Recently, I’ve read numerous pieces about what it means to support our troops. The GOP fringe likes to make the argument that one can’t support the troops while being against the war. Their contention is that the troops are fighting to win and supporting legislation that would undercut their mission is, by definition, non-supportive of the troops. The anti-war crowd is quick to point out that approval of a mission is not a necessary precondition of supporting those who undertake that mission – a hate the sin, love the sinner type of argument. They also claim that truly supporting our troops would mean working to prevent them from dying needlessly in a war of choice.
I think it is time that we lefties confronted some very difficult realities that are associated with our position. There is a sense of validity to the fringe righty argument here. But, I’d like to flip it on its head and note that, on a certain level, supporting the engaged troops is supporting the war. Truly supporting the troops begins before enlistment, before our “support” puts us in a difficult position in which we have to support those who are fighting wars of choice that line the pockets of our ruling class and spill the blood of innocent civilians in the name of “freedom” and “anti-terrorism.” The troops are the soldiers of neo-colonialism and economic imperialism. Yet, because we view them as pawns who don’t control their own destinies we are driven by empathy to support them.
Wars are carried out by troops. Troops don’t have the authority to make decisions regarding entry and they don’t choose their missions or their means, but they do perform the grunt work of war. If we believe that Iraq did not deserve to be attacked, that we are involved in a colonialist/imperialist occupation, and that we are slaughtering Iraqi soldiers, women, and children needlessly and in startling numbers, then we have to confront the fact that it is the soldiers who are attacking, occupying, and killing.
To be sure, such an operation is not what those who enlisted in the military signed up for. But the fact that they might be called upon in this way should not come as a surprise. The United States has a long and ugly history of using its military for unethical, selfish, and destructive purposes – both in terms of “public” ops – like this one, as well as countless documented black-ops missions. For anyone who knows even a little bit about the military history of the United States—and if you’re going to devote two or five years of your life to it, it’s worth 10 minutes with your friend Google—the current occupation of Iraq would be just the type of thing that one would realize he or she is signing up for when joining the military.
Our military is disproportionately young, poor, and brown. Our poor and disenfranchised are sent off to sacrifice, and potentially die, to preserve the entitlements of wealth for a select few of our American aristocrat class. Those poor, young soldiers who put their lives on the line do so for reasons for reasons dictated by circumstance. Simply, they are not given many other options. They have been failed financially, and socially – sometimes by coincidence and others by malevolence. They have been systematically failed by our educational system, so jingoistic rhetoric resonates with them and a comprehensive, international perspective of our country’s history never has the opportunity to prompt tough moral questions about “what they are enlisting for.”
I don’t support the troops as much as I empathize with them. They have been manipulated to do the bidding of those who care not whether they live or die.
The military offers many of our soldiers the best health care they can get, the best salaries, the best job training. If we want to support our troops, the first thing we need to do is make sure there are comparable civilian jobs, universal health care, education, and training available to them. If they then still want to trade their blood for oil for all of us, at least it will have been an honest choice, independent of pressing economic need.
In terms of supporting troops, the Iraqi troops have the higher moral ground. They truly can believe they are fighting for patriotic freedom. Granting our troops ignorance or naïveté to the true pretenses that precipitate their situation does not change the moral standing of the pretenses themselves or the acts carried out in pursuit thereof. We can offer only explanations, not excuses.
I “support” all parties thrust into this nightmare against their will; that includes soldiers on both sides, Iraqi civilians, families of the troops, anti-war protestors, and international diplomats. I have nothing but ill will for those who knowingly escalated this situation, disingenuously, for their own purposes or those who jumped into the fray out of hate or fear.
As long as our troops take orders from selfish, immoral cowards who don’t value domestic or foreign life as much as the accoutrements of wealth and power, they will continue to be called on to commit atrocities on their behalf. Pleading ignorance or trickery will never reverse any of them. The actions of our troops, even their victories—especially their victories—further embolden our ruling class. They pave the way for further exploitation in the name of “freedom.”
So let’s truly support our troops so that they don’t have to become troops. Let the rulers of this country go out there on the battlefield and put their own asses on the line for the government contracts, manipulated markets, and installation of governments that they need to continue living their MTV Cribs lifestyles. If the ranks of the military was filled with the Bill Kristols and Rush Limbaughs of the world, or at least their children, then we could sit back and root for the good guys with a clear conscience.