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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Supporting the Troops

Over at Crooks & Liars, Nicole Belle comments on Barbara at Mahablog's pushback against those who would conflate opposition to the war in Iraq with a lack of support for the troops. As noted, the Boston Globe opines:
[..](T)here is no end of Americans who insist they "support" US troops in Iraq but want the war those troops are fighting to end in defeat. The two positions are irreconcilable. You cannot logically or honorably curse the war as an immoral neocon disaster or a Halliburton oil grab or "a fraud… cooked up in Texas," yet bless the troops who are waging it.

Now this is clearly foolish - I think one can reasonably make a case against the war while still supporting the safety and well-being of the soldiers. This does not mean that there aren't some people who would eschew such nuance. A very good friend of mine forwarded this article by Lawrence M. Vance over at
...Not only are U.S. soldiers not viewed as responsible for the death and destruction that they bring, we continually see signs and yellow ribbons expressing support for the troops. We also frequently hear from church pulpits that we should pray for the troops. Sometimes this is expanded to praying for the safety of the troops while they are defending our freedoms, but it is usually just the nebulous refrain: "pray for the troops."

Although many defenders of the Iraq war have tried, usually under the umbrella of "just war" theory, it can’t be said that the actions of U.S. soldiers in this war are so different from the actions of Russians, Germans, and Turks that they should be commended instead of condemned. Labeling the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq a just war does not make it one. By no stretch of the imagination can the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq be called a just war. In fact, the war violates every "just war" principle ever invoked to justify a war. So why aren’t U.S. soldiers viewed as responsible for the death and destruction in Iraq – even by many of those who see this as an unjust war?...
[emphasis mine]

Mr. Vance, author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, goes on to argue that such defenders can only stand behind four points (I simplify, please read the essay):

- They're only following orders.
- They are doing their duty as citizens of the state.
- American Exceptionalism - our actions are by definition just.
- We are AT WAR, DAMMIT!

I have to confess that I have lamely, in pub discussions, etc., been somewhat defensive regarding the culpability of those young men and women who are in the middle of the horror. I am smart enough to parse carefully through the mine-field of debate over this issue, and I have done so. But the points Mr. Vance make are compelling.

Still, I considered cowering from this topic, because it is so well-framed by the "patriots" of this nation. As if it were unchallengingly anti-American to question the colors of our military. But I was reminded by commenter L.A. Confidential (at C&L) of the anti-war efforts by the Vietnam veterans, via this YouTube trailer. I came of age during that war, and the excitement imparted to my young mind by the courageously vocal "draft dodgers" and AWOLers is in my DNA.

Part of my weaseling involved a sort of double-think (surprise) that went something like this: Well, yes, I would certainly never strap a gun on to kill people, but I understand how indoctrinated the average fresh-eyed American youth is, some of them are True Believers, and after all - shouldn't we be talking about the Masters of War instead?

And then there's this modern day hero, Lt. Ehren Watada.

In conclusion - while I would not hold all of my fellow human beings to such high standards of courage, it would be a dishonor to the courageous not to, at the very least, make the distinction between the sort of lazy thinking which permits injustice to flourish, and the principled clarity of those (too few?) moral heroes amongst us.

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