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Supporting the Troops = Supporting the War

12.04.08 Saturday
09:59 am - Supporting the Troops = Supporting the War Previous Entry Share Next Entry
The "support the troops, not the war" fad bothers me on several fronts. Of course, being a fad, this is an unpopular position. But that's never stopped me from getting up on my soapbox before. In fact, if anything it's probably my biggest motivator to speak up. And it's rants like this where my conservative sensibilities start to shine through.

First, I get the Vietnam Guilt. "We" (for most of us, our grandparents) sent our sons off to the slaughter and when they got back we shunned them. This is a complicated issue and not the point of the post; the bottom line, though, is that this was a draft army that we made minimal effort to stop - then we made the victims of the draft the scapegoats for our support.

I think most people agree that's bollocks. But that's not the situation now. This is a volunteer army in a post-Vietnam era. There is plenty of public information about the types of wars we fight - and I'm not talking about stuff hidden in libraries or obscure corners of the internet; I'm talking about first-hand-knowledge, general awareness and even popular media - the type of knowledge that's accessible to everyone. No one should be surprised when we end up in a war with senseless casualties over an ambiguous objective.

When you join the Army you're making a commitment to provide unquestioning support for whatever military action the elected Commander in Chief engages in, regardless of whether or not you agree with it or it's popular. You not only agree to support this effort, you agree to potentially sacrifice your life on its behalf. And that makes perfect sense; without this, the military could not function. However, by the same token, without this wars would not have momentum. Without this, wars would require a draft army which, in a post-Vietnam era, would be a difficult pill to swallow.

And, to be clear, this includes tragedies like the huge number of head trauma victims coming back from Iraq. Physical, psychological and social disillusionment are all well-established outcomes of war. With every war we act surprised and outraged about the impact it has on the veterans, but these aren't new. Maybe it was called Gulf War Syndrome, Post Tramatic Stress Syndrome or The Hollow Men. Each may be triggered by different causes but the fundamental concept is the same: war tears people apart. It's not pretty and our modern sensibilities aren't prepared for the physical, emotional or psychological realities of this type of conflict. If you don't die in war that doesn't mean you survived it. Of course, how governments respond to this is another issue - and an important one to address - but ultimately, regardless of pension plans or hospital care, the outcome is the same: vetrans are changed in ways that no government can repair. Sad? Yes. Surprising? No.

There's a reason I didn't join the military out of high school. Admittedly, I had other opportunities. But close friends and relatives of mine who had the same (if not more) opportunities disregarded that and chose to serve. I accepted their decision and I'd be depressed (and possibly even angry) if they had died. At the same time, I also acknowledge that it was their decision; I may not understand it, I may not like the outcome, but it was an informed decision they made. They chose and accepted the rewards as well as the consequences.

When you give up your right to an opinion and commit to unquestioning loyalty for an undetermined policy you enable (and accept the consequences of) that policy. This ultimatlely boils down to a "Presidents don't kill people, soldiers do" argument. And if that's true, how can we support the troops if we don't support the war? They are complicit in the action.

Since inevitably this thread will demonstrate Godwin's Law, I'll beat you to the punch. Was the Holocaust Hitler's fault? He architected it, so he's obviously partly responsible. But it doesn't take much effort to find lunatics ranting on the street corner, in a bar or on the internet about whatever hare-brained idea they believe in. And sometimes these folks, by completely innocent means, are put into positions of leadership or even authority. But it's ultimately the decision of individuals as to whether or not they follow them.

The liberal argument here basically follows the Milgram Experiment and boils down to "there's no such thing as a bad employee, only bad managers". And, at a certain level, I agree with this. I don't think that a parent, manager, politian or government can influence individuals without understanding the natural cultural and psychological incentives they follow and manipulating those to the desired end. Providing a selfish or psychological incentive through cultivated experiences and reinforced education is critical. In other words, you can't prevent crime without addressing the underlying motivators that lead to crime; and, similarly, you can't get public support for a war without permitting an attack or perceived threat that unifies your ranks (e.g., Pearl Harbor).

But when you allow these abstract concepts to justify individual actions you separate authority, responsibility and accountability. While these tactics work and are critical to successful leadership (for better and for worse) people ultimately have free will and if they aren't held personally accountable for their actions then there is minimal deterrent to atrocities occurring - either at the micro (such as torture) or the macro (unjust wars). I believe this to be true of employees in corporations and I believe it to be true of soldiers in armies. Every person chooses, at some level, who they take orders from and whether or not they follow them.

And this isn't just me preaching. I've routinely risked friends, jobs and money standing up against social, managerial or client pressures for things I disagree with. And that's largely why I own my company and only have a few close friends. And no, these weren't matters of life or death and, in fact, they weren't necessarily even moral high grounds - just personal interests, values or comfort zones. But that's exactly the point. If people aren't willing to take personal responsibility for their decisions (right or wrong, justified or not) on basic issues then they certainly aren't going to take a stand when the stakes are so much higher.

I'm not saying I'm against war nor am I saying I like the idea of people dying for an unreasonable cause. Nothing of the sorts. I'm simply saying that if you support the troops you support the war and you support the risks they're taking. If that's acceptable to you, so be it - just say it like it is.

Last, this doesn't mean we don't take care of people we care about because we disagree with the war they fought in. There are preexisting bonds between friends, family, societies and even humans in general that trump political views - and those should continue to do so. This doesn't mean that mothers shouldn't grieve because their child who died in a conflict they didn't agree with; that's perposterous. And I know that's what some people mean when they say "support the troops, not the war". But that point is self-evident: being a soldier is a role you play, not the person you are. I can agree-to-disagree with a friend; that doesn't change our friendship.

{int i; i=11; i++}

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lormagins [12.04.08::07:43]
I see the troops as "survival of the fittest" in action. I got the phonecall from the Army recruiter in my senior year of high school, and I immediately got every branch of the military to never, ever call me when I excitedly said "OMG COOL CAN I BE AN ASSASSIN BECAUSE I THINK I'D BE GOOD AT THAT I ALREADY HAVE A KNIFE COLLECTION." No one has to join the military anymore. Those who choose to do so know what they're getting into. And I get pissed that they get brainwashed and end up Abu Ghraibing around the world, because it makes us look bad. And at the same time I think "then again, what kind of retard joins the military - oh wait, I dated one of those. Yeah." And then I go get a drink and try to repress memories of the bad dating choices in my life.
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gfrancie [12.04.08::08:02]
When I got a call from an army recruiter I said that I thought I might be gay (which I wasn't) and what kind of opportunities did the army offer in the ways of carpet munching.
Funny...they never called me back.
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tyrven [12.04.08::08:15]
That's interesting. I didn't realize they actively recruited women. I thought it was one of those "if you come knocking at our door I guess we can find something for you to do like folding clothes or entertaining soldiers" sort of things.

When I got my call I think I just told them I was a pacifist and didn't agree with the idea of using violence to acheive our ends. Which, at that point, might have been true.
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lormagins [12.04.08::08:33]
I think in my case they saw I had a B/C average and thought I might jump at the chance. Little did they know that it was due to laziness and not stupidity. Thankfully the Brits care more about tuition money than grades. Ha!
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sallysimpleton [14.04.08::12:47]
I recall they recruited a number of women from my area. They used to call me frequently when I was a junior/senior in high school. I figured it had a lot to do with testing scores and maybe just being in Louisiana. A number of friends joined up from high schools other than mine -- lots of old neighbors are deployed in Iraq right now. The calls picked up even more after my senior year, which is easily explained. Every year, there was a testing week. Sophomores and Juniors took the PSAT, but Seniors took the ASVAB for the military. Given our high school (it was a magnet school and I knew of only one student who didn't plan on immediately entering college), most of us got nearly perfect scores in our sleep. I think I only knew of two people who ended up in the military from my high school. One was headed to West Point, the other to Air Force Academy in CO.

I remember the early questions in their calls seemed bizarre to be asking right off the bat, despite the logic. Things like, "so, uh, have you ever been pregnant?"
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jessiesquash [14.04.08::02:07]
I think they call everyone now. I got a couple of calls too. I don't really remember what I said but I think it was just a simple, "not interested." I don't know anyone from my high school who enlisted though. Maybe we just have a lazy recruitment team in my area.

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cookiebeyotch [16.04.08::06:35]
I kept getting calls from recruiters and endless crap in the mail from West Point (I took the ASVAB, once, just to get out of school for a few hours and apparently did a little bit too well on it) until I finally yelled at some recruiter that I wasn't going to prostitute myself to the government to get money for college. I think I was maybe 15 at the time. If you know me, the fact that I actually shouted at the dude says a lot.

I guess it's kind of ironic that I wound up marrying someone in the military. Talk about cognitive dissonance...

That said, I'd still yell at recruiters if they ever came anywhere near my hypothetical nonexistent future children and I still hope to god that my husband never pulls a stint as one.
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colvincd [12.04.08::08:09]
The tone in your message suggests that you're also tired with the Vietnam legacy. The sentiment you critique definitely addresses a legitimate conservative grievance from the 60's. Unfortunately, they're using the past as an excuse to attack in the present, and liberals are defenseless due to past transgressions. I see this entire semantic arguement as being another one of those things Baby Boomers argue over that's boring the hell out of everyone else, specifically Gen X'ers and Gen Y'ers (or 9/11ers as I prefer, only thing of Bill Kristol's I like) like ourselves.

Maybe this explains why young people tend to mobilize behind Obama. He's technically a baby boomer and benefits from the legacy of the 60's, but Obama was 10 years old when the Vietnam war ended and wasn't even in America for a good chunk of that time. A message of change and reconciliation that asks us to move on from the past sounds good to people who didn't have anything to do with it in the first place.
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tyrven [12.04.08::08:31]
Vietnam was a valuable lesson and I think it's been beaten enough on all sides over the last fourty years that people have no excuse to claim ignorance about the realities of war or the objectives of policy. But yes, at the same time there are, as you said, valid arguments that have been misapplied in a contemporary context such that they're ambiguous at best - and become the domain of politically correct moderates hoping to take the path of least offensiveness.

That's an interesting point about Obama. I'm not sure. I like his message of change, but that's not why I support him. For me it's a combination of values combined with personality; what separates him from Hillary in my eyes is the ability to dive into difficult issues instead and acknowledge both sides while still taking a clear stand. That's a quality I value in leadership and I also think it's necessary to prevent the partisan polarization that has paralyzed meaningful political progress while enabling harmful extensions of power through backroom deals (and I include both Bush and Clinton in that camp).
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kenatent [13.04.08::05:56]
I detest this fad for an different reason: I don't think the concept of "support the troops, not the war" passes the practical application test. Try telling a soldier on leave from Iraq that you support him, but that you think what he's doing is a total waste. I know this puts the anti-war crowd between a rock and a hard place, but such is life.

More fundamentally, I think its unfair to impute our national decision-making to our soldiers.

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joannemerriam [14.04.08::01:43]
I think stop-loss is essentially a draft.

And I know that's what some people mean when they say "support the troops, not the war". But that point is self-evident

To people who believe that being anti-war is traitorous, it's apparently not self-evident.

I think maybe living in Seattle you haven't experienced the flipside of the "support the troops, not the war" thing as much as people in less liberal areas. When I was living in Tennessee, the "support the troops" stickers on people's cars were unambiguously meant to shame anti-war people into changing their stance. Because if you're against the war, you're not a patriot. (I'm not reading into it, I've been told that by people in favour of the war.) Now that I live in New Hampshire, with lots of hippies with those EXIST stickers, "support the troops" magnet ribbons and so forth don't feel particularly hostile, and the "support the troops, not the war" stickers seem kind of meh, whatever. I think context probably counts for a lot here.