Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Support the Troops!

The recent House of Representatives debate on the nonbinding Iraq War resolution was long on rhetoric and duration, and short on pretty much everything else. The one conclusion I was able to pluck from the bluster is this: our national discourse on the war has been hijacked, at the highest level, by a slogan. "Support the troops!" Whether yea or nay on the resolution, practically every speaker had to recite his or her "support" for the troops. Indeed, the phrase infects the resolution text itself "(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq."

We see it on bumper stickers, yard signs, and lapel pins. "Support the troops!" But what on Earth does it mean? Do I support the troops? Well, financially I sure do--their room, board, and housing gets withheld from my paycheck every two weeks, and the bill for what I'm not paying now will go to my children and grandchildren, with interest. But I'm guessing that's not what the banner on the overpass means.

Does it mean I'm not supposed to spit on them, Vietnam-style, in airports? Fair enough, I don't do that--I think most of us are over the idea that every nineteen-year-old kid in a uniform is a baby killer with personal responsibility for Pentagon policy. (Interestingly, the military justice system doesn't seem quite so progressive--it hung the enlisted staff of Abu Ghraib out to dry with nary a stain on the epaulettes of commanders who authorized the same sexual and religious humiliation techniques across multiple facilities.)

Perhaps "support" is meant in the sense one "supports" English football teams, as in "I support Manchester City, he supports Arsenal"? Are we meant to rush out and buy a new Army "kit" every time they change the camouflage design, then get into pub fights with insurgency supporters and slash their tires every time we lose a street battle?

Seriously, though... I "support" the troops in the sense that I don't want them to get killed. I want them to get letters from home and Xboxes and dental care. I don't want them to come home missing arms and legs--living two miles from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I've seen enough limbless soldiers in the supermarket these past few years for any one lifetime.

But wanting to see your fellow human comfortable and alive is something quite different from blind support of whatever fool errand the government happens to have sent him on. At least, that's the way I see it. Others argue that one can't "support" the troops without "supporting" their mission, and since the failure of a military mission typically involves a lot of soldiers getting killed, I suppose they have a point.

In truth, so long as "support the troops" remains on church signs and baseball caps, it doesn't much matter what meaning we ascribe to it. I can think it means "don't spit on soldiers," you can think it means "don't question the government," military families can be happy to read it, and we all can go home and watch our all-Anna-Nicole-all-the-time cable news.

But when the slogan infects a Congressional debate--and worse yet, hogties a coequal branch of government from exercising its constitutional function as a check on the executive--we've exited the realm of feel-good virtue. The notion of "supporting our troops" has made any serious proposal to cut off funding for the war a political non-starter. Americans believe--or so Congress seems to think--that our soldiers would view being sent home as a personal betrayal. Worse yet, the war's backers insinuate that a halt in funding would not bring the troops home, but rather leave them in the field without supplies or reinforcements. And so the resolution focuses on the sideshow of the President's "surge" of 20,000 troops, while pandering shamelessly to those who so "support" the 140,000 already in Iraq that they will not question the reasons for their presence.


  1. How about supporting them when they come home.
    I just learned that during the course of this war, as the DoD has submitted "budgets" for its requests for paying for the whole thing, it has requested $0 for psychological treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    Though I haven't seen the forms, apparently there is actually a table of categories that has a place for PTSD treatment, so it's not like DoD lumped it in with something else, it simply was left empty.
    They must have thought this is a happy war and no one will be emotionally scarred by it.

  2. Word - to both what you said & what Vincent said. I've been so pissed off to hear about substandard medical care for returning soldiers. And bad (or missing) body armor plus crappy under-armored vehicles and stinted training for departing soldiers. While the right-wing jackals ignore that & blather on about how if liberals/ dems / commie pinkos oppose this stupid war *we're* the ones who have failed to support the troops. Put a sticker on your truck & it'll allll be ok!

  3. I have since learned that 2 of Bush's advisors on healthcare issues in the psychology field deny that PTSD exists.

  4. Vincent, I bet they also believe that folks can "pray the gay away".


(You can comment here, or on the Holy Prepuce! Facebook page.)