First of all, this is, of course, my personal opinion, and one that I know a large number of people will violently disagree with. However, a fact is often nothing more than a well-argued opinion and so I'll try to argue this one.

Being a soldier is an ugly, dirty and wrong job. It consists of killing people, training to kill people, or assisting others in killing people. In an ideal world, there would be no need for soldiers, so even if we may occasionally need them in our non-ideal world, there's no reason to glorify them.

Many people will tell you how the work of a soldier is to protect his country and that that's the greatest and most noble kind of work anyone can do. IMO they're either trying to bullshit you into fighting wars for them that will bring them (not you) more money and power, or they've bought into that lie themselves.

In the end, it's all about you, your gun, and that guy over there and his gun. You don't want to die so you'll try to kill him first, and that's easier if you hate him, and once you're frightened and hateful enough you'll try to kill all his buddies too, and eventually you'll care jack shit if you kill a couple, or a dozen, or a hundred innocent civilians, women and children, in the process of making sure there's nobody left who could kill you. You'll have made the world an uglier place and yourself an uglier person, and it will matter little if it seemed like a just cause at first. Even worse, technology makes it possible to do all this without endangering yourself very much, and without facing the consequences of your actions. People die screaming, lumps of torn and charred flesh, and the one who dropped the bomb and the one who ordered him will just talk and think about "accomplished objectives".

So what's supposed to be great and noble about that? Countries aren't people. They don't deserve loyalty or sacrifices. Patriotism is a tool used by power-hungy politicans to switch off people's brains and make them easier to control.

Yes, there are causes worth fighting, perhaps even killing for. A country is not. A form of society that enables people to live happily may be. The lives of your friends and family almost certainly are. But that doesn't make the fighting itself, or the preparation for it, in any way noble. At most, it should evoke the kind of respect one may feel towards garbage collectors - it's not a beautiful or clean job, but it's necessary (And in the case of war, this necessity should be thoroughly doubted in every case).

In response to Simulacron3:

Sure, individual soldiers aren't responsible for starting a war, but they are responsible to giving in to hate and taking it out on innocents. And very few people indeed are immune to such impulses - just look at the staggeringly high percentage of Americans whose knee-jerk response to the World Trade Center terrorism boils down to "bomb something, anything". For soldiers, it's pretty much part of the job, and that's why I don't think that job deserves any kind of respect, though individuals and their actions may deserve it in many cases.

And any kind of glorification or uncritical respect of the profession just makes it all that easier for politicians to whip up support for wars that are somehow desirable to them.

I am an American soldier. I did not join to fight wars. I did not join to be perceived as noble by anyone but myself.
Until I joined, I had never fired a gun. Until I joined, I never trained in hand-to-hand combat. I never wanted to kill a person.
Now I fire a weapon periodically. I am trained in combat. I still do not want to kill a person. Someday, I might be required to - not out of personal necessity, but from an order from some old guy in Washington. And that scares the shit out of me.
But I'm in the United States Army. And when that day comes, for better or worse I'll serve this country. I'll do whatever it takes. Does that not make me courageous, even noble?

"Countries aren't people. They don't deserve loyalty or sacrifices."

America is not a piece of land. America is you. You, me, and every other American, all of whom have the freedom to denounce it as easily as you have chosen to do. The army, soldiers, me - we protect you. We fight for you. I have to kill someone I don't know for you. I live with that - for you. Whether you appreciate it, whether you realize you need it, whether you think you'd rather not need us, we are YOUR army.
Tell me you don't need me. Tell me I'm a stupid gun-touting fool. But don't say I'm not noble.

The previous points in node, while argued passionately and with reason, force me to drop in a few of my own. Note: I do not, and have not, served in the military. I want to make this clear at the outset. I argue the following as an American Citizen, one who has devoted fair amount of time to studying war, the men and women who fight them, and the tools they use.

While I agree with much of what pihwlook says above, I would add that in fact, most of the time, the soldier is not killing "at the order of the old guy in Washington." The pilot isn't strafing an anti-aircraft position because he or she is following a grand scheme order. The sailor isn't setting up a torpedo run on an enemy vessel because he or she has been told to do that by Washington. The nearly unanimous opinion of those I've bothered with questions about this is this: "I do/did/will do it because if I don't, I and/or the guy next to me will most likely die."

While armies and navies enter engagements at the orders of their distant commanders, individual combatants typically perform their daily duties driven by self-preservation and loyalty to 'their own' which has been inculcated in them via stringent and practiced techniques.

There are many issues involved with 'being a soldier.' Why are you there? On one hand, maybe because you needed college tuition. On another, maybe because a judge told you to go. The guy next to you may be there because it's a family tradition. The woman across the table may be there because of a desire to prove she can defend her country as well as anyone. Your seatmate in the bus may be there for deep-seated idealistic reasons.

Why are you fighting? Typically, in the moment of combat, you're not doing it on orders, you're doing it for the reasons above. The problem, here, is that (with some notable exceptions) the orders from above usually just put the soldier in harm's way. The proximate cause of each violent incident ranges from the idealistic to the completely silly.

This is relevant because we need to remember, when 'judging' soldiers (and I, for one, don't believe for a moment that those of us who have not served should judge them for what they do as a job) that it's very unclear why they do what they do in both the macro and micro scale. If you must discuss their volitional culpability, I would say that barring criminal behavior/orders, the last time you can really say a person was making their own choice in the matter was when they signed the form.

From the moment you arrive in the military, you are confronted with a cadre of skilled professionals whose entire job is to ensure that you fight when told, respond the way they want you to (which, while counter to personal survival instinct, usually serves a group good). From that point on, it's difficult to discuss the soldier as a wholly voluntary actor.

I am a United States Marine. Furthermore, I am an Infantry Rifleman. Of course, I can speak for neither my fellow Marines, nor my fellow infantrymen; I can speak only for myself. But, since I feel that what I have to say is pertinent, I will say this:

I am a professional soldier. My job is, indeed, to kill other humans, for whatever reason. But the important part comes next: the humans it is my job to kill, the ones that I train day and night to kill, the ones I will meet in combat are very specific ones. They are other professional soldiers. They are people who, given the chance, will kill me, who have trained to kill me, who know that I, given the chance, will kill them. The decision is, and always has been, theirs to make and they have chosen to enter into combat with me. We, my enemy and I, have, as professional soldiers, entered into an agreement to try to kill each other.

I do not dehumanize my enemy. I fully understand that he is a son, a brother, a father. He knows that I may be as well. But this is our chosen profession, and, should our elected officials so charge, we will kill and die. If my enemy was coerced into threatening my life, it is unfortunate, but the decision was still his to make. If my enemy happens to be a woman, or a child, it is unfortunate, but if he or she is threatening my life, then there really is no decision to make.

Again, I speak only for myself: I do not hate my enemy. I am not 'frightened and hateful'; I would never kill a non-combatant on purpose. I care very deeply for your 'innocent civilians, women and children', and it hurts and angers me that you should tell me that I do not, or that I would not, under duress.

What's so great and noble about it is this: I'm willing to lay down my life, to live a certain way, to kill and to die, to become a weapon, entrusted to my elected officials, because my elected officals have promised to use me to protect and safeguard the lives of my loved ones, and everyone else in this country. To protect and safeguard you. If you can't see the nobility in that, perhaps you should take a good look at yourself.

I don't question my orders. I do what I'm told, because I trust that the people who tell me what to do know what they're doing. It's not up to me to decide whether some 'old guy in Washington' is misusing me. That old guy was elected by the people in this country. In fact, that's your job. You have the power to vote for him, or for someone else. Ultimately, you decide how to use me.

Countries are people. If everyone in this country moved to another piece of land, or, say, Mars, it would be the people that would still be the country, not the piece of land. And patriotism is being proud of the country that you choose to live in. I'm an immigrant, and I think this is a point that many non-immigrants don't understand: you choose to live here. And you choose to live here for very good reason: this country kicks ass.

I suppose in an ideal world there would be no need for soldiers. But I believe that an ideal society, that really can't be sure if there is a need or not, should prepare a defense in case a threat should present itself. And I believe that the people who would make up that defense would be proud, and I would hope that the ideal society would be proud of them.
"It's Tommy this an' Tommy that an' "Chuck 'im out, the brute,"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot."

- Rudyard Kipling

The very existence of this node is predicated on the assumption that some people find soldiering noble; a node entitled 'There's nothing noble about being a proof-reader' would not have attracted any debate, it would be laughed off as a joke. I speak from the perspective of the UK, where proof-readers are not generally held in high regard. Many of the opinions above concentrate on the internal rationalisation people have for becoming soldiers; I concentrate on the external perception of soldiering. Kipling's verse, reproduced above, illustrates the fact that not all people perceive soldiering to be noble all of the time.

There are several reasons why military service is perceived as being noble, chief of which is that it is a service; for £13,000 and three years of their lives, men and women are potentially risking their lives for other people, for myself, for people they might not like but who they are not allowed to forsake. Firemen, policemen, doctors and nurses are also public servants, and some of them risk their health more often than many soldiers, albeit that the risk is of a lower intensity. Soldiers cannot choose to serve one section of their society more than another. If soldiers are ordered into the line of fire, that is where they go. They cannot choose not to fight. A policeman who refuses to respond to a call, or who walks off the job, will be demoted, suspended or dismissed. A soldier who does likewise will be shot or sent to military prison for a very long time. Soldiers therefore also attract nobility from a sense that they are victims, underdogs, a Kipling-esque sense of guilt at the back of the civilian mind that all this is for one's own benefit. Guilt partially from the fact that one is not a soldier, and partially for the fact that, when the chips are down, it's the rough men out in the night who will be shot at, not us.

At least in the UK, various branches of the armed forces have demonstrably preserved our government and way of life, in some cases within living memory. During the last century all three branches of service have held off foreign invasion, to an extent that cannot be understood by the American voices above. The RAF prevented Germany from achieving air superiority over British skies at a time when London was being bombed by professional terrorists. By keeping open supply lines, the Royal Navy prevented mass starvation and disease of a kind it had caused in Germany during the First World War. And the British Army fought in Africa, Europe and the Far East, often in situations where it could simply have sat back and waited for the enemy to collapse, or for other armies to do the fighting instead.

There are other reasons. Very few professions in the western world demand or encourage the physical fitness of its participants, and many of those that do - pornography, entertainment, the diet industry - seem base, narcissistic. Soldiering is one of the few jobs which builds people into something they were not beforehand. Notwithstanding the presence of women, it is one of the few elements of society in which manly men can still be manly. Soldering is one of the few professions which trains its members to kill. Only professional criminals are expected to have as pragmatic an attitude towards life and death as a soldier. Just as we respect gangsters, so we respect soldiers, for they are trained to kill, and to restrain themselves from killing.

On a less logical but more literal level, the Royal Family are figureheads of the armed forces, and several of their number have been soldiers, sailors or airmen. In many countries soldiering is seen as a suitable career for the extreme ends of the social spectrum, the upper and lower classes (the middle classes become the politicians who formulate policy, and the voters who vote for them). The participation of actual noblemen and noblewomen casts an air of legitimacy over the armed forces, even if only on an unconscious level. Ridiculous as this might seem in an age of Goretex and the Segway Human Transporter, it is nonetheless the case.

Ultimately the first poster hits the nail on the head when he or she says that soldiering "...should evoke the kind of respect one may feel towards binmen - it's not a beautiful or clean job, but it's necessary". To my mind at least, this is nobility. Nobody believes soldiering to be beautiful or clean, not even the most militarist man's militaristic father. But it is necessary. Very few things in modern life are necessary. My job is not necessary.

"Noble" is a broad word. One of Merriam-Webster's definitions describes it as "superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals". And of course it is the subjectivity of that definition that is at the center of this debate.

First, I'll talk about heroes; you might want to skip this paragraph. A study of American veterans was interpreted. The assertion of the of the article I read, was that "heroes don't recognize heroism. They don't recognize it at any point, and they don't talk about it. The article expanded on that talking about the perceived motivations for heroic acts, and the demographical data on heroes. It said that heroes were more likely to be draftees, and that heroes acted out of responsibility. As has been said above, the military teaches you that the team is the beginning and the end of success and survival. The battlefield doesn't need any help confirming this.

Now heroism is easy. The proof is in the pudding. Now Iraq is a good example, because it's got a little of everything. For Operation Iraqi Freedom, the US military has about 300,000 direct employees on the ground, but only 75,000 are combat troops, and there is no defined "front line", there are tens of thousands of miscellaneous contractors involved in the war effort, and tens of thousands of private military contractors. In the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, there was a front line, and honor kind of sorted itself out. There was a clear aggressor, and a victim. So we have aggressor soldiers, victim soldiers. In OIF we have ambiguous soldiers, soldiers for hire, stagehands, stagehands for hire, and the group of people hosting the party, insurgents, guerrillas, religious militias, certainly over in Afghanistan drug foot soldiers, and anybody I'm leaving out.

Now, ignoring "if soldiers are noble, which of those groups are noble soldiers?", let's look at the famous quotation, "War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means." In Iraq & Afghanistan, the US, and the Maliki Government are using the instrument of war to combat tribal power, drug trafficking, religious strife, post invasion insurgency, alleged state sponsored terrorism, and wide scale foreign terrorism. This seems to be a commingling of all American military fiascoes of the 20th century; American interventions in South-East Asia, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

So we've got bungling foreign policy leading American Civil Servants, in jobs that are the most dangerous, the least rewarded, and at times, the linchpin of our national security, to places where they should, or shouldn't be, so they can get shot at. In several cases, America lends it's military as a proxy military to other governments. In Vietnam the problem with this, was that at times, the government using Americas military in proxy, was villainous. The problem I see with the supposed inherent nobility of the sacrifice of soldiers is that it boils down, as I see it, to sacrifice for a good cause. When the cause is good, the soldiers are noble. I think much of the confusion is not the nobility, which is a nationalistic red herring, but both the respect for the selfless civil service of military service, and being part of the class of citizen that is entrusted with the double edged sword of the power of killing, and the risk of death in national service to potentially protect the nation, or otherwise honorably distinguish themselves (by fighting fascism, or by participating in disaster relief).

Implicit in the role of soldier, is following commands. The nobility of commands is what distinguishes a noble WWII veteran from any thug following orders. Perhaps an example better then a peacetime soldier, or a soldier in Iraq, is an Israeli soldier. Is it a war on terror? Which side is which? It's a segregated society, and even with Israel's Democratic ideals, and system of Justice, their honor from a third person point of view is ambiguous. Are their foot soldiers any more honorable then those of an Arab kid who joins some "terrorist" group because of his experiences of being on the receiving end of Israel's poorly restrained warfare, or their divided society.

Back to WWII. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and firebombing. It was a complicated situation, but you don't drop the bomb because it's the right thing to do. You drop the bomb because you have to. In one plane, it was honorable. In the other it was a day that will live forever in infamy. The telling thing, is that that is about the most concrete example you'll get, and what's concrete about is it, is that you know that it's both honor, and dishonor. Soldiering would be honorable if it were not for the warfare.

Not everything should be seen from the barrel of a gun but that’s usually the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of a soldier. Maybe that’s because the ugliness of war has been well chronicled over the years. That script seems to play well for Hollywood.

As evidenced by the w/u’s above, there seems to be some varying opinions on whether there is something noble about being a soldier. Hey, to each is own but there’s something in all of those nodes that seems have gone unnoticed or forgotten. From the Berlin Airlift up to the present there’s one thing you can count on and that’s when the shit hits the fan in the form of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or some other type of natural disaster, it’s usually the soldiers that are the first ones with their boots on the ground in an effort to provide some humanitarian relief.

In the year 2006 alone, the United States military took part in over five hundred and fifty humanitarian projects in ninety nine countries.

You can find them in places like Ecuador working alongside their civilian counterparts in improving things such as water supply. In Bangladesh, they’re out there building flood barriers to try and stave of the effects of the monsoon season. Small contingents of soldiers are routinely shuffled to such underprivileged countries like Uganda and Kyrgyzstan to deliver medical supplies and help to build the countries infrastructure. In other countries in AIDS plagued Africa, they work right alongside the Red Cross and other world health organizations to try and stem the tide of the disease and to educate the population in prevention methods.

Across the globe, they dig wells and ditches. They pave roads and assist in the construction of hospital and schools. They fly in food and medical supplies to places such as Pakistan or just about anywhere else in the world when earthquakes topple buildings and the populace is in danger of starvation or of contracting disease. They evacuate refugee’s when other countries can’t or won’t.

When the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake struck, the United States military dispatched 12, 600 troops to the area to help deal with the catastrophe. They brought with them 21 ships, 14 planes and 90 helicopters to help evacuate the people who were victims and to drop off much needed supplies in the form of food, medicine and medical equipment.

Stateside, soldiers do their best to assist civilian populations in holding back rivers that have breeched their dams. The fiasco that was Hurricane Katrina was largely due to the ineptness of the civilian run agencies such as FEMA and not through any fault of the military.

Going back to 1947 and continuing through the present, the United States Marine Corps has brightened the faces of countless underprivileged children through the Toys for Tots program.

They do all this and much much more but rarely are their efforts talked about on the nightly news or emblazoned in headlines in your local paper.

They do so without asking for any credit. To them, it’s all part of the job.

To me, there’s something noble about that.


Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.