Wednesday, October 3, 2007

If You Support the Troops, You Can't Oppose the War

For 35 years, we’ve had the lesson beaten into us: Support the Troops, or else! You can’t be anti-war unless you Support the Troops! You’ll lose credibility unless you Support the Troops! You’ll lose elections unless you Support the Troops!

We got hosed.

Turns out you can’t oppose the war – or the occupation, or the clusterfuck, or however you want to describe the catastrophe that is Iraq today – and support the troops at the same time.

Turns out if you support the troops, you have to support the war.

No, I’m not making fun of the latest wingnut talking points. I’m trying to make sense of a conversation I had recently with a veteran.

I wasn’t looking for an argument; coward that I am, I avoid discussing Iraq, Smirky, repugs, etc. with anyone I suspect harbors wingnut views, and I knew this veteran to be a conservative republican and christianist.

But somehow the subject of “negative press coverage of the war hurts the troops” came up and before I could stop it the question had spilled out: “How does criticizing the war hurt the troops? Just because the war is wrong doesn’t mean anything bad against the troops.”

At first, he tried to explain it calmly. Essentially, he claimed that every military person internalizes and identifies with whatever conflict he or she is fighting. Criticism of the conflict translates into criticism of the military itself and every person serving in it.

I tried to explain that was not what criticism of a conflict means, and he exploded.

This very intelligent, educated, polite, generally soft-spoken and easy-going guy suddenly turned into Rush Limbaugh. Red-faced and infuriated, he yelled:

“When you say the war is stupid you’re saying that I’m stupid for fighting it! When you attack the war you attack me personally!”

No, Rush Limbaugh is the wrong analogy. Raw Limp Balls is a clown performing for the mob.

This veteran was releasing decades of pent-up resentment, of passionate fury and yes, self-pity, against a peace-loving society that he perceived as anti-military.

I was stunned. It’s not news that most military types conflate war criticism and anti-militarism, but I had never before witnessed the irrational anger behind it.

Later he apologized for his outburst, but undermined the apology with yet more justification of his belief. It was particularly despicable, he said, to criticize a war for which members of the military volunteered to join. They knew they were going to a combat zone, he emphasized; saying the war is wrong is calling them stupid for volunteering.

I asked if drafted soldiers felt differently, and he said no, draftees identify with their war the same way enlistees do. It’s just much worse to criticize a war being fought by volunteers.

I’m sure you’ve already jumped down to fill the comments section with the countless ways his argument is specious, and you’re right.

But let’s not forget that there are more than a few anti-war types out there who are, indeed, saying in so many words of one syllable that everyone in today’s volunteer military, especially the Army, is a stupid git who deserves whatever he gets.

As, of course, there are also many Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, not to mention many active-duty soldiers and Marines, who strongly oppose the war as ill-advised, mismanaged and counter-productive.

This is not about whether the service members fighting and dying in Iraq are heroes, victims, or idiots.

This is about how difficult it is to discuss the relative merits of a particular armed conflict when even the slightest criticism is dismissed because it undermines the troops.

We will never come to any national consensus on rational use of military force as long as Supporting the Troops trumps all.

Cross-posted at BluegrassRoots