can’t see the forest

What Does It Mean to “Support Our Troops?”

There are currently about 138,000 US troops on active duty in Iraq. The US Marine Corps is preparing to initiate its first involuntary recall since the early days of the invasion. There are troops from other nations involved in the conflict, and their presences and contributions need to be recognized.

But let’s not pretend this is anything other than the White House’s war. Non-US combat forces have been slowly and steadily withdrawing from the quagmire, not least because, in each of the nations they represent, public support for the operations in Iraq is…less than marginal. Public support in the United States itself dwindles below the half mark.  

Yellow RibbonWe gotta get to Iraq and dismantle all those weapons of mass destruction. Oops, there aren’t any, and we knew it all along. Oh, well, while we’re here, we might as well implement democracy. Oops, turns out you can’t do that at gunpoint. Gosh…now we have to stay and clean up the huge mess we made. Except it’s getting bigger and nastier every week. We’re not cleaning up a damn thing.

What to do?

In the press, on the internet, and on television, perhaps only one message has been truly consistent throughout this disgraceful disaster: Support Our Troops.

A large percentage of the troops are children, not old enough even to go down to the bar and get a beer in the United States. Most often they are recruited from impoverished rural areas or inner city neighborhoods, where joining the military is more apt to appear to be an attractive opportunity. They’re being ordered to kick down doors, to fire rockets on tenement buildings, to patrol streets where gunmen and suicide bombers lay in wait. Atrocities resulting from broken—or, worse, from nonexistent chains of command such as at Abu Ghraib and Haditha are the demoralizers, not public discourse at home. The troops certainly need some support. Yellow ribbons, while perhaps heartfelt, aren’t doing much good.

The message from Congress and from the White House is this: if you question the pretexts for this invasion, you’re not supporting our troops. If you believe that the war is wrong and is spiralling out of control, you’re unAmerican. Freedom hater. What if it were you on the front lines? Remember 9/11—never mind that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people, as it is now clearly known, had about as much to do with that attack as the Fijians or the Inuit.

To be quite frank, if I were on the front lines, my idea of support from the homeland would probably be best exemplified through suggestions as to how I might be withdrawn from hostile territory as soon as possible. That’s support. Not cynical, half-hearted “you go get ’em, boys” from armchair strategists flipping through news reports over fresh-grilled steaks. Not hollow, shameful rhetoric about “staying the course” from a President who took pains to avoid active military duty in his youth.

The idea that supporting the troops is best accomplished by ludicrous servility and brainless repetition of empty slogans, and is endangered by asking serious questions and demanding serious answers, is cruel propaganda of the vilest order. It may be support for the wealthy and support for the oil industry; it has nothing to do with support for either US troops or Iraqi civilians. The sitting administration has made it clear that its idea of supporting the troops consists primarily of slashing veterans’ benefits and provoking open conflict with Iran.  

Liberty Restored recently posted a link to a video from Camp Casey featured at t r u t h o u t.  In this video, Marine Corporal Grant Collins, a member of Iraqi Veterans Against the War, describes participating in the siege of Fallujah.

When it became apparent that Collins’ platoon would be unable to take a particular city block through manpower alone, he gave an order for a helicopter strike and for a particular building to be blasted open with hand-launched rockets.

In chilling detail, Collins describes rushing into the building to find a woman, two children, and what appeared to be the woman’s badly dismembered husband huddling together. Collins instantly suffered an emotional breakdown and shuddered against what remained of the wall he ordered open.

The woman rose to her feet and walked over to Collins, gently taking his chin into her frail hand. Insh’allah, she spoke to him, one word in the Arabic language.

God willing. This is the unshakable, peaceable strength of the faith of Islam as it is practiced by the overwhelming majority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims. It is only a small and vocal minority of Muslims which heeds the call of lunatic false prophets such as Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, although continued US-Israeli hegemony and aggression in the region keeps serving to ensure the stoking of the fire these pseudo-religious perverts would love to see engulf the Muslim world.

“But it wasn’t God’s will,” Collins explains to his audience, visibly reliving the moment and openly weeping. “It was my f*(&ing order. I killed her family.”

“It’s my duty to speak out,” he wrapped up. “I’ll do this until this war is over.” Having been a troop himself, unlike so many American armchair strategists, he knows what it really means to support the troops.

The trail of fire, blood, and gore leads directly to the West Wing of the White House. The trail of money leads to the boardrooms of companies like Exxon-Mobil and Conoco-Philips and Halliburton and Northrop-Grumman and to the fat bankrolls of their despicable lobbyists lurking in every corner. It is the representatives of these firms which dominate the current Presidential administration, just as they dominated Reagan’s.

I have an idea that will bring this war to a close in notime. Every American who claims to support the troops in Iraq by perpetuating, through servility and inaction, a protracted conflict in someone else’s backyard, should quickly and quietly pack a few personal items and make his or her way to the nearest armed forces recruiting station.

If they won’t support the troops by demanding to bring them home, they should get off their asses and support them by joining in the fight. I think the roughly 55% of Americans who believe the war in Iraq is fundamentally senseless and wrong will have little trouble keeping the nation running smoothly until their return. We’ll be sure to support them while they’re gone by cheering brainless slogans, even as the body count soars. There might not be any benefits awaiting them upon their return, but that’s all part of Bush’s “grand sacrifice.”

At last count, not more than six of the five hundred thirty-five members of the US Congress had a child on active duty in Iraq. Neither of the President’s daughters has offered to serve.

Imagine it—an army of as many as a hundred and fifty million Americans would have no trouble keeping Baghdad on lockdown. The transition to American McDemocracy would be swift and sure.

God willing.

I do not claim to speak for all Americans. But my message to the servicemen and women of the US Armed Forces in Iraq is this: I love you, I care about you, and I want you to come home. It is senseless to speak of “staying the course” because, as you surely know better than anyone, there has never at any point been a course to stay. Do not submit to propaganda about fighting for “liberty and freedom.” America is not under attack. You are fighting for oil and money and geopolitical strategy. Hussein is a memory, thanks to your efforts—now the Iraqi people must fight their own battles and they will not be able to do it as long as you are there. Your commanders, safe in their offices in Qatar and Washington, are seeing to that. Put down your arms and come home. You are missed, as you must be painfully aware. You are no longer in harm’s way for a noble cause. You are in harm’s way for no reason at all. Your bravery and dedication will always be remembered and will always be honored. But it is long past time to call it quits. Do not wait on Congress to come to its senses; the Congress is corrupt. Those who honor you will do what they can. Organize amongst yourselves wherever possible. End this war.


5 Responses

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  1. Gracie said, on 9/6/06 at 6:39 am

    “The idea that supporting the troops is best accomplished by ludicrous servility and brainless repetition of empty slogans, and is endangered by asking serious questions and demanding serious answers, is cruel propaganda of the vilest order.”

    Now those are words worth repeating. I would say there are more productive ways to honor the soldiers other than purchasing a “Support the Troops” yellow ribbon for 2 bucks (made in China), then slapping it on the back of a vehicle all the while feeling that good ole’ American sense of pride and accomplishment. Some of these kids are returning for the third time to Iraq which is nothing more than a backdoor draft. How about we support them by BRINGING THEM HOME NOW ALIVE!

    Your excellent post reminds me of a fine book written years ago but applicable every bit as much today. “War is a Racket” by Smedley Butler, Major General, USMC which can be read at the links below.

  2. tellitlikeitis said, on 9/6/06 at 10:44 am

    I had heard a number of commentators, Chomsky among them, mention Butler’s writing but I had not taken the time to check it out. I did so this morning and his words are revealing and instructive. You are absolutely correct—his words are every bit as applicable today as in the past. Thank you for sharing the links.

  3. zilla said, on 9/7/06 at 6:05 am


    Interesting to me that the position you have so clearly explained here is so difficult for so many to wrap their minds around. Last time I was asked (by a soldier!) how I, a pacifist, could possibly pretend to support our troops, I had to fall back on an old principle I read long ago: we must see the Christ in every person we meet.

    I’ll save your permalink for anyone who hints that my position is self-contradictory.


  4. Gracie said, on 9/8/06 at 10:02 am

    Thank YOU for taking the time to read the words of Smedley Butler.

    Recently, I watched a documentary which contained old video footage of him speaking and he’s quite a character. I found just listening to him a treat so if you want more, check this out:

    “THE CORPORATION explores the nature and spectacular rise of the dominant institution of our time. Footage from pop culture, advertising, TV news, and corporate propaganda, illuminates the corporation’s grip on our lives. Taking its legal status as a “person” to its logical conclusion, the film puts the corporation on the psychiatrist’s couch to ask “What kind of person is it?” Provoking, witty, sweepingly informative, The Corporation includes forty interviews with corporate insiders and critics – including Milton Friedman, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Michael Moore – plus true confessions, case studies and strategies for change.”

    It would be nice to here your thoughts on this incredible documentary although it’s more than a little disturbing to watch.

  5. Jill said, on 9/8/06 at 11:12 pm

    I’ve often wondered, driving behind trucks on the highway, what people who slap those yellow magnets on the back exactly have in mind. My inclination is … nothing. Nothing more than knee-jerk civility. Great post.

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