kids should die."  Bang up logic.

In reply to by Bes

johnnycanuck TBT or not TBT Sun, 01/07/2018 - 02:34 Permalink

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest."



"Naturally the common people don't want war...

whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders... All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.."



In reply to by TBT or not TBT

Anonymous Liberty TBT or not TBT Sun, 01/07/2018 - 07:45 Permalink

Damn I'm sure glad someone finally said it.. the entire notion and rhetoric we hear day in and day out about fucking democracy just kills me. How can one speak of their rights under the Bill of Rights and then use the word democracy in same sentence is absolutely beyond belief! What people DO NOT UNDERSTAND is in democracy rights can and are removed at the will of the majority! You'd think after so many election losses to where the majority chose the losing candidate SOMEONE would have to say hmmm hold on this ISN'T A DEMOCRACY I GET IT NOW! But we don't we just hear how the electoral college is out dated and needs to be repealed!! #asshats

In reply to by TBT or not TBT

HardAssets Anonymous Liberty Sun, 01/07/2018 - 09:36 Permalink

The troops & the overall population have been subjected to long term brainwashing.

Ask your average American the difference between a 'democracy' and a 'republic'. They haven't a clue.

Their 'patriotism' is made up of vague mental images of flags, 4th of July, and John Wayne movies. And young men actually join the military based on such mental images.

Oligarch money interests took over public education over a century ago. They also own the media. They have created a nation of childish fools to manipulate.

In reply to by Anonymous Liberty

Chuck Walla J S Bach Sun, 01/07/2018 - 09:54 Permalink

There hasn't been a war the US needed to fight since 1812. None of the rest were our problem. Let the South go. There's nothing in the Constitution compelling states to stay.


WWI, all for Wilson's ego to go to a Europe that had been at war with itself for a 1,000 years. WW II, wouldn't have happened without us in I.


The rest were not our problem. After Vietnam, I was red-pilled. Discharged for CO. The older I get, the more I am disgusted by the murder game.

In reply to by J S Bach

Falcon49 SoDamnMad Sun, 01/07/2018 - 06:47 Permalink

We already had the draft (men only) during Vietnam (not universal..but, every male high school grad was at risk) it still took over a decade of serious protests before the war was ended.  Over 58,000 US soldiers killed, 150,000 wounded.  There is no way that universal mandatory conscription would stop continuous war or hugh MIC budgets.  They would just propagandize/brainwash and manipulate the people; just as they are doing now....and through fear and propaganda, force our youth to fight.  It also means that the avoidance of large US casualty rates (that we see today under the all-volunteer force) would not be a priority. 

In reply to by SoDamnMad