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Meditations in a Time of Delusions and Lies 20: Don't Support The Troops

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I don’t Support the Troops.

There, I said it. I hope I don’t lose my job. Or get hauled off to Guantanamo.

Perhaps more accurately, I don’t support the mantra of Support the Troops. That particular tape loop joins other great, simplistic slogans and euphemisms like War on Terror and Axis of Evil and Cut and Run and Extraordinary Rendition and Surge, all of which are designed, in various combinations, to obfuscate or confuse or pander or strike fear. It’s remarkable how so many Americans fall for such language, but that’s the way it goes. Even people against the war in Iraq often frame their opposition in a kind of ironic use of the dominant language: Support the Troops, Bring Them Home.

Many others on this web sitge have commented on the manipulative use of such demagogic slogans to support the militarist mindset. But I want to address why I don’t Support the Troops in particular because volumes of history stand behind those three simple words. And that history is the war in Vietnam.

The myth circulated by politicians, rightwing ideologues, and much popular culture (e.g., Rambo) even before the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese entered Saigon in triumph goes something like this: We lost because we did not support the troops. After years of demonstrations by spoiled middle-class students and other “nattering nabobs of negativity,” Congress eventually cut the funds to the war and the president was forced to begin withdrawing troops because the American people didn’t have the stomach to do the job right. If we had only, uh, stayed the course, the U.S. would have won. But the military was stabbed in the back, there were no parades when soldiers came home, scruffy students yelled that grunts were baby killers, and hippie girls even spit in the faces of GIs as they stepped off the planes.

So, when politicians insist that they Support the Troops, even if they are against the war, when the Democrats gingerly frame all of their ineffective efforts to stop Bush’s militarist agenda as supporting the troops, they don’t want to be tainted by the (falsified) memory of Vietnam.

Screw ’em.

The U.S. lost primarily because of the resistance and sacrifices of the Vietnamese people. But the great majority of Americans ended up opposing the war in Vietnam, and that opposition was one of the great movements for freedom in our country’s history. Students and other young people did comprise an important part of the anti-war movement, but perhaps even more importantly so did African Americans and other minorities who were in open revolt at their racist treatment at home and the injustice of the war abroad.

Yet there was yet another crucially important component of the anti-war movement: GIs themselves. Grunts refused orders, gung-ho officers were fragged, and soldiers put out underground newspapers, hung out at GI coffee houses organized by recent vets and others, and attended FTA shows near bases put on by Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Barbara Dane and others. THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT WAS THE TROOPS. Soldiers came home and testified about massacres (John Kerry’s noblest moment), they threw their medals away, and many were sickened by the thought of any parades and joined demonstrations instead. There was a great deal of bitterness, to be sure, but the troops were our families, our classmates, our friends, us, and everyone against the war sorrowed over the rotten deal they were dealt. And, as research has shown, no hippie girl ever spit at a soldier – that story is, quite literally, a myth.

What the troops did find when they returned was what we see today. Miserable treatment by military hospitals and the VA. What today we recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder became known first as post-Vietnam disorder, which was mainly ignored but brought to light to a great degree by vets and anti-war activists. So many vets ended up homeless and miserable because they did not receive the proper treatment. Sound familiar?

Soon after starting the war, the Bush administration announced that it was cutting the budget to the VA. Such bald-faced hypocrisy seemed to go unnoticed. But once again, on-duty soldiers and recent vets are making up an important part of the anti-war movement. The horrible conditions at Walter Reed have actually been known for some time, but now a qualitative stage has been reached, and opinion has tilted to make a new scandal.

I won’t even talk about the misery of the Iraqi people.

We do not need to support the war machine to love our own people. We can support our brothers and sisters, our mothers and our fathers without chiming in with the slogans of criminals trying to deceive us.

I support the soldiers who are disgusted, dismayed, and in revolt just like the rest of us. But I don't Support the Troops.

Hilton Obenzinger
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Hilton Obenzinger is the author of "American Palestine: Melville, Twain and the Holy Land Mania" (Princeton), among many other books of criticism, poetry and fiction, and the recipient of the American Book Award. His most recent book is the (more...)
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