During the weeks preceding the U.S./British invasion of Iraq a sort of patriotic fervor swept across the country. Politicians, the media and often police targeted anyone involved in the peace movement as being “un-American”. If you didn’t have a flag flying from your car antenna, wear a flag lapel pin or reverently stand for the National Anthem (or in one instance a patriotic Country Western song) you could be accused of “not supporting the troops”. Once the invasion had begun, there were demands for war protesters to “put the debates aside and support our troops”. I am not sure how a desire for peace could be construed as anything other than support for the troops, keeping them out of battle and alive seems to be a rather solid form of support. Supporting the troops and supporting the Bush Administration’s master plan (stop the weapons inspections, start the war, get the oil, dominate the Middle East) had been carefully melded into the “only” option by the Administration’s PR machine and the media. Peace activists were targeted and used to solidify support for Bush’s war by calling into question their commitment to freedom and their concern for the troops that the Administration would send forth to further expand the American Empire.
We were told to join our President in “supporting our young men and women who were in harms way”. We were not supposed to question why they would be put in harms way; securing Iraqi freedom, ending terrorism, toppling a ruthless dictator, those were the reasons and they were set in stone, war was the only option. We were not to question the governments concern for the troops, how the war would be paid for, or how long it would last. We were just supposed to support the troops. Now, as the Administration appears intent to put the cross hairs on Iran, will we again be expected to support without question?
There was never a lack of support for the troops from the peace movement, soldiers don’t start wars, politicians do. We wanted to keep them at home, because we questioned the government’s support. We know that the government denies the existence of health related problems caused by the use of depleted uranium munitions, just as they tried to dismiss the possibility of Gulf War Syndrome being a real illness. We know from past experience that veterans benefits have sometimes been too little and sometimes been much too hard to get. We know that billions have been cut from the Veterans Affairs budget. We know that the medical care received by some veterans has been disgraceful at best. And we know that, unfortunately, the Administrations idea of supporting the troops consists mostly of money spent on high tech weapons, not body armor, shrink wrapped pallets of cash that somehow disappear unaccounted for and lucrative contracts for Blackwater mercenaries.
One only needs to look at the makeup of the military to question whose interest military recruitment has served. Many inner-city schools see more military recruiters than college recruiters. Those of less than spectacular wealth have historically seen the military as the only way out of poverty, from being paid to replace a wealthy conscript during the Civil War, to joining the volunteer military for a promise of job skills or college tuition. There are many who join the military out of love of country and that is as it should be, but, as Representative Charles Rangel of New York said, for many it’s not fair because they (the poor) have fewer options.
While the Administration cuts Veterans benefits, moneys for health care, education, social security and many other programs that would advance equal rights, equal opportunity, a living wage and fair farm prices, they push for permanent tax cuts for the richest Americans. They happily ignore the military devastation they caused in Iraq, Afghanistan and Viecas Puerto Rico, as well as the economic devastation their neo-liberal trade policies have inflicted upon developing countries around the world. By supporting Raytheon, General Dynamics, Lockheed, Blackwater and Halliburton, this and previous Administrations have sought to advance the doctrine of an American Empire and in so doing, economies, lives and societies have been destroyed. Their support of Globalization to benefit Monsanto, Dow, Cargill, Aventis and a host of other multi-national pharmaceutical, chemical and agribusiness corporations has denied affordable drugs to the world, forced the acceptance of Genetically Modified foods, concentrated control of the worlds food supply and driven indigenous farmers off the land.
Peace protesters, environmentalists and living wage advocates are suspect for not supporting the military, economic growth and the New World Order. Universal health care supporters are branded as socialists and those who support fair trade, local food economies and the rights of indigenous peoples are condemned for their lack of vision. It would appear that Bush’s call to support the troops is just another catch phrase in a long line of attempts to dissuade those on the left from working for real progressive change. There was never any question of our “support” for the troops; they are our sons, daughters, friends, parents, husbands and wives. There was never a question of our desire for universal health care, a clean environment, living wages, equal rights or fair trade. We the people have always been supportive of the poor, the underdog, the common good, and the common dream. The lack of support seems to lie squarely on the President, his Administration and most of the DC establishment. They support the wrong people for the wrong reasons, and they insist on questioning our patriotism whenever we work for the best interests of everyone, rather than those of the wealthy.