Don't Support Our Troops
by Joe Mowrey
The slogan "Support Our Troops"
has come to symbolize gas-guzzling SUV's with magnetic yellow
ribbons on the back and American flag decals in the window. In
an effort to guard themselves against accusations they are unpatriotic,
Progressives have co-opted that phrase and added the words "Bring
Them Home Now." The intention of this new slogan is to claim
the troops as our own, not just pawns of the right wing. We support
them by wanting to end the war and bring them home. Implicit in
this support is the notion that they deserve our unflagging gratitude
and enthusiasm because they are not responsible for their situation.
They are only following orders. It is up to us to see to it that
they are extricated from the desperate circumstances our politicians
have created for them. Both uses of this sound bite ignore the
despotic nature of the military industrial complex in this country.
Both are wrong.
I manage the data base and produce the
graphics for the Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial Installation, a 450-foot-long
(and growing) series of 3 by 6 foot vinyl banners displaying the
names, pictures and obituaries of the U.S. military personnel
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Installation is a project
of the Santa Fe Chapter of Veterans for Peace. I have spent hundreds
of hours staring at the faces and reading biographies of the nearly
3400 (as of the writing of this article) young men and women who
have been killed in these two wars of aggression. Though I am
not a veteran and have not lost a loved one to war, I carry a
deep sense of the tragedy these lost lives represent. But I do
not "Support Our Troops."
When did the truth become an unspeakably
radical position? At a time when what we need most is frank and
honest discussion about the imperialist role the United States
plays in the nightmare of global violence and militarization,
what we see instead is an effort on the part of the antiwar movement
to play politics with language. Rather than having the courage
to reject platitudes, we attempt to stake out some imagined middle
ground of justice and the rule of law. We pretend to ignore inconvenient
facts for fear we might be labeled anti-American. We frame the
truth in a way that may serve our ends even though the means is
not as noble as we might hope. Expediency supplants integrity.
What if the principal and many of the
teachers at your local high school claim a neighboring school
is hiding a cache of weapons? The school administrators can't
produce any evidence this is true. But just in case, the students
are being armed and trained and will be sent to attack the other
school, burn it to the ground and kill many of the families in
the surrounding neighborhood. Would you give those kids a pat
on the back, a tearful hug and send them off to commit this mayhem?
Or would you encourage them to question the school administrators,
demand proof of their claims, call in police and other legal authorities
to investigate the alleged threat represented by the other school?
If in the end you were unable to convince
the students they were being lied to, that there was no real danger,
would you go ahead and "support the troops" just because
you felt the need to demonstrate your loyalty to their school
and neighborhood? Would you send them cookies at the holidays,
warm socks, perhaps a video game or two they could use to distract
themselves during their off hours? Would you laud them as heroes
on their return home? It's not really their fault, after all.
They've been lied to. The fact that they are killing and maiming
innocent people is a secondary consideration. First, we need to
assure them we support them in this terrible time.
These are difficult and complex moral
considerations. When does support become facilitation? When does
care and concern lend itself to the commission of crimes against
the populations of other countries? When does loyalty supplant
responsibility? Though I have my own answers to these questions,
I can't answer for others. But I do believe they are questions
that need to be asked.
The Bush administration made outlandish
claims about Iraq and the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
They insisted that the government of Afghanistan was harboring
those responsible for the attacks of 9/11. Incredibly, in the
next breath, they convinced many people that Iraq was responsible
for those same attacks. All this was done without presenting even
the slightest legitimate evidence for these claims. Being the
good patriotic citizens that many of us are, we willingly sent
our children off to kill and be killed, to murder thousands of
civilians in Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands of civilians
in Iraq for no other reason than that a handful of politicians
and media pundits told us to do so. And all the while we continue
to chant the myopic slogan, "Support Our Troops."
Following the horrific devastation that
resulted from World War II the collective nations of the world
adopted the Nuremberg Principles and the Geneva Conventions. As
absurd as the notion may be that we can establish "rules"
for war, none the less, we as a global community determined standards
for military engagement between nations. Since that time, the
United States has continually violated these standards. We have
openly attacked and secretly undermined sovereign governments
in our efforts to achieve global hegemony. We have installed and
maintained brutal dictatorships whenever and wherever it served
our purposes. We have used our military to conduct state-sponsored
terrorism in order to change political landscapes to advance our
Our military is engaged in war crimes,
crimes against humanity and crimes against peace in both Afghanistan
and Iraq, not to mention the more than 100 other countries where
we maintain a military presence. We instigated wars of aggression
against two nations whose governments did not attack us, nor did
they pose any threat to us. Our forces have destroyed untold billions
of dollars worth of civilian infrastructure and killed hundreds
of thousands of innocent men, women and children. As American
citizens our jingoistic support of the military in such endeavors
has enabled this abusive behavior.
Nuremberg Principle IV 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."
The politicians and corporate moguls who orchestrate the United
States' imperialist ventures bear the bulk of responsibility for
the crimes being committed. But soldiers who engage in the implementation
of these policies are also culpable, from the most senior officers
to the lowest ranking enlisted personnel. As a result of a political
system that is controlled by corporate interests we no longer
can rely on our elected officials to abide by the rule of law.
The burden then must fall to members of our military establishment
to disobey illegal and immoral orders.
The invasions and occupations of Iraq
and Afghanistan are wars of aggression that violate the law and
defy common sense. We have turned our children into war criminals.
We ourselves, as American citizens, are accessories before and
after the fact. A moral choice is available, to us and to members
of our military. Ehren Watada is only one example of many soldiers
who are making such choices. He is the highest ranking officer
yet to refuse service in Iraq, rightfully claiming the war and
the occupation violate the Constitution, international law and
Army regulations. He and others like him are the ones who truly
deserve our support. They are the real heroes of our misbegotten
It does not matter what lies were told
to take us into these wars. We are the aggressors. We are the
rogue nation. When politicians and pundits on the left and the
right claim they were deceived by George Bush or Colin Powell
or some other neoconservative ideologue, we should respond with
the obvious facts. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of people
in this country and around the world were not fooled by these
lies. None of us who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
believed that either of these countries posed a threat to the
United States. None of us believed there was any justification
for dropping bombs on innocent civilians. None of us condoned
these illegal and immoral actions.
The truth is painful, and stating it is
far from politically correct. We as a nation have allowed our
military to become a criminal element that is rampaging around
the globe inflicting death and destruction on innocent populations.
If we claim to be a civilized society, we must practice the same
behavior we purport to expect of others. There is no rational
argument in favor of wars of aggression, collective punishment,
torture and abuse of human rights. Those paradigms are ineffective,
morally indefensible and should be rejected by us unconditionally.
The facts themselves are clear. The needed
response is also clear and indisputable. "Bring Them Home
Now." That slogan should stand alone as the mantra for the
antiwar movement. We must demand the immediate withdrawal of forces
from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as anywhere else they are functioning
in an imperial capacity or in violation of accepted standards
of morality. Our government must end financial and military support
for any and all countries that do not abide by the Nuremberg Principles
and the Geneva Conventions.
When our military is no longer committing
war crimes, when we are in compliance with basic standards of
human rights and social justice, then we can break out the bumper
stickers and ribbons that say "Support Our Troops."
We can support their physical and emotional rehabilitation. We
can support their return to their families and reintegration into
their communities. We can properly fund veterans benefits and
educational and employment opportunities for veterans. We can
become a model of egalitarian compassion in the world instead
of a bloodthirsty juggernaut spewing death and destruction in
the wake of its imperialist ambitions. Until then, every American,
as well as our military, are guilty of crimes against peace.
Joe Mowrey is a peace and social justice
activist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is an advocate of
Palestinian rights and has made two trips to the West Bank. He
can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.