Opinion | Michael A. Cohen

Pence predicts combat, but masks its horrors

Vice President Mike Pence walks into graduation ceremonies at the US Military Academy on Saturday. Julius Constantine Motal/AP/Associated Press

Usually, there isn’t much reason to pay attention to the utterings of Vice President Mike Pence. Generally speaking, they are banal and delusional utterances from President Trump’s most obsequious and ostentatious toady.

But over the weekend Pence gave the commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point and made comments so stunning that they deserve greater amplification.

Pence offered the usual bromides to the tradition of military service with a healthy dose of threat-mongering and breast beating. “When you came here, the world was a dangerous place, and it still is,” he said. Neither statement is true. The world has rarely been safer and less mired in conflict than this current moment.

Pence also called for yet another increase in the Pentagon budget so that “the strongest fighting force in the history of the world becomes stronger still.”

In an ideal world, the United States would never need to use this enormous military, but apparently Pence does not subscribe to this notion.

The vice president instead imagines a far more dystopian future. He told the graduating cadets, “It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.”

Huh? Does Pence know something the rest of us don’t? One would hope not. Where, you may ask, will Americans be fighting?

According to Pence, “some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.”

That’s a whole mess of wars. Strikingly, Pence doesn’t even bother explaining why it might be in the US interest to fight such conflicts. Nowhere in his list of impending doom does he countenance an actual threat to the American people or the American homeland — rather, the enumerated threats are to US overseas interests, which American leaders — Democrats and Republicans — have long defined in the broadest manner imaginable.

But at least in the past, US officials would ludicrously use the fear of “mushroom clouds” over American cities to justify a foreign invasion, or Vietnamese Communists ending up in Hawaii or even San Francisco. Today, Pence takes for granted the notion that buttressing the American military’s “presence” in the Far East or stopping Russian expansionism is worthy of American blood and treasure.

For sure, defending South Korea is a worthwhile goal. The same can be said for upholding America’s NATO obligations or fighting terrorists. Still, one might imagine there are other, less violent ways to further those goals, and one would hope that the nation’s political leaders would consider the use of force to be a last resort rather than a certainty.

Pence talks about going to war not only in bizarrely deterministic terms, but also as an abstraction — a political talking point intended to make the vice president seem tough and resolute — while masking the horrors that would be unleashed by such a policy decision.

Perhaps the vice president should spend a few days reading all the replies to this seemingly innocuous tweet from the account for the US Army, which set Twitter on fire during the Memorial Day weekend: “How has serving impacted you?”

What came next was an extraordinary stream of 12,000 responses from those negatively affected by serving in combat.

“Extreme mood swings due to PTSD, constant pain in my knees and back, inability to tell the love of my life how I feel, and the nagging want of blowing my own head off daily.”

“lemme think I didn’t serve but my brother did he never went to war but still shot himself in the head so”

“My dad served in Vietnam. He was exposed to Agent Orange and I was born with multiple birth defects. What he did impacts my life every day. I can’t have children and I’m in pain constantly.”

As these — and many other responses make clear - a future in which American soldiers will soon be fighting in practically every corner of the globe to protect America’s self-defined near limitless national interests, would be a disaster and a tragedy.

That is something that our vice president doesn’t seem to appreciate or understand. Indeed, the raw and emotional tweets laid bare in 280 characters the horrors of combat what Pence is oblivious to and what those fresh-faced graduates of West Point will hopefully never learn: War is hell and it’s something to be avoided at all costs — not celebrated.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.

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