When I saw the video of Army veteran Wes Clark Jr. kneel at the feet of Lakota medicine man Leonard Crow Dog, and a gathering of vets follow suit, I understood that what is happening at Standing Rock is far greater than most people realize. There is cause for rejoicing because the solidarity of many peaceful voices has resulted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denying the Dakota Access pipeline company permit to drill beneath the Missouri River.
But there is a greater cause for euphoria because by standing in solidarity with the First Nations' people, several thousand veterans have proved that there is a massive shift happening in the evolution of human consciousness. This was a watershed moment where soldiers, normally pawns of a control system we don't fully understand, displayed a courage and sense of moral duty the likes of which this planet has not seen in many lifetimes.
To understand why the actions of the veterans who arrived at Standing Rock—a day before it appeared to be "over"—are so monumental, one has to understand more about the military ethos itself.
BACKGROUNDER ON POMP AND RHETORIC
Less than a month ago we, particularly those of us in Canada’s national capitol, suffered through another November 11th. I don’t wear a poppy, and I haven’t worn a poppy for years. I had to go through military training and a decade of hard drinking to reach the sober conclusion that Remembrance Day is strategically directed Agitprop. The purpose behind a day to honour our war dead, and all the ceremony surrounding it, is to give us a vector for our grief.
Ultimately, however, all the ribbons, wreaths, and medals for valour and courage, amount to very little, particularly in the face of a government that sues its own veterans to legally establish that the Crown has no sacred or moral obligation to its veterans. The fact that this is really happening makes November 11th barely more than a distraction for our own deeply held denials.
The poppy, a copyrighted symbol of bygone sentiment, was Moina Michael's idea, one inspired by McCrae's poem In Flander's Fields. In 1920 she petitioned the American legion to adopt it as an official symbol of remembrance. We should be wary of when anything 'official' attempts to apply itself to subjective sentiment. Ms. Michael’s inspiration came after The War to End All Wars, and was intended as a reminder of the nightmare of war so that we, as a species would never choose to put ourselves through such horrors again.
An admission that the poppy did not fulfill its intended objective is long overdue. There has been conflict after conflict, and since September of 2001 we've had the red herring of terrorism introduced as the foundation for perpetual war. The poppy is now irrelevant because it has not served its purpose for a very long time. Worse, the symbol has been adopted by the patriarchal control system and its meaning utterly perverted.
We do not remember the horror as much as we romanticize the loss of life as 'heroic' sacrifice. We still vilify the enemy as The Other. Soldiers are, in reality, not so much willing to lay down their own lives as they are willing to take up arms for hire and kill on command to satisfy any and all political objectives. In return for this, soldiers are allowed to be cavalier about how they can absolve themselves of responsibility, always under the rubric of 'duty'. I have long failed to see anything heroic in that.
Despite what we've been trained to believe, the Armed Forces are not a sacrosanct organization. Their actions are not beyond criticism, nor is their budget. And yet we continue, at the peril of our undiscerning soldiers and our own sovereignty, to allow our government and media to glamourize, romanticize, and justify war. Worse, we allow our corporate governments to pit men and women of all branches of service against their own citizenry.
But then we have the veterans making their way to Standing Rock in solidarity with the position of First Nations' people. Here is a definition of true heroism, a sacred sense of duty, and something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. This phenomenon is a turning point in the growth of human consciousness - all the more so because it is set against the backdrop of a President Elect who suffers from narcissistic male rage.
But to understand why this move taken by thousands of brave veterans to form an unarmed ring of protection around thousands more protesters is so pivotal, we need to understand the depth of the ingrained paradigm these soldiers are subverting by not only supporting the stand against the Dakota Access pipeline, but by, chiefly, taking a knee and begging the forgiveness of a people who were and are subject to systemic crimes against humanity.
UNPACKING THE WARRIOR ETHOS
Asserting that poppies are propaganda is contentious because the programming related to our societal notions of war, honour, valour, glory—and even heroism—runs deep enough to have strong roots. The first ones to throw feces are the monkeys who've been trained to retort that I, a flouncy writer with no experience in battle, can only speak so freely and openly precisely because of the sacrifices made by Canadian and allied soldiers in the name of freedom.
Let's unpack that: the loaded words here are "sacrifice " and "freedom", and neither of those words mean what we've been trained to think they mean. Nobody should accept guilt handed to them with the subtext that it is disrespectful to speak one's mind about certain—let’s say culturally sacrosanct—topics. Bullshit. The exact opposite is true. The so-called freedom to speak openly and challenge the dominant paradigm is meaningless unless it is used.
As demonstrated by its actions—not by the empty rhetoric we are bombarded with—Canada, like most nations, prefers its veterans dead. That's the only way the narrative of 'honouring' them with wreaths, monuments and hollow words works. The living—those who survive to suffer the nightmares of what they've witnessed—are too expensive to support. There are so many.
In answer to this dilemma, government actors at Veterans' Affairs Canada and the Veterans' Review Board have developed a closed, non-transparent system which supports their unofficial policy of refusing as many applicants as possible outright, both to mitigate the perceived impact of war and to reduce the number of pensionable conditions.
The burden of proof placed on soldiers is too high, the process by which soldiers apply to receive benefits is way too bureaucratic, and the attitudes of our poppy-wearing government officials, especially those on the Veteran's Review Board, are way too flippant and dismissive of the real and pressing needs of these wounded soldiers to offer any substantial benefit. Hence, many of our 'honoured' veterans are taking their own lives, marching in anguish to death—the only place where we, as a nation, seem to be able to comfortably accept them.
Citations for valour universally extoll the virtue of selflessness, where the group comes before the individual, both on and off the battlefield. All military training is engineered around this principal. At home during times of peace there is no battlefield outside the mental landscape, and for a mind riddled with nightmares and an emotional body invaded by demons, there are huge hurdles to overcome. This is why many soldiers who experience war often reach a place where they only feel at home during war.
It is incumbent upon the government that enables the witnessing of horror to take full responsibility for its effects—not only on the soldier and the soldier's psyche, but on that soldier's family as well. This is not being done; If it were, the government would not be so cavalier about throwing our troops into the breech.
Instead, the government builds phallic monuments in such mocking reverence while the families of soldiers and the soldiers themselves are left to roll in the detritus of the trauma which war bestows. There is nothing glorious about it. The shallow payoff—medals, citations, badges, memorials—is all too meagre. The honour and glory promised by the warrior ethos is illusory and fleeting while the wounds last usually as long as forever, and when unresolved are fed to others - generally spouses and children.
QUASHING THE FEMININE
Stephen Pressfield opens The Warrior Ethos with an account of a messenger returning from battle who was hailed by a Spartan mother; she asked how their country was faring. The messenger, according to legend, burst into tears.
“Mother, I pity you,” he said. “All five of your sons have been killed facing the enemy.”
“You fool!” said the woman. “I did not ask of my sons. I asked whether Sparta was victorious!”
“Indeed, Mother, our warriors have prevailed,” replied the messenger.
“Then I am happy,” said the mother, and she turned and walked home.
The absence of grief in what is a nearly complete inversion of maternal instinct demonstrates one of the principle goals of military training: the quashing of the Feminine, of feeling, in order to instill certain beliefs and values that will enable a soldier to lay down his life and to abhor shame more than death. This does sharpen courage, and creates a template for honour and loyalty—the boilerplate fare of military indoctrination—but what I am concerned with in a healing context for those suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression and addiction are the parts of the human spirit that get killed or maimed when this mentality is fully adopted.
At the root of all the sabre-rattling and bravado is a disdain for the sacredness of the mystery embodied by the wombs from whence we came. The Warrior Ethos has no room for reverence, because reverence implies an acknowledgement of the sacred in everything, a compassion for oneself and ultimately for all life. It would be highly counterproductive to allow a warrior to have compassion enough to see himself in The Other, because then he would be unable to perform his duties.
Like all military entities, the Army is a substratum of the society it lives and trains in. The Army is a closed community, an association which supports its own demography, moral code, and language. The basis for success of military training, which allows the soldier to act and react while under phenomenal stress in the face of stark trauma, rests in the disembodiment of the individual psyche, alienation from universal human principles, and the dependence upon the standardized group-ego formed specifically and scientifically by and for his new environment. The mental landscape is bleak without the ‘band of brothers’ and the effective—if odious—notions of honour and sacrifice.
The Warrior Ethos is built on and fuelled by fear of creation and unity, and it insists that to follow orders blindly is to exhibit loyalty; to kill on command demonstrates courage and selflessness. However, to see others as separate—let alone as the dehumanized entity of Enemy—bears a significant psychic cost. The soldier is a human animal cut off from its own true nature, subjected to violent twists of consciousness during training in order to be able to perform in combat.
The violence, degradation and horror that is witnessed during battle allows the idea of The Enemy to become self-reinforcing. In effect the Warrior Ethos alienates the soldier from himself and from others. French philosopher Jaques Ellul, an expert on propaganda, argued convincingly that alienation is the equivalent of slavery. For soldiers, this alienation is the product of a very calculated system, however abstract it might seem from within the organism itself.
There is a distinct correlation between narcissistic male rage, as exemplified by characters such as Donald Trump, and how we celebrate war.
In a culture that sees gender more and more along an unfixed axis of polarity, it should be self-evident that within every individual resides the male and female. To put it another way, each human embodies, to various degrees, yin and the yang, the hard and the soft, the rational and the intuitive, the calculating and the creative. The human dilemma is to balance it all without resorting to denial.
If these elements aren't balanced, or aren't allowed to balance, the rage isn't simply directed outwards, at this nebulous, ephemeral notion of The Feminine. It is directed inwards, to the parts of ourselves that we, and our society, has chosen not to accept. This is how we get people, especially soldiers, living in a suspended state of narcissistic self-loathing.
Terrorism is, and always has been, a red herring. Similar to the United States, most of Canada's threats today are domestic, including the Corporatocracy that gave birth to such tragedies as the tar sands, the empty apology to First Nations, the crisis of poverty in many communities, the approval of more pipelines and the ongoing issues of mental illness and the impact it has on society when not treated with awareness and compassion.
For decades there has been an ongoing push within the military and law enforcement to recruit people who are both emotionally needy and narcissistic in the extreme. It's time we admit that the Trumps of the land are products of the world our denials have built, as are the soldiers who rape and torture, as are the police officers who engage in brutal human rights abuses against their own population.
These narcissists are characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem. Their love of themselves and of power automatically means that they will try to crush others who get in their way. This is born of a rage that can only exist in denial of the Feminine. Any sense of balance is impossible with denial present.
It is probably no coincidence that psychometric testing is on the rise globally—particularly for positions of bureaucracy, law enforcement, and Defence—at the same time as there is a rise in what can only be described as an organized and widespread political contempt for the common citizenry, whether at the level of national, state, provincial, or municipal government.
Through recruiting and screening large numbers of narcissists, and through established training programs which include techniques such as neurolinguistic programming (the effects of which are cumulative) the entire subculture of the military and paramilitary has been reframed to see anyone outside itself as The Other, the potential terrorist, the ever present threat.
It needs to become apparent that we deal with symptoms in our society, not root causes. And so it continues, the tip-toe towards totalitarianism, and the media falls into lockstep, looking outside, to the Other, for villains—when in fact we need to be examining ourselves.
You want to honour the dead? First thing you can do is honour their living brethren by giving them the support they need. Otherwise, all the parades in the world and the fucking plastic poppies on your lapels are lip-service. What better emblem for our collectively unconscious, guilt-ridden and befuddled submission to the official narrative of honour could we dream up than a plastic representation of a blood-red opiate? Our senses and sensitivities around this topic have been purposefully deranged to suit the ongoing political objectives vis-a-vis war.
From the parade square to the sports filed to the trenches, what the warrior ethos instills very deeply in a soldier is shame. Shame of speaking his own mind, of acting as an individual, and of indulging in his own human tendencies. Any act towards creativity and nurturing is dangerous to the system and is thus viewed with contempt. To be unique, under the manifestations of the military ethos, is to be depraved.
Our society's ways of knowing itself are broken. It is useless to quote a doctored history, and fruitless to cite manipulated polls. Science has been co-opted and manipulated so much that no pure science exists anymore on planet Earth. Or, if it does, we the people do not have access to it. It is utterly foolish to trust our government.
It is important to meditate on the ways and means by which the nauseating notion of patriotic sacrifice has been designed to keep our consciousness from touching the unacceptable number of lives needlessly lost to specious wars and avoidable conflicts. Research—not into the historical texts but in the gaps which lie between them—builds its own story, gradually, at times with only the help of intuition and eventually an informed skepticism emerges.
The reality is not noble; the reality is grim.
Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, argued that narcissism “is what keeps men marching into point blank fire in wars: at the heart one doesn’t feel that he will die; he only feels sorry for the man next to him. Freud’s explanation for this was that the unconscious does not know death or time: in man’s physiochemical inner organic recesses he feels immortal.”
The soldier must lie to himself in order to keep life from becoming psychologically unbearable. Through the mendacity of his own condition, the soldier becomes almost unconscionably absorbed with himself. This makes sense when we understand how he is shaped to perform the army’s specific task of killing The Feminine in himself to be able to kill others.
In my own combat arms training years ago, I remember how people who could not keep up were called split-arses, cunts, women, girls. A common retort to someone who complained was “Oh, is your vagina hurting?” implying what The Feminine embodies is shameful and to be loathed. Weak. Ineffective. Soft. Not only does this denigrate women in general, it denigrates every human being.
THE PSYCHE OF THE NEWLY AWAKENED SOLDIER
The military once tried to steal my own fire. I took it back by writing my first novel, but it was over a decade after my release from the armed forces before I had consciously clued into how these longstanding twists in my own consciousness were still at work.
I am very intrigued by the soldier who wants to free himself from the slavery of alienation and move into the light of the present moment and the interconnectedness of everything. This shows more courage than any other action a soldier can take. This is the transformation from soldier into warrior-poet, and the more of our soldiers who make this transformation, the easier they make it on those who follow. These men and women should know that there are those of us who exist on the outside, championing their move into authenticity to take their fire back.
The true enemy is ignorance: acting as if we know when we do not know. This enemy is fought on the battlefield of denial, and the carnage is widespread. But sometimes, a soldier is somehow, by grace or by luck, moved out of the suffering of an overly shame-based mind and into a new reality.
I only ever had a faint hope in the possibility that a soldier grappling with alienation could reach a heightened awareness while embodying the very antithesis of existentialism—by becoming everything, rather than becoming (or coming from) nothing.
The old version of strength meant that one could put up with a lot without getting affected and/or carrying a lot of weight. The new version of strength in this emerging planetary consciousness is the ability to balance the masculine and feminine in the heart, and accentuate both by doing so. To the soldier in denial, the very prospect is terrifying and bound to incite rage. The soldier who is waking up is compelled to embark upon the monumental task of embracing The Feminine within himself, a journey which demands incredible courage and self-acceptance.
This, finally, is the point to be made through this insanely long blog post: the veterans at standing rock have displayed awe-inspiring courage by engaging in an unarmed mission of peace, by taking a knee in sincere humility of their privilege to serve the First Nations’ peoples, and by owning a legacy of human rights abuses. They have overcome their own mindfucking training to evolve as the peaceful warriors the world needs now.
These veterans, most of whom have witnessed unspeakable horror, have come through as medicine workers in their own right, and as such are able to see with humility, which means to see things as they truly are, a gift that was once reserved for The-People-Who-See-With-The-Heart.
This awakening is both subtle and profound, and ushers in a new era of light and hope for a planet on which we have just proved that the unification of many voices for a higher purpose can not ultimately fail.
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