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The Soldier's Tale: A Man Who Went to War and Learned That He Was the Enemy


The Soldier's Tale: A Man Who Went to War and Learned That He Was the Enemy

Chris Hedges

The troops live under
The cannon’s thunder
From Sind to Cooch Behar
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skins are black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into
Beefsteak tartar

—“The Cannon Song” from “The Threepenny Opera”


To all the authors, polemicists, comedians and cartoonists who parodied patriotism and war mongering, I owe you a great deal of gratitude, for it was you who inoculated me against blind fealty to a banner. My natural kernel of skepticism was watered and cultivated to a strong tree of cynicism. Without your use of humor to hold my attention to your admonitions of the military industrial complex’s vast greed, I too might have fallen prey to the spell of the death culture. It is painful to be awake in the USA; it also seems subversive when judged against the prevalent culture of conformity. So effing what. I prefer peace for all and believe in cage-free children.

–Wishing Y’All Peace, Salaam, Shalom, Namaste…


What Hedges is writing about here is really important. If the empire couldn’t get generation after generation of cannon fodder, it couldn’t be the empire. War and militaristic and “violence-as-solution” propaganda is everywhere in our culture. Besides the MSM there’s the insidiousness of Movies and TV: war movies and police dramas - never ending slew of them pumped out every year. Watch a second rate action flick, it will be very obvious.


Every generation produces a small minority of potential soldiers who have enough of a functioning conscience to conscientiously object to the whole program. But the vast majority follow their orders, in the time-honored tradition of humans collectively inflicting violence on each other in large groups.

It is certainly to Rapone’s credit that he stood up and made a statement. If there were a few billion more like him, we might get somewhere with all this. But the beat goes on, as it always has, with essentially no interruption. If this is a trait humanity can outgrow, it is taking a very long time to happen.


Mr. Rapone is a courageous person. In today’s sniper climate, anonymous slamming of political and social enemies online is quite easy. But to step up like Manning and Snowden and nameless others who put their personal well-being directly on the line against empire, takes guts. The kind Napoleon called, ‘three o’clock in the morning courage’.

Rapone is also perceptive. He crystallized my understanding of the soldier’s mentality re his weapons, the energy and recklessness of youth drunk on the power afforded them as a blank check killing machine. How the military ‘beats empathy out of you’, the moral blindness which explains the My Lai’s of war. And of course the delusions revealed when returning home and the fallout from ‘inflicting violence on the poorest people on earth’. Your nature knows, even if you don’t at the time, what’s right and wrong. Eventually the bill must be paid, both as an individual and nation.


I have a 9MM Glock in my house. I have gone to a firing range and put a 3 inch pattern in a target from 12 feet away. But in my more reflective moments, I really wonder if I could pull the trigger on another human being. Simply put, we were not made to kill each other. Rational people understand this. I pray I never have to use the gun.

This is why places like West Point and the boot camps of the Marines and Army work so hard to dehumanize men and make them into impersonal killing machines. But it isn’t working, and the testimony to this is the high number of men and women who are killing themselves every day because of the horrors they both saw and inflicted upon other human beings.

Sadly enough, there are enough crazed, glory-hungry, brain-dead people in every country in the world to keep the military/industrial complex well supplied with massive profits for … well, until we finally destroy this planet. I have no doubt that these people would happily watch the whole world die as long as they got the last dollar of profit from it.

This is a great article from someone who has “been there - done that.” How different from the typical war hawks like Rush Limbaugh who have never seen a day’s worth of violence in their lives, but are all too willing to stand on the sidelines and call a “coward” anyone who won’t submit to killing another human being.

This one goes in my keeper files.


The problem goes deeper than that…the American Empire has created its own enemies so that when they finally have had enough of our meddling, stealing their land and raw materials, and raping their women and revolt, the M/I corporatists can point to the people defending their land and start yelling about how our way of life is in danger and these people need to be bombed out of existence.

Until young men start to understand just who it is who is really pulling the strings here and creating wars for profit, this stuff will keep on happening.


22 men and women are “paying the bill” every day.


It’s a tiny bit of a relief to admit that the U.S. is the enemy (even if not uniquely).


Absolutely true! America and Americans have a huge balloon payment awaiting.


Powerful image - It makes me think about the fact that the debt is a null set/void/empty hole of specific character and content. When the bubble bursts, all of that poison floods society, individuals and the environment. It happens on a relatively smaller but constant scale every day.

Accepting that we are going to be facing those poisons gives me incentive to strengthen my spiritual and social environment by studying for instance, comparative religions - so much of what is important to health and community is common to all the Abrahamic religions as well as many Eastern cosmologies. We need each other and no better practice than to start now and strengthen the internal infrastructure to ‘default’ when put to the test.

We will need to be strong in the best sense of the word. Knowing where to look, knowing the landscape that can’t be erased is a start.


The beat goes on.

This Chris Hedges article, and this Comments conversation reminds me of early counter-culture conversations against the Vietnam war in the mid-60s. It’s about time!

The military learned from the popular backlash against the Vietnam debacle, that in the Middle East, no contrary thinking would be acceptable. The military referred to “the Vietnam Syndrome,” popular criticism of the war and war culture. To counter this, journalists were “embedded.” Only one side of war would be reported. At home, news networks worked hard Not to show demonstration marches on tv.

Since, nationalism and patriotism have flourished. To hold views inconsistent with our nation’s military direction has become something we learned not to speak openly about. These days, just to be a member of the military makes you an automatic “hero,” doesn’t matter if you’re a cook.

Reading here gives me hope that perhaps the beat does go on. Perhaps our nation is beginning to rekindle the courage to think, to oppose blind obedience, violence, racism, and stupidity.

Again, thank you Chris Hedges.


Thank you Chris Hedges for covering Spenser Rapone. When I first read about his less than honorable discharge my response was - ‘OK, you talk the talk, now walk the walk’. This article put me in my place.

It is important to have the reminder of how far one must walk while still in the military before even thinking about ‘talk the talk’. Community support is needed in ‘walking the walk’. I have no doubt that the Poor Peoples’ Campaign will welcome Conscientious Objectors.

For folks who might want to become familiar with the process of preparing in Conscientious Objection heres a link for downloads.

I do not think myself alone in feeling the need to prepare to support our young people who awaken to the hell enforced by military service and feel that there are other ways to serve our country that are much healthier. There is a strong legacy, tested in the courts and well documented.
I am forever grateful to Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone who observed in
Stone, The Conscientious Objector, 21 Col.Univ.Q. 253, 269 (1919) quoted in United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965).:

Both morals and sound policy require that the state should not violate the conscience of the individual. All our history gives confirmation to the view that liberty of conscience has a moral and social value which makes it worthy of preservation at the hands of the state. So deep in its significance and vital, indeed, is it to the integrity of man’s moral and spiritual nature that nothing short of the self-preservation of the state should warrant its violation; and it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process.

Heres a link to the War Resister’s League


As a black woman born the year of Brown vs Board of Education, being woke was in my DNA…anti-Vietnam Peace Movement, Civil Rights and the Black Nationalist Movement, War on Poverty. But I had to make my way in the world. The granddaughter of sharecroppers, and the daughter of a poverty stricken divorced mother, no one in my family could help me navigate the route to college. Even though I did quite well on the NMSQT, my high school counselor laughed at me when I went to her to ask how to answer the letters I received from MIT and Cal Tech. So, like so many others, I turned to the only other alternative available for me to pursue a career with good benefits, a decent salary, and the bonus of seeing the world.

From basic training to finally leaving after 15-1/2 years ( I just couldn’t get to 20 without seriously hurting my “superiors”), the military and I had our disagreements. I won best in service and second best in all of DoD in my career field, but doing my job well was not enough. I was too full of me, the knowledge of who I was, where I came from, and what I believed.

From racial and sexual harassment, rape (twice), and indignation at my questioning the veracity of orders there was a constant effort to “put me in my place”. I developed a legal acumen that still serves me today in battling the numerous unfavorable information files (UIFs) opened, and forcibly closed, against me.

Today I am a 100% disabled veteran not just as a result of the two rapes I survived, but the constant need to watch my back against the enemy within. I, too, can bear witness of the numerous suicides and attempts (found my own roommate breathing her last and lost a day in my life from my own attempt among the many).

To this day, I view those who wave the U.S. flag with as much suspicion as those who display the Confederate one. Patriotism is right up there with other “isms” like racism and sexism. We have far too many victims resulting from the patriot swan song.


Whew… Anybody taking the handle ImissShirleyChhisolm has got be placing witness in a deep and blessed place. If I may take the liberty - being 100% disabled in a sick society is, as Joseph Campbell might have put it - a heroine’s journey, and your speaking here, to this community is a gift I, and I’m sure others, receive with deep respect and do not take lightly. Thank you.

That you are here is a testament that that the commons must continue growing and embracing what you, your experience and our need to be informed constitute important elements of community. May deep love always embrace you.


I am deeply moved and honored by your reply. Mr. Rapone and my stories are two of the countless like them. This country continues to create veterans at an alarming rate. And while “thank you for your service” is at least more polite than “babykillers”, it falls far short of the recognition of the destruction of this nation’s greatest resource…it’s young and malleable minds.


War Resisters International - Release conscientious objectors Ayelet Brachfeld and Mattan Helman
Found this in searching. Two cases of COs in Israel. For any who might wish to find out about “a global network of grassroots antimilitarist and pacifist groups, working together for a world without war” contribute emails of support and pass the word.


You, sir, have been on a roll lately!


We are supposed to believe that the “Good Guy” armed with nothing but a penknife will be the last man standing after a fight against 10 “Bad Guys” each armed with an AK47.


The first Christians faced the combined might and insanity of the Roman Empire armed with nothing but prayers and a firm and settled belief that death is not the end. When you are not attached to this world, when you believe that death is the beginning and not the end, you can face lions, swords, and maniacal emperors with no fear. Strengthened, as we Christians believe, by the Holy Spirit of God, they went to death rather than serve in the military or lift their hands in anger/war against another human being.

Somewhere along the line, Christianity was introduced to the odd idea of a “just war,” and “the right to self-defense” (meaning that even though Iraq was not a threat to us, we had to defend ourselves by bombing the bejeepers out of it).

To truly be a pacifist in this world is scorned, but it honestly takes a lot more courage and commitment than to hide behind a computer screen and blow people to bits by means of a drone. Yet the soldiers have become the heroes.