Sunday, August 28, 2005

Supporting the Troops

One of the two local newspapers in my area ran this letter last week:

I had just finished talking to my son, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Iraq, when I read the article on the “peace vigil” (Aug. 18). I was, at first, angry that these protesters would dishonor not only my son, but my sister, my nephew and his wife, who are in the military, with their one-sided view of the job being accomplished in Iraq.

I then remembered something my young Marine said on the phone after arriving in Iraq: “Mom, those people don’t see the big picture. They have a very narrow outlook on life and are only concerned on how it affects their world.”

As a mother with a son overseas, I am saddened by the actions of Cindy Sheehan. I believe she dishonors her son and what he believed in. He had the strength and courage to stand up for those beliefs.

Those 100 or so people who came to this vigil should try to do as my son suggested and look outside their small world. Look to the good that is being done in Iraq. Look to the amazing progress that has been accomplished for and by a country that was held in tyranny and oppression for decades.

Progress is never easy and always comes with a price. Sheehan’s son paid the ultimate price. My son and other military personnel would pay that same price if they were called upon to do so. As a military mother, this is one of my most difficult jobs – to let him be one of the few, the proud, a Marine.

So go ahead and protest the war, the president, the military. They are all fighting to make sure you have every right to do so without retribution.

Every time I tell my son goodbye, I know that he may not ever talk to me again. So out of respect for all military parents, never presume that you can “relate” to a mother with a child serving overseas. You can’t.

Fort Wayne

This brings to my mind the whole question of whether one can coherently claim to "support the troops" while opposing the war -- and, indeed, just what it is that constitutes "support" for "the troops." We shouldn't assume that an opponent of a war can support the troops by just saying so. After all, the chickenhawk who preceded Mr. Bush in office told us, as recently as 1995, that it is idle to claim to love your country while opposing its government, so we shouldn't take anything for granted.

When the troops are conscripts, it seems clear that they're not to blame for their superiors' actions and orders. After all, disobedience to those orders might bring consequences ranging from imprisonment to being summarily shot, depending on the immediate circumstances.

However, as enthusiasts for Gulf War II are so fond of pointing out, the troops are all volunteers these days. That's what is supposed to make it all right that almost 1900 have been killed, and a much-higher number maimed; they volunteered. They wanted to be there. Those who were "stop-lossed" should have known, we are assured, that a soldier is a soldier for as long as it suits Uncle Sam to keep him; the enlistment contract gives the government the ultimate escape clause in time of war, and presumably in time of Global Struggle, too.

I tend to think that current American soldiers don't really fit into either of the "pure" categories. They clearly aren't conscripts. But I don't think they can justifiably be saddled with full responsibility for their situations, either. The government has, after all, spent many millions of dollars over the past few decades to advertise military careers to teenagers. I can't claim to have really opened my eyes to the reality of the warfare-welfare state until about fifteen years ago, and I was thirty-six then. How could I expect people half that age, educated in worse schools than mine, to be truly responsible for decisions made under the blandishments of recruiting officers who are both clever and highly motivated? Not a reasonable expectation.

The writer of the letter above suggests that opponents of the war should consider all the good done by Americans in Iraq of late. By all means, let us do so. The Iraqis who are still alive are no longer ruled by an autocratic strongman. Instead, they live in chaos and de facto civil war. That won't last long, though ... an Islamic Republic dominated by Iran is on its way. Some -- a quite small minority at that -- have, perhaps, been detained under the control of Specialist Charles Graner, Private Lynndie England, and their spiritual brothers and sisters. And quite a number don't have to concern themselves about being ruled by the Iranian-apprentice mullahs, because they're dead. We don't know what "quite a number" is, because Rumsfeld Inc. is proud not to count them. And, on the side, we're now looking at two and a half post-invasion years of not much electricity, rivers of sewage in the streets, and the ever-present chance of having your house broken into and your family brutalized by screaming, cursing Americans.

On the other hand, some schools have been painted. By all means, let's focus on the positives.

But, back to "supporting the troops." Having thought about it for a while, there isn't any one wish I have for all of the troops. It sort of depends on who we're talking about. For those who were deceived and stop-lossed into their situation, and who've just pretty much been keeping a low profile, I wish a quick and peaceful end to their Mesopotamian days, and a speedy return to a sane life in their own country. For those who've mistreated civilians, broken bottles over men's heads, and snarled rape threats at women -- may they be killed quickly. For the high-ranking and civilian leadership, I wish a short lifetime, filled with very bad dreams.

For none of the troops do I wish "victory" -- whatever that might mean in this situation. So, I'm clearly not a supporter of the troops. So be it.

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