We as a species tend to live in a stew of contradictions. We reward the military order of the purple heart to soldiers for killing during war and then we turn around and condemn the people who sent those same soldiers to war. It’s not an efficient system and there’s no room here to assess the questions of morality and politics but there is an interesting backstory, or general backstory, to how this interplay has helped shaped the modern world. Whether you are asking yourself the simple question of where can i donate clothes or looking to research how armies have conducted themselves in the presence of civilians in centuries past, there is a lot to learn about the history of military and military progress as it relates to global society as a whole. While it might seem like the military and civilian or public life has always been separate, this isn’t entirely the case. We here in the United states have things like veterans donations and veterans charities specifically because of a myriad of different social pressures and traditions that date back centuries. Let’s start towards the beginning and work the modern day to understand this on a more fundamental level.
- When armies became more than armies
The origins of the first military and armed forces are relatively unknown although it is speculated that, even before the rise of the first complex civilizations, most small tribes had some sort of force to defend themselves. The first verifiable evidence we have of actual armed forces actually comes from the records kept the scribes of the towns that would eventually becomes the city state of Sumeria. These detailed in order the pay and number of soldiers that were in the army as well as accolades of note that each solider had individually achieved. In this way, they weren’t too far off from the military order of the purple heart that we have today although we tend to focus more on the soldiers who were wounded in battle while the peoples of the ancient world tended to focus on those who killed the most enemies. They were also viewed less as an extension of the will of the people and more as an extended arm of the king himself. So how and why did this change?
The way that the military changed
It actually took a long time for a different conception, or even any different idea at all, of the military to come into effect. In Rome, the military was regarded as a glorious job that would help assimilate the helpless outside masses into the what they saw as the superior Roman culture. This is slightly different than the armies of Sumeria but it is still a long way off from the conception of the armies of defense and justice that we hold today. The middle ages were only slightly better, with ideas of charity being funneled alongside the religious conception of armies as crusaders ready to tear apart non believers. This crusader mentality, still a long way from the military order the purple heart for disadvantaged and wounded soldiers, would eventually transform in the eighteenth century. But it would take a long time.
Social transformation meets enlisted life
It wasn’t until the eighteenth century, or rather, the middle of the eighteenth century, that we more fully began to have a conception of the army as something unfortunate but necessary. This would be the very thing that would lead to the military order of the purple heart but it would still be far way off. By the end of the century, charities had begun to crop in cities to help wounded veterans of the American civil war but these still wouldn’t see widespread support until after the first world war. It was the sheer carnage of the first world war that would ultimately lead to things like the military order of the purple heart, charity work and supportive cause being offered to troops returning home in return for their service in what was quickly being seen as less than noble work. Instead, it was being seen as nasty but necessary work that forever damaged the people involved.