For the last four years, the anti-war movement has been seriously handicapping
itself with its 'We support the troops but we're against war' mantra of qualified
dissent. Initially, the phrasing of this message was a reflexive attempt to
fit into the context of pro-militarism created by the Neocon spinmeisters who
quickly established a flag-waving, 'Support our troops' litmus test in the aftermath
of the tragedies of September 11th.
Wanting to avoid being branded as un-American traitors from the get-go,
the left promptly started couching their verbage in the newly minted criteria
for patriotism. Unfortunately, that line of thinking is still alive and well
today and has become a serious detriment to bringing an end to the agenda of
One of the guilt factors that continues to keep the mostly white and privileged
anti-war movement supporting the troops is the argument that many soldiers come
from impoverished circumstances and are motivated to join the military because
of the education and job benefits that are marketed by recruiters and glossy
advertisements. Implicit in this angst is the assumption that it is racist and
classist to deny the 'benefits' of military service to those who choose to enlist
just because of our own ideological objections to the military industrial complex.
There are several major problems with this line of reasoning. First, the benefits
aren't all they are cracked up to be. For some, military service has been a
positive experience on a personal level, but for too many others, it has not.
Many military personnel receive no educational benefits at all and only a few
receive full benefits.
In addition, while the military boasts about job benefits, the reality is that,
according to the Veteran's Administration, veterans' actually make less money
in civilian life than those without military experience. They also make up 1/3
of homeless men and 20% of the nation's prison population.
How then can it be appropriate to support recruits who sign up for benefits
that are overstated if not totally illusory? By saying that we understand that
they signed up because of the benefits, we are buying into the myth of the military
as a tool for social betterment. In essence, we are excusing them (and ourselves)
from questioning the morality of their participation in a system that was designed
to wage war.
Getting bogged down in this line of reasoning also keeps us from examining
how increased military spending, as well as trade agreements like CAFTA, destroy
our economy. Would we not better support those who join the military for the
job benefits if we insisted that our spending priorities emphasize education
and job training, rather than cutting those funds so that the only option left
is the military?
By supporting those who sign up for the benefits, we are saying that we think
they are so low on the totem poll that the only way we are going to give them
a chance to better themselves and lead a productive life is if they first risk
their lives for something that we don't actually even believe in. And then maybe,
possibly, depending on the small print at the bottom of their contracts, they
might get the benefits.
Most importantly, supporting those who sign up to serve their country
totally excuses the immorality of justifying the unjust as patriotism. There
can be no excuse for enriching the coffers of the likes of Halliburton while
bleeding dry our human capital and the resources of this planet.
It is not now nor has it ever been in the best interests of our country,
any other country, or indeed the planet to kill innocent people, to poison the
environment with nuclear weaponry, to destroy cities and deprive people of their
health or the basic necessities of life for any reason. It does not matter what
their religion or skin color is or what language they speak or how much oil
is under their sand.
As Cindy Sheehan has so eloquently pointed out, using our children as "human
cluster-bombs" to kill other children in never-ending wars is not a family
value, it is the callous betrayal of our youth and the wanton destruction of
It is for these reasons that I will not say that I support our troops.