What does it mean to "support our troops"?
Our local Greens are holding a poster contest on the theme of "Bring Home Our Troops." A reporter called to interview me for a story about it. I was somewhat taken aback when she asked me, "What would you say to people who would think that by doing this, you are not supporting our troops?"
It cut me like a knife. Maybe because up until then she had seemed reasonable and open to the peace message. How could she so calmly articulate the accusation that I who believed in non-violence, and who had worn black for mourning as I read the names of dead soldiers at vigils was being unsupportive?
In response, I went on somewhat of an intense diatribe about how truly supporting our troops would mean to want them to be out of harm's way, and to want veterans to receive fair benefits, and to disapprove of forcing people to serve past their agreed upon time. All of these arguments which I have heard before, as my peace movement colleagues tried to adopt the phrase "Support our troops", in part as a way to prove we were patriotic, in part as an ironic turn of phrase: "Support our troops bring them home."
Yet, as I tried this reverse spin on the reporter, the phrase "Support our troops" started to sear into my consciousness. Not just because I knew I was the one truly supporting these soldiers, these people, sent overseas to an unjust, illegal, and failing war, but also, because the phrase "troops" started to gnaw at me. I realized that after seeing a display of the faces of soldiers' lost, and reading the names of the soldiers lost at several candlelight vigils, and after hearing the story of Ehren Watada, the word "troop" was not an adequate representation for each life that a soldier represented.
The word "troops" itself is abstract and dehumanizing. The word "troop" is intended as a cover, a way to report that another one of our people has died in an unjust war, without having to say, "Another soldier died in Iraq today." Or, "Another man died in Iraq today. Or, "Another woman died in Iraq today." How much more powerful would any of those sentences be, then the sentence, "One troop was lost in Iraq today."
When a citizen hears, "3 troops were killed in Iraq today," she can keep on driving without skipping a beat. If she had to hear the same news about the same people as: "A father, a student, and a mother died in a Iraq today," perhaps the listener would have a greater sense of reflection. Maybe she would be more likely to pause for a moment, and connect to her complicity in the war by paying taxes for war, supporting the drumbeat for war, and voting for representatives who keep the cycle of war going.
I have worked with reporters before on various kinds of projects, and, I have watched how reporters write stories. The first question a reporter asks someone who is at a demonstration, or someone who is a witness, or someone who is a candidate is: "How old are you?" Next is, "What is your profession?" Then, your age and your profession is how you are described, like it or not. Why doesn't the same press have the patience and policy, instead of reporting "3 troops died in Iraq today," to write: "A mechanic, age 28; a musician, age 31, who belonged to the National Guard; and a nurse, age 35 were killed in Iraq today."
The peace movement should find new language for the word "troops." We should always refer to our soldiers in as human terms as possible, and not adopt the slang, propaganda, or phraseology of the government and corporate media. We should never mimic them by saying, "We support our troops." We should show how more sincere our support is, we should give testimony to the humanity of our troops. We should say, "We support our servicepeople." Or, "We support our men and women overseas."
In addition, in what way should the peace movement support these servicepeople? If we support them in their capacity as troops, then aren't we supporting the war? Because "troop" is a label attached to a person as they serve in the military. Can't we support the person, but not wish that they continue in their function as soldier? Can't we support the person and not condone that they have agreed to go overseas as part of a preemptive war which includes bombing and other attacks against the Iraqi people?
There is a phrase that adults sometimes say to children, "I love you, but I don't love your behavior." Isn't it that we care for the soldiers, but we really wish for their sake and for our sake and for the sake of the Iraqis that they would stop being "troops"?
To say, "We support our troops," is to push the mission of war forward. "Support our troops" also sounds like you want more people to become troops. As if it is a good thing. Do we support turning more young people who are graduating from high school into troops? Do we support creating more troops by calling up reservists and National Guardspeople who meant to serve their country in ways other than foreign war? Do we support the government using stop-loss orders, forcing soldiers to stay in active duty passed the terms they signed up for?
Do we support continuing forcing the people who we have taken from productive, civilian life, into continuing in their role as "troops"? Wouldn't it be better to support that we could have more people here in the United States, home to raise their families and contribute to the economy, maybe contribute to our culture. Wouldn't it be better, even, to support that we have more soldiers on bases at home, living out as peaceful and existence as possible and being trained for times when it might actually be that our military personnel could serve in a way that decreases instead of increases violence?
Let the Democratic Congresspersons coalition with the Republican Congresspersons to pass a bill that says, "We support our troops." That bill will expose the Democratic Party for what it is, the same kind of corporate tool, war machine as the Republicans are. Let the Democratic Party and the Republican Party join forces to create a bill condoning and celebrating the fact that we have sent young people (and now older people) overseas in harms way, and that condones and celebrates changing more people from citizens into "troops." The American people should have no part of it.
I know there are citizens who are Democrats and Republicans (plain citizens) who actually want no part of that scenario. And, there are even some Democratic elected officials and Republican elected officials who want no part of that scenario.
"We support our troops," is a twisted and inadequate phrase. And, to stick it into a bill that purports to end war is wrong and counterproductive.
American citizens, who can see each other heart to heart, real person to real person, should not condone the word "troops", this dehumanizing turn of phrase. Nor should they let themselves be influenced or intimidated by the government's ironic accusation of cruelty. "What, you don't support our troops?" our elected officials sneer at peace demonstrators, at the same time those same elected officials exploit and kill more and more soldiers under the cover of patriotic propaganda.
What if the issue at hand were feminism? Could you see the Democratic Party and Republican Party creating a compromise bill to give women more rights by stating, "We support our little ladies."
Words matter. Especially when a word turns a person from a living, breathing, human being--or a person who in death deserves to be properly mourned--into a mere number. A number which can be escalated and ratcheted up without the public even noticing or having a proper sense of loss and fear. A number which can be escalated without any consequence to greedy politicians and the greedy corporations that prop them up.
We don't need Democratic Congresspersons who pander to the warmongering Republicans and pro-war Democrats. The American people voted "No to war" in this 2006 election. We need a bill that says, "Save our youth. Honor our service people who have completed their tours. Stop exposing American men and women to the stress and violence of a preemptive, illegal, war based on lies. End the war. Bring our PEOPLE home now."
The peace movement should put an "x" through the word "troops" on all their banners that tried to shuffle past the war propaganda and say, "Support our troops bring them home." And, instead, people of peace should write above the word troops better phrases, the honor the humanity of those we genuinely support: "Support our men and women overseas"; "Support our servicepeople."
And, when a pro-war Republican, or a warmongering Democrat, or a member of the press indoctrinated by the war-culture questions whether you support our troops, tell them: Yes, I support our service people. And, I demand that you support them to, by ending the war NOW; fixing and adequately funding the Veteran's Administration; and ending the practice of "stop-loss" orders, which force people to serve beyond their agreed upon time, as indentured servants to the U.S. military and the Democrats and Republicans who vote for war without end.