[ After this entry was posted, we followed a tweet to Glenn Greenwald’s report on The Intercept about dire consequences of militarising the police – his reaction to the nightmare killing of young and unarmed Mike Brown in Missouri. It is essential reading. But because polling results showing exceptional public esteem for the military have been so drastically under-reported for years, most people would find it hard to understand why the authorities blithely assumed that the citizenry would approve of arming and equipping policemen like soldiers. Media biases badly need counterweights. ]
We have searched and searched again but, so far, failed to find in online newspapers – well-known or obscure – any mention of, or solution to, the puzzle in our last post, the question of why Americans trust their military vastly more than other public institutions. If we were using all the wrong search terms, Google could hardly have served up the missing explanation in a persuasive paper by three collaborating scholars from which we will paste in a segment below.
But first, we must draw attention to a caveat, and then the reason why traditional media’s neglect of this subject is tragic – showing just how much the world needs the new media space that independent blogs have created:
• ‘The military’ is distinct from the political decisions its armed forces are obliged to execute – that is, which wars they fight, and where, and in broad strategic terms, by what means (eg., bombs dropped by drones vs. boots on the ground). Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist of rare gifts who made his name treating veterans of the Vietnam war for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), makes this essential point: ‘The justice of overall war aims and of operational theories – “strategic” bombing of civilians to weaken the industrial capacity to wage war is an example of such a theory – is not within the individual soldier’s scope of moral choice, unless he or she is willing to face imprisonment or death by refusing to fight.’
• Media hostility to, or neglect of, what the military does for civilians, since the Vietnam war — not just in America but in similar disenchantment elsewhere — could account for why it has been far more common for veterans of recent wars than for their historical predecessors to have the mental afflictions now called PTSD. That fits Shay’s suggestion in his brilliant Achilles in Vietnam (1995) – in which he drew riveting parallels between the tragedy of Achilles and his comrades, Homer’s subject in The Iliad, and the disturbances in Americans who fought the Vietnam war twenty-seven centuries later. He says, in extracts slightly rearranged, here, for concision:
What a returning soldier needs most when leaving war is not a mental health professional but a living community to whom his experience matters … [W]e should care about how soldiers are trained, equipped, led and welcomed home when they return from war. … [H]ealing from trauma depends … on being able safely to tell the story to someone who is listening and who can be trusted to retell it truthfully to others in the community. … Economically, unhealed combat trauma costs, and costs, and costs. Recall that more than 40 percent of Vietnam combat veterans … reported engaging in violent acts … Between a tenth and a quarter of all males in prison are veterans … When combat trauma results in domestic violence … there is an intergenerational transmission of violence.
The New York Times, for one, has published excellent and massive reports about sufferers from PTSD and their families. But, as far as we know, it has devoted no equivalent analysis to – or run any report on – the shining public image of the military, as revealed by Gallup’s stunning findings about the confidence gap in which the military reigns virtually unchallenged as a reservoir of trust. For that, anyone curious must hunt down a 2012 American Academy of Arts and Sciences dissection of similar results in an opinion poll a year earlier, unenticingly titled, ‘The Origins & Lessons of Public Confidence in the Military’.
First, it notes a contradiction:
[T]he relationship between the American people and its defense establishment has historically been anchored in two opposing sentiments: on one side, Americans see a large, standing military as a potential threat to liberty; on the other, they revere the U.S. military for its role in establishing the nation in revolution, preserving it against rebellion, and defending it from foreign aggression.
The start of the next extract is a hugely welcome surprise for anyone depressed by the impression — seemingly based on irrefutable facts — that Americans care most about wealth creation, and the feeding of the gigantic getting-and-spending beast we call capitalism:
In addition to valuing competence, society also expects institutions to serve a greater good. This public-mindedness is grounded in three principles: selflessness, accountability, and fairness. These factors are highlighted by the other institutions that enjoy widespread public confidence: small business and the police. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 78 percent of Americans expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military; 64 percent said the same for small business, and 56 percent for the police. In contrast, Congress (12 percent), the presidency (35 percent), and big business (19 percent) are held in relatively low regard by the American public.
What does the military have in common with the police and small business? In the case of the former, unselfish service is a common trait. The police (ideally) have no other purpose than to protect and serve the nation’s communities. In performing this service, capable men and women make sacrifices. They give up potentially lucrative and rewarding opportunities in other jobs. They put themselves in danger, sometimes sacrificing their lives. Small business is perceived to share two key traits with the military: fairness and accountability. In small business, Americans see the best qualities of the nation’s economic system (opportunity for those who seek it, rewards for those who succeed), absent the abuses and corruption that they impute to big business and banks. Small business owners pursue self-interest, but their success is deserved because it emerges from their own hard work and not from a manipulation of the system’s resources. Small businesses create wealth and opportunity; they are a gateway for immigrants to enter the American middle class, and they evoke the entrepreneurial spirit and mythos of American economic history – think of Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, the fictional heroes of Horatio Alger stories, and so on. Furthermore, small business owners are exposed to risk; if a small business fails, it is left to fail. Thus, fairness works both ways. [the highlights in bold type are post-Gutenberg’s]
The essay is a good read, all the way …While on the subject of strangely unpublicised opinion poll findings, here is a question for dining table entertainment: are Democrats or Republicans likely to be more sympathetic to the NSA’s spying on American citizens?
Gallup’s startling answer, from June of 2013:
There are significant partisan differences in views of the government’s program to obtain call logs and Internet communication. Democrats are more likely to approve, by 49% to 40%. Independents (34% vs. 56%) and Republicans (32% to 63%) are much more likely to disapprove than approve.
The newspapers associated with the left, which broke this story, do not seem to have paid much attention to what turns out to be a strictly partisan split in opinion. Gallup’s explanation makes it unlikely that the poll would have a very different result today:
In 2006, when Gallup asked the similar question about a program that came to light at that point, Republicans were significantly more likely to approve than Democrats. The differences in partisan reaction between 2006 and 2013 reflect the party of the president under whose watch the programs were carried out at those two points in time.
Now, why has the information in this blog post had virtually no attention in traditional media, as far as we can tell?
Might the shockingly low numbers for public trust in the media solve the mystery? As we recorded last week, in Gallup’s poll earlier this summer, the 74 per cent statistic for the military compared with just 22 per cent for newspapers – in an ever-narrowing gap in status with ‘news on the internet,’ deemed trustworthy by 19 per cent of those surveyed. Still, that was several cuts above the 7 per cent for the U.S. Congress – to which we saw theadvocates.org blog referring, pointing to
… a Public Policy Polling poll last year (reported in the Liberator Online) … found Congress less popular than lice, root canals, cockroaches, hemorrhoids, and colonoscopies, among other plagues and pests.