American Martyrs?

Justin Sane
4 min read
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Editor's note: When the Rock Against Bush Tour rolled into Albuquerque last fall, the Sunshine Theater nearly sold-out and the featured band, Anti-Flag, by one Alibi staffers account, had the place thumping. Here's an editorial we didn't have room for in the print edition this week from Justin Sane, the band's singer, following George W. Bush's State of the Union address.

Not long ago Mr. Bush condemned Saddam Hussein for recruiting Palestinian suicide bombers by offering to pay $25,000 to their families. Last week Mr. Bush proposed raising the death benefit for US soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq to half a million dollars. When I learned of Mr. Bush's proposal I couldn’t help wonder if such payouts will create American martyrs?

Don’t be tricked into thinking that Bush's proposal is about supporting the troops. This is the same man that sent American soldiers into combat under false pretenses, without the proper gear, and once they were deployed- cut their benefits! The proposed $500,000 death benefit payout is designed only for families of soldiers killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not applicable to anyone else in the military killed in the line of duty. These benefits offer substantial incentives for soldiers to die in two of the most dangerous places on the planet and their “reward” is the knowledge that their family will be provided for after they are gone. Sounds like the same thing Saddam did. Hussein paid people who were martyrs for their cause, and you can bet that our soldiers' families will be told that their kid died for the noble cause of ending tyranny. And while they might not be promised a spot in heaven, you can be sure this rhetoric will invoke Bush's never ending themes of freedom- even though Iraq will not be truly free until Bush executes a real exit strategy.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush never mentioned this new proposal, but he explained that he knows our inner city kids are struggling and need “better options than gangs or jail.” Unfortunately, I do not think the “better options” Mr. Bush has in mind includes easy access to higher education or decent paying jobs. Instead, his better options include using these kids as cannon fodder for the neo-con Project for a New American Century. It's no secret that military recruitment is down, retention is down, and our American forces are spread paper thin. The military needs warm bodies. Even with giving military recruiters extra access to students’ private records as part of the No Child Left Behind legislation – kids are not signing up in the numbers needed to fight Bush's war. Today’s youth are wising up to the reality that $50,000 for college does them no good if they're killed in Iraq. Simply put, Fifty G’s doesn’t go far in a bad economy… On the other hand, half a million bucks dangling in front of those struggling inner-city kids gives them real incentive to join the military, especially when it's one of few viable options of escaping their bleak economic reality. If they’re lucky enough to get killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, at least their family will be provided for.

It’s no secret that the poor and minorities are over represented in the military. How many children of the wealthy sign up to be put in harm’s way so they’ll have money to go to college? How many rich kids join the military because there hasn’t been any work in their community for the last twenty years and there’s no sign of things changing any time soon? The rich already have money to go to college, and the world is their oyster. You can bet it’s never been part of George and Laura’s plans to have young Laura and Jenna join up, but Bush seems to have no problem with poor kids from the ghetto and rural America doing so. Ask yourself, how many people, poor or otherwise, would do this job without the financial incentive? The poverty draft has been around for decades… this proposal simply ratchets it up a notch.

Soldiers who are killed in the line of duty deserve to know that their families aren’t going to lose the house and wind up on the street because of their death. The Bush administration, however, is being very selective about who is going to receive this proposed increased death benefit, and they will methodically, relentlessly, and with immeasurable cunning create the myth of the American Martyr as they send out those checks. Just like Saddam did.

Sane is the lead singer of Anti-Flag and Board Member of Underground Action and Punk

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