Don't Support Our Troops

by Joe Mowrey, January 17, 2007


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 imperialist agenda.

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 wars.

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:

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