For some, the phrase "support our troops" is
merely a euphemism for: support the policies that put the troops there in the
first place. For others -- including many activists -- the mantra is a safe way
to avoid taking an unqualified, uncompromising stand against this war (and all war). Many who identify themselves
as �antiwar� still vigorously defend the troops . . . no questions asked.
The excuses typically falls into two broad categories. The
first being: �Our troops are just following orders.�
A simple Web search will find many reasons why this concept
has no legal basis. For example, Principle IV of Nuremberg Tribunal (1950)
states: �The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of
a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law
provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.�
Besides this, it can be easily posited that �only following
orders� also has no moral footing. Of course, the facile example would be Nazi
Germany. But surely every suicide bomber is merely following orders as are
those detonating IEDs in Iraq. The Left praised Vietnam era draftees who fled
to Canada. Yet, today�s volunteer warriors are given a free pass because they
didn�t give the orders in an illegal war and occupation. This is not only
illegal and immoral; it also lacks any radical credibility. Somehow,
individuals and groups can stand tall against war and military intervention but
refuse to shine a light on those who choose (and get paid) to fight. Nowhere
else in the realm of activism does such a paradox exist.
Consider the animal rights activists struggling to end the
morally indefensible and scientifically fraudulent enterprise of animal
experimentation. Can they expose the corporations and academic institutions but
somehow "support" the actual scientists performing the lab
experiments? Surely, they are "just doing their job" and �following
How about those fighting to end unfair labor practices? Is
it acceptable to call out the CEOs of Nike and The Gap but hang yellow ribbons
for those who handle day-to-day operations of a sweatshop in, say, Vietnam?
These men and women are just as �stuck in a bad situation� as any grunt in Iraq
The second excuse usually sounds like this: �It�s a poverty
draft. These poor souls have to enlist because they lack any economic options.�
America is certainly an unjust economic society and this would be a compelling
argument . . . if it were true. A 2006 New
York Times op-ed highlighted a study by Tim Kane and Mackenzie Eaglen that �analyzed demographic data on every single enlistee, not
just a sample, and found that in terms of education, last year�s recruits were
just as qualified as those of any recent year, and maybe the best ever. Over
all, wartime recruits since 1999 are in many respects comparable to the youth
population on the whole, except that they are on average a bit wealthier, much
more likely to have graduated from high school and more rural than their
civilian peers.� They also found that youths �from wealthy American ZIP codes
are volunteering in ever higher numbers� while �enlistees from the poorest
fifth of American neighborhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the
last two years, to 13.7 percent. In 1999, that number was exactly 18 percent.�
So, are some of the soldiers in Iraq there primarily for
economic reasons? Sure. Did others
sign up for a chance to shoot some �ragheads�? Probably. After factoring out these two relatively small groups and
rejecting the illegal, immoral, and reactionary �only following orders�
defense, I ask this of antiwar activists: Exactly how are the men and women who
willingly signed up to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan immune from any and all
scrutiny and/or blame?
After all, what do you think �our troops� are doing?
"We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an
exemplary manner,� says Donald Rumsfeld. �We also know that in conflicts things
that shouldn't happen do happen."
If only 1/10 of 1 percent of US soldiers make �things happen
that shouldn't happen,� what are the rest doing to make us stand and sing
"God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium?
How do we define exemplary manner?
By Rumsfeld's reckoning (and the standard company line of
most every politician, pundit, and peon) "exemplary" includes (among
other things) the use of Daisy Cutters, cluster bombs, napalm, depleted
uranium, white phosphorus, and launching cruise missiles into crowded cities.
"Things that shouldn't happen do happen," Rumsfeld
explains. But what about all the stuff that this society accepts
"should" happen? Why would anyone besides a sadist feel compelled to support that unconditionally?
There are two powerful myths/ironies propping up the
�support the troops� premise. The first involves what they are doing in Iraq
and Afghanistan in the first place. I can�t tell you how many e-mails I�ve
received over the years that read something like this: �While you sit at home
in your luxurious apartment, making money off your writing [insert laugh track here], those brave men and women are
putting their asses on the line to fight for your freedom to write your
I say: Bullshit.
The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are not fighting for my
freedom. They are fighting to keep the world safe for petroleum. If anything,
since 9/11, our freedom has been slowly eroded and the presence of the US
military in Iraq and Afghanistan makes it harder for anyone to speak up in
dissent. If I were in an airport, and I spoke aloud what I�ve written in this
article, I�d likely be detained or arrested.
Irony #2: While most American citizens are manipulated,
harassed, coerced, and guilted into hanging yellow ribbons -- even if they�re
antiwar -- from Shays Rebellion in 1787 to Coxey�s Army to the Bonus Army to
the Gulf War Syndrome to a quarter-million homeless vets today, generation
after generation of US military personnel has suffered a lack of support from their
own government (and the corporations that own it). �Our troops� are just as
controlled and exploited as the US citizens that worship them.
And one more thing: Let�s stop with the �our troops�
charade. You and I may foot the bill, but �we� have no say in what they do. If
those truly were �my� men and women, I�d bring them right home and put them to
work doing something useful . . . like turning the Long Island Expressway into
the world�s longest organic farm.
Don�t support the troops . . . inform them.
Mickey Z. is the author of the forthcoming novel, "CPR for
Dummies" (Raw Dog Screaming Press). He can be found on the Web at www.mickeyz.net.