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Full Bumpers And Empty Gestures

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Drive just about anywhere and it’s easy to see there’s a war on. No, not just the war in Iraq, but the one being fought on the back of our cars.

First there are the many cars, seemingly overwhelmingly SUVs, wearing magnetic yellow ribbons urging other drivers to “Support Our Troops”. Fewer and fewer these days, doesn't it seem?

Then there are the growing number of cars sporting bumper stickers with anti-war slogans, such as “How many soldiers per gallon?”, and “Are you driving the war?” Our passions for and against the war in Iraq are clearly spilling out onto our highways.

Most everyone in America "supports the troops". But what does that really mean? Does displaying a $3 magnetic ribbon made in China really support the troops? Does countering with anti-war bumper stickers really support the troops? Or do both actions simply make the drivers feel good about themselves as if they are "doing their part" to support or resist this war?

Is affixing yellow ribbons to the rears of cars really more a form of protesting against anti-war protesters than a statement in support of troops? Or is it more a proxy statement for “Support Our Commander-in-Chief”, no matter where he might lead us? Similarly, is affixing anti-war bumper stickers really more a form of retaliating against the yellow ribbons, an empty gesture easier done than insistently writing letters and making phone calls to newspapers and politicians?

Of course, we must take great care not to think in absolutes. There are certainly yellow ribbon drivers who question our presence in Iraq, but who nonetheless feel that it is important to remind others not to forget the troops. And there are certainly anti-war drivers who unflinchingly support our troops despite their vehement opposition to the president’s war in Iraq.

Then there are drivers sporting yellow ribbons on their cars who’ve honored our country by serving in the military, and who are reminding us that our young men and women in combat need to know that they are supported back home. And there are drivers sporting anti-war bumper stickers who’ve also honored by serving, and who, having known the horrors of war, are reminding us of the dangers of blindly supporting leaders in wartime.

And finally there are drivers who’ve done something more than purchase a magnet. And there are drivers who’ve written plenty of letters and made plenty of phone calls. However, I suspect all these exceptions taken together still represent a minority of drivers on each side of the car rear war.

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Which returns me to the question: what does it really mean to “support our troops”? When my local paper, the Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard, prominently ran an article last Christmastime offering information to readers interested in sending care packages to troops in Iraq with little family, I called the number provided to the Oregon National Guard headquarters in the capital, Salem. Despite it having been several days since the article ran, I was told I was the first to call in response.

I took down the mailing instructions, offered my support, and was thanked for calling. My kids and I assembled several boxes filled with various items we thought a soldier far from home might need, and we mailed them from the post office in time for Christmas.

I was surprised to have been the first to call the Oregon National Guard to find out how I might support the troops. After all, I knew there were thousands of drivers out there already supporting them.

Easier to do by affixing a yellow ribbon to a car than a few stamps to a package, I suppose.

(So many lives so badly wasted, so many more to follow. Let's all support our troops by bringing them home, and by impeaching and convicting those who sent them half a world away to begin with.)

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Todd Huffman is a pediatrician and writer living in Eugene, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to many newspapers and publications throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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US is the most vehement about its Christianity and... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 7:54:49 AM
You're right. Too much lip service, not enough... by John R Moffett on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 8:11:12 AM
I also  find it bizarre also that we have to ... by Bob Gormley on Wednesday, Jul 25, 2007 at 4:29:19 AM
It has been my experience that most people only gi... by walley on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 8:37:46 AM
Wise comments, all.I enjoyed the analaogy between ... by Todd Huffman, M.D. on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 9:32:40 AM
When the “mercenary” stories first bro... by John R Moffett on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 6:48:20 PM
Putting a yellow ribbon on your car and spending m... by Aimee on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 12:42:51 PM
reread the Ernest Hemingway's ' Who killed... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 1:45:22 PM
but a few years ago the local peace group had a &#... by Blue Pilgrim on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 6:04:02 PM
I was unaware of the military's policy of resc... by Todd Huffman, M.D. on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 9:23:36 PM
Here is a link to Kos reporting it. Google sh... by Blue Pilgrim on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2007 at 10:56:58 PM
Do you ever stop and think how this looks to the w... by davy on Wednesday, Jul 25, 2007 at 2:58:48 AM