Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Support Our Troops?

Since George Bush led this nation into a war in Iraq and Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan? Our troops are fighting there, too), signs and bumper stickers admonishing us to “Support Our Troops” appear everywhere. But what does the slogan mean? When we say we “support” something or “believe” something, what does that mean? Almost always such slogans are words without action. Words that do not result in actions are hollow, noisy puffs of air with no more meaning than a passing breeze.

I am a Viet Nam veteran, and when I see or hear slogans like “Support Our Troops,“ I bristle. 58,000 Americans died, and 153,000 were wounded in Viet Nam, that damned, needless war; another war based on lies. Two to four million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers died, two to four million–a staggering loss of life. Why? Why all this suffering and death? Because our elected officials needed to show they were guardians of freedom and enemies of tyrants; they wanted to spread freedom to other countries and stop Godless Communism even though our own career diplomats insisted that the Vietnamese only wanted their country back after centuries of foreign domination. Those diplomats were fired or hounded out of the profession; they were branded disloyal because they didn’t support the war. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

There were battles fought in the streets of America between those who supported the war and those who protested against it. To all of those who supported the war then, I ask, “What did you do to support the troops, other than hate the protesters?” Then, as now, people proclaimed that they supported our troops, but what, exactly, did that mean?

What does the slogan mean now? Placing a bumper sticker on a car, hanging a sign in a window: is that all it takes to support our troops? Declaring people to be “unpatriotic” because they challenge the motivations and actions of men who put our sons and daughters in harm’s way: is that what it means? Deriding a soldier’s mother who waits outside a president’s compound wanting to know if the reasons her son died were just: is that what it means?

Is the refusal to question the motivations and actions of our elected officials patriotic? Is it patriotic to ignore the costs of war in lives and national treasure? Is it patriotic to be relieved when the government refuses to even allow pictures of coffins being returned for burial because it makes the toll of war too graphic? Is that what patriotism means? Is that what is meant by “Support Our Troops”?

The original meaning of “patriotic” was “love of country.” But “countries“ are not merely intellectual concepts; countries are made of people, of commonalities of experiences, of generations who live their lives in the presence of others, sharing hopes, fears, aspriations, disappointments, trials, sufferings, sorrows. Countries are shared ideas and ideals; shared actions that are deemed necessary for survival, or good, or bad, or kind, or loving, or destructive, or constructive. Countries are people; our country, these United States, are us.

It is our sons, our daughters, who are in danger in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Their families and friends (our families, our friends) live in fear for their safety or, all too often, grieve for their loss. Our leaders have sent them in harm’s way and, for all intents and purposes, abandoned them to their fate. Our leaders publicaly wring their hands as they praise the courage of those who are wounded or make the “ultimate sacrifice.” Our leaders label all who criticize them as unpatriotic, as aiding the enemy. We allow our leaders to make these claims, to slander our fellow citizens, to wage wars, to hold themselves as unaccountable. We allow our leaders to goad us into fighting among ourselves over whether they are right or wrong, or whether we are patriotic or not.

We can choose to continue to be distracted and to ignore what is happening to our sons and daughters in those distant lands. We can choose to convince ourselves that putting up signs, or praying for them, or either defending or criticizing our leaders’ actions is all we can do. Or we can do everything in our power, in our love, in the name of justice, in the name of God, to support our troops. Bring them home.

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