Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Don't Support the Troops

Why I Don’t Support the Troops

During the anti-war protests of the late 1960s, there was a tendency on the part of young people to lump a lot of establishment players into the same basket.  If you were an elected official, a member of the military, or a policeman – heck, if you were over 30 years old – you were considered to be an enemy of peace.  Although I was never one who chanted “Hey Hey / Who Did You Kill Today,” I participated in rallies at which people did yell that -- and worse -- and it did not particularly bother me.  The only soldiers I came in contact with were those who had joined the protests and had not only concluded that the war was morally wrong and unwinnable, but often expressed a profound revulsion at the deeds they had performed under orders.  I don’t remember anyone suggesting that the people in the armed forces were more to be pitied than vilified.

When we hit the streets in early 1990, as it became clear that President Bush the elder was going to launch what is referred to as the Gulf War, it seemed in many ways to be a reprise of the 60s.  Many of the same players were on hand, many of the signs and rallying cries had been repurposed, and Pete Seeger was still strummin’ on the ol’ banjo.  It was a homecoming of sorts.  But there had been a significant shift in the attitude toward the men (and, increasingly, women) in uniform.   I think the change can be primarily attributed to a greater class consciousness.  Many of us came to view soldiers less as eager, bloodthirsty combatants than as cannon fodder.  While the draft had maintained at least a modicum of equality among the fighting forces, it had become clear that, although service was voluntary, the ranks were filled not only by gung-ho patriotic types seeking to be all they could be, in the words of the army advertisements, but increasingly by people for whom the military was the best of a limited number of bad choices.  The risk of getting killed or fighting a war that was hard to fathom, no less justify, was outweighed by the opportunity, often not available at home, to learn a skill, get an education, and earn respect.  No small things, especially if you are poor.

There was also a strategic (some might say self-serving) element in the tendency to be more supportive of the troops.  The protesters were not only older, and perhaps wiser, but held a standing in society that might be put at risk if they were perceived to be “unpatriotic” or “disruptive.”  Many anti-war activists were less inclined to be hated and marginalized as they had been in the 60s, when people used the word revolution openly, hopefully, and without irony.  Remember, neither the Tea Party, the Swift Boaters, nor Fox News existed in the 1960s.  There was a backlash against the hippies and peaceniks in the 60s, but it was overwhelmed by the zeitgeist.  The energies being poured into the anti-war movement were multiplied by those behind the civil rights, feminist, and sexual revolutions.  In recent years, as war as become a perpetual state, street protests receive scant coverage in the mainstream press, no less in the right wing echo chamber, and much of that energy, cross-fertilization, and public education simply does not take place.

But now, 13 years into the 21st Century, I’ve arrived at another re-calculation.  I do not support the troops.

Let me be clear (as the politicians like to say).  I support almost any individual in any context.  As my friends in the Reevaluation Counseling movement have taught me, most people do their best.  No one fucks up on purpose.  We form our opinions and make our decisions based on our background, orientation (political, sexual, philosophical), and experience.  We honestly believe that what we think and do is right.  So I try to approach any individual with an attempt to understand their thinking in their context.  This is not always easy to do, but it is an effort that can lead, if not to agreement, at least to greater communication and, hopefully, understanding.

But I seldom support people in the aggregate.  People gain confidence in groups, and unfortunately this is true even whether the organizing principle is peace and progress or if it is racism, sexism, or homophobia.  So I regard most groups with a great deal of skepticism, especially if they cause, or condone, a lot of harm.  When someone says "to make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs" I am generally opposed unless I am convinced that the short-term pain truly justifies the long-term gain.  This is no longer the case with war, if it ever was.  For the past half-century, the wars that the United States engages in fights have been immoral, of benefit to no one except the Military Industrial Wall Street machine.  As a result, I cannot support the men and women who are waging the wars.  Whether they are are on the front lines doing the killing or enabling it to happen in some supportive role, they are acting  in my name and I want them to stop.

Without these enlisted people, the gears of the war machine might not grind to a halt – after all, we now have private subcontractors and drones to assure that the killing will continue regardless – but it would certainly be less popular and less effective.  Obviously, a mass exodus from the military would require a massive shift in economic priorities -- we'd have to spend more on job creation and education than on weaponry and spying, for example -- but the alternative is not only perpetual war but a ruined economy, a moral quagmire, and a dying planet (the U.S. military is by far the biggest polluter in the world).  The peace dividend, which we've been promised ever since the end of the Vietnam War, is not just the absence of international hostilities, but a re-setting of priorities.
There's only one way to truly support the troops: bring 'em home.

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