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Friday, July 30, 2004

Jon Carrol on Supporting the Troops

Jon Carrol writes:
The slogans are all over: "We Support Our Troops," emblazoned across a field of red, white and blue. Because I am an American, I understand that bumper sticker to be code for "We Support the War in Iraq" and "We Support George W. Bush" and "We Will Vote Republican in November."

It is only the secret language of American politics that makes "We Support Our Troops" a partisan message. Although I support neither George W. Bush nor the war in Iraq, I do support our troops. I pray that they are kept from harm and that they not be required to harm others. I pray that they will not know all the horrors of the battlefield. I pray that they will return home to a long and happy life, even if they vote Republican.

I support our troops. I understand enough about the military life to know that it is founded on discipline, and on following orders without question. A battlefield is no place for someone to say, "I wonder, is that the really the best course of action? How about a pincer movement?"

Except in the case of obviously illegal and repellent situations -- the torture at Abu Ghraib springs to mind -- soldiers are supposed to do what they are told. It is natural that they would do what they are told by the commander in chief, that they would follow his orders and believe that they are doing the right thing.

Because that's true, the commander in chief has an extraordinary responsibility to protect the lives of those he commands. He must never enter into frivolous or unnecessary wars; he must never put the soldiers he commands in harm's way purely for political gain. Upon his prudence and wisdom depend many lives, not just those of his own soldiers but also those of the civilians who are caught in the bombing runs and the "cleansing" operations.

That's the theory, of course; things don't always work out that way. But even in an imperfect world, George W. Bush has shown a callous disregard for his troops. He has entered into wars without a ready plan beyond an order of battle. He has fought the right enemy in the wrong place, and he has fought a Potemkin war against the right enemy in the right place.

And so Afghanistan, which did in fact protect members of al Qaeda, is about to return to the fragmented tribal tragedies of its past, and Iraq is sucking up billions of American dollars and hundreds of American lives merely to prove that the president did not make a miscalculation.

It is also up to the commander in chief to support alliances because alliances spread the risk around. But this commander in chief has been contemptuous of alliances. "Bring it on," he said, meaning, "Feel free to shoot at my soldiers." He did not mean "bring it on" in any personal sense; he's riding his mountain bike while Americans are dying in his name half a world away. He's the most protected person on the planet; anyone bringing it on to him wouldn't reach the outer layer of sycophants.

I support our troops. I think the children of any person killed in combat should have the rest of their educations paid for. I think the armed forces should be expanded so that reservists do not have to lose their jobs to fight for their country. I think the war profiteers, including Halliburton, should be required to donate an amount equal to the compensations (with bonuses) of their top 50 executives to a fund for the retraining and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.

I don't think soldiers should have to live near the poverty line in order to serve. I support our soldiers in their desire to have a life as least as secure as those of the bureaucrats who cut their orders. And I support their right to blow the whistle on American war crimes without fear of retribution.

I know what some soldiers are doing in Iraq: They are keeping their heads down and waiting to get back stateside. I know that course of action brings great shame. I know their activities in the field bring great trauma and a shutting down of human emotions that feels like a small death. I want to get the guy responsible for abusing our young men and women like that. Fortunately, he is up for re-election real soon now.