For some Americans, the phrase "support our troops" is little more than a euphemism for: "support the policies that put our troops in harm's way." For Americans of the liberal persuasion -- ever cautious not to offend those mythical fence sitters -- the phrase "support our troops" is a safe way to avoid taking a principled stand against this war (and all war). Either usage of the phrase "support our troops" does nothing to challenge the latest mission in particular or the concept of military intervention in general.
There are simple, almost knee jerk methods by which the idea of unconditional support for our soldiers during war can be questioned. The easiest involves any variation of this query: Would it have been acceptable for the people of Nazi Germany to support "their boys" even if those same folks did not agree with Hitler's maniacal methods?
However, in the name of toning down the emotional potency, here's a different challenge: Let's say you're opposed to animal experimentation. Would you be amenable to "supporting" the actual scientists performing lab experiments? Surely they are "just doing their job" and "following orders" as much as any U.S. Marine in Iraq. Or what if you're an activist fighting to end exploitative labor practices? Is it acceptable to hate the CEOs of Nike and The Gap but still hang yellow ribbons for the men and women who handle day-to-day operations of a sweatshop in, say, Vietnam? They're just as "stuck in a bad situation" as the soldiers who ran the show at Abu Ghraib, right?
I know, you think I'm ignoring the economic factors that "force" young people to join the military. But this is America, not Sierra Leone. Without being facetious, I ask: Does anyone know how many U.S. soldiers enlisted simply for financial reasons? Is it as many as we assume? Are these people completely oblivious to what military men and women are expected to do? But, for the sake of argument, let's accept the unproven premise that the majority of American soldiers sign up due to financial hardship. Instead of slapping a yellow ribbon on our SUV, a better show of "support" would be to fight tooth and nail for fair wages, benefits, health care, etc. Hmm, what color ribbon shall we pick to represent union organizers?
An even better form of support would be to "inform the troops." Imagine if every soldier today knew what U.S. Marine Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler knew back in the 1930s. Calling war "possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, sure the most vicious" racket of all, Butler declared: "It is the only [racket] in which profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives." Summing up his career, he said: "I spent 33 years...being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism...I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico ... safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street."
Don't support our troops ... inform 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.
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at: www.mickeyz.net. His latest book is 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism (Disinformation Books, 2005).
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