Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Friday, April 04, 2003
“Support the troops”—but why?
I’m feeling controversial today. So how about this: why support the troops? Okay, because you don’t want to be beaten to death on a public street. But besides that?
I may or may not speak for a group of people who, like me, regard the military with suspicion. On the one hand, the need for a professional military, particularly when you’re a superpower, is well-established. On the other, there’s a whole group of us who don’t necessarily share the values, politics, or worldview of soldiers. In pubs, for example, we scuttle back to the longhairs rather than tarry at the bar talking to the guy in the crew cut who’s advocating invading France. All right, maybe he’s not a marine, but who can say?
I understand the ambivalence: there are kids in Iraq right now who are scared to death they’re going to die. There are kids who have died and maybe even some who are dying. They’ve got families at home who are worried sick about them. Some of them just joined up to get an education. Others are middle-aged professionals away from their professions and spouses and kids. It’s hard to not feel supportive of people in tough situations like that. We’re human; we’re compassionate.
But let’s look at the other side of the coin. We have a volunteer military, and everyone who joins is clear-eyed about what it means. It means you not only agree that the use of military force is a necessity, but you’re so convinced of it, you’re willing to die for that point. It’s not an accidental position. It’s a martial view of geopolitics. A perfectly legitimate one—the predominant one, in fact—but does mean that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.
But most significantly, to serve in the military means you’re willing to go to war for causes with which you don’t agree. When duty calls, the military is ready. Serving in the military isn’t participation in a consensual process. It couldn’t be, obviously. But again, it’s a choice freely made.
And then at the end of it all, there is yet a final choice: serving in the US military isn’t like serving in the Iraqi military. If you don’t want to fight, you can choose not to. It’s a difficult choice, because it means shame and prison. But you won’t be shot. Many people have made a similar choice, and served their time. If a soldier believed a war was truly unjust, going to prison would be a noble alternative.
The hawks flog the doves with this crap about not supporting the troops. By which they mean to emphasize one's deeply treasonous nature. But it is crap. The hawks flog everyone (including each other) with accusations of disloyalty. For me, the truth is the war is unjust, it may well have enormously negative effects, and has certainly resulted in the lost lives of innocents. And the people who are conducting the war are the troops—citizens who have made any number of active decisions that reflect their conviction that this war is a good thing. Support them? No. They’re wrong. (Which obviously does not mean I wish a single one would die.) We're all citizens, we all make our calls, and we don't always agree.