I’m re-posting a few of the things I originally published on my now-defunct Geocities site, from what I like to think of as Via Negativa’s 11-month gestation period. Here’s one from March 23, 2003. The invasion of Iraq had begun three days before.
Exhortations to Support Our Troops have always made me a bit queasy. How come? Sure, I’m anti-war, but that shouldn’t matter, should it? Because if I value human life so highly as to oppose war on principle, surely I must join in empathizing with the men and women on the front lines?
Well, of course. And if that’s all this little slogan means, can we also agree to support their troops? But that sounds so… disloyal. Which leads me to think that if support our troops means anything at all, we ought to be honest and admit that one of its primary meanings is go team! And I feel bad about saying this, especially to anyone with family members or lovers on the front lines, but I’m not in the cheering section. Not for either team.
But that’s not the only reason this slogan makes me so queasy. How come you never hear “Support our soldiers“? Is it because we’re all maybe a little anxious about what it is they do?
But of course in modern warfare soldiers do all kinds of things besides simply killing. Some of the stateside soldiers, according to web sources, are joining in street demonstrations when they go off duty. I can support that! And a few soldiers — several dozen, so far — have demonstrated another kind of bravery: they’ve become conscientious objectors. Can we agree that these soldiers, at least, who have chosen to risk their futures and even their freedom for a moral scruple almost no one understands, are very much in need of tangible support?
“Support our troops.” What is a troop? It’s still a plurality, even without the s. Does this notion of troops have anything to do with actual human beings? What is it we’re supporting here? It reminds me very much of the old communist slogans about the masses — another plural of pluralities. When we deploy this phrase support our troops, aren’t we in some way supporting the dissolution of individual men and women into a nameless, faceless machine?
O.K., Mr. Intellectual. But what about all those masked demonstrators? They are, literally, effacing themselves too, aren’t they? Not to mention the tens of thousands of marchers chanting and cheering in unison. Go team!
That argument sounds a little too facile to me. Donning a mask to protect one’s identity — or project a new one — is actually an assertion of individuality, and a freedom that the authorities often seek to deny. Further, the voluntary solidarity of diverse interest groups with differing agendas is a far cry from unquestioning uniformity imposed by leaders.
But the demonstrators — masked and otherwise — are indeed soldiers of a sort. Their actions may not always inspire much sympathy, but as far as I’m concerned, they are truly standing in the gap for all of us. For one thing, they are probably doing a lot more to protect our freedom than anyone in uniform, given that in reality no one is threatening the existence of the United States, and the supposed WMD are as transparent a fabrication as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. No, it’s the demonstrators who are safeguarding our freedom, because freedoms are like limbs: fail to exercise them regularly, and they tend to atrophy.
A more overlooked possibility, however, is that these anti-war soldiers may be helping to protect Americans from terrorist retaliation. A senior cleric, described as a leader of ultra-orthodox Islamists in Saudi Arabia, told an interviewer on NPR that he and his fellow clerics would try and take all extenuating circumstances into consideration before any declaration of jihad against the United States. Such a jihad, he explained, would of course enjoin the targeting of any and all U.S. civilians as knowing accomplices in crime. So it seems reasonable to hope that enough TV images of large masses of Americans demonstrating and getting arrested for their passionate opposition to this war might make a big difference to those who would help legitimize another 9/11.
You don’t have to accept that the US-led invasion of Iraq is a crime to recognize that the majority of Muslims, fundamentalist or otherwise, believe it to be so. Further, whether or not you agree with senior American intelligence officials that Gulf War II will lead to an escalation of attacks against domestic targets in the US, it is an undeniable fact that funds and personnel have been diverted from the War on Terror to this new War on Weapons of Mass Destruction.
So collectively, as troops, the soldiers in uniform may actually be endangering us, while the soldiers on the streets may be helping to protect us. Makes one a little queasy just to think about it, eh? Support our troops!