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Can we be anti-war but pro-troops?

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For some, the phrase "support our troops" is merely a euphemism for: support the policies that put the troops there in the first place. For others—including many activists—the mantra is a safe way to avoid taking an unqualified, uncompromising stand against this war (and all war). Many who identify themselves as “anti-war” still vigorously defend the troops…no questions asked.
The excuse making typically falls into two broad categories. The first being: “Our troops are just following orders.”
A simple Web search will find many reasons why this concept has no legal basis. For example, Principle IV of Nuremberg Tribunal (1950) states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
Besides this, it can be easily posited that “only following orders” also has no moral footing. Of course, the facile example would be Nazi Germany. But surely every suicide bomber is merely following orders as are those detonating IEDs in Iraq. The Left praised Vietnam era draftees who fled to Canada. Yet, today’s volunteer warriors are given a free pass because they didn’t give the orders in an illegal war and occupation. This is not only illegal and immoral; it also lacks any radical credibility. Somehow, individuals and groups can stand tall against war and military intervention but refuse to shine a light on those who choose (and get paid) to fight. Nowhere else in the realm of activism does such a paradox exist.
Consider the animal rights activists struggling to end the morally indefensible and scientifically fraudulent enterprise of animal experimentation. Can they expose the corporations and academic institutions but somehow "support" the actual scientists performing the lab experiments? Surely, they are "just doing their job" and “following orders.”
How about those fighting to end unfair labor practices? Is it acceptable to call out the CEOs of Nike & The Gap but hang yellow ribbons for those who handle day-to-day operations of a sweatshop in, say, Vietnam? These men and women are just as “stuck in a bad situation” as any grunt in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The second excuse usually sounds like this: “It’s a poverty draft. These poor souls have to enlist because they any economic options.” America is certainly an unjust economic society and this would be a compelling argument…if it were true. A 2006 New York Times op-ed highlighted a study by Tim Kane and Mackenzie Eaglen that “analyzed demographic data on every single enlistee, not just a sample, and found that in terms of education, last year’s recruits were just as qualified as those of any recent year, and maybe the best ever. Over all, wartime recruits since 1999 are in many respects comparable to the youth population on the whole, except that they are on average a bit wealthier, much more likely to have graduated from high school and more rural than their civilian peers.” They also found that youths “from wealthy American ZIP codes are volunteering in ever higher numbers” while “enlistees from the poorest fifth of American neighborhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the last two years, to 13.7 percent. In 1999, that number was exactly 18 percent.”
So, are some of the soldiers in Iraq there primarily for economic reasons? Sure. Did others sign up for a chance to shoot some “ragheads”? Probably. After factoring out these two relatively small groups and rejecting the illegal, immoral, and reactionary “only following orders” defense, I ask this of anti-war activists: Exactly how are the men and women who willingly signed up to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan immune from any and all scrutiny and/or blame?
After all, what do you think “our troops” are doing? "We know that 99.9% of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner,” says Donald Rumsfeld. “We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn't happen do happen."
If only 1/10 of 1% of US soldiers make “things happen that shouldn't happen,” what are the rest doing to have us standing and singing "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium? How do we define exemplary manner?
By Rumsfeld's reckoning (and the standard company line of most every politician, pundit, and peon) "exemplary" includes (among other things) the use of Daisy Cutters, cluster bombs, napalm, depleted uranium, white phosphorus, and the launching cruise missiles into crowded cities.
"Things that shouldn't happen do happen," Rumsfeld explains. But what about all the stuff that this society accepts "should" happen? Why would anyone besides a sadist feel compelled to support that unconditionally?
There are two powerful myths/ironies propping up the “support the troops” premise. The first involves what they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received over the years that read something like this: “While you sit at home in your luxurious apartment, making money off your writing (insert laugh track here), those brave men and women are putting their asses on the line to fight for your freedom to write your anti-American garbage.
I say: Bullshit.
The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are not fighting for my freedom. They are fighting to keep the world safe for petroleum. If anything, since 9/11, our freedom has been slowly eroded and the presence of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan makes it harder for anyone to speak up in dissent. If I were in an airport, and I spoke aloud what I’ve written in this article, I’d likely be detained or arrested.
Irony #2: While most American citizens are manipulated, harassed, coerced, and guilted into hanging yellow ribbons—even if they’re anti-war—from Shays Rebellion in 1787 to Coxey’s Army to the Bonus Army to the Gulf War Syndrome to a quarter-million homeless vets today, generation after generation of US military personnel has suffered a lack of support from their own government (and the corporations that own it). “Our troops” are just as controlled and exploited as the US citizens that worship them.
And one more thing: Let’s stop with the “our troops” charade. You and I may foot the bill, but “we” have no say in what they do. If those truly were “my” men and women, I’d bring them right home and put them to work doing something useful…like turning the Long Island Expressway into the world’s longest organic farm.
Don’t support the troops…inform them.
Mickey Z. is the author of the forthcoming novel, CPR for Dummies (Raw Dog Screaming Press). He can be found on the Web at

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