Support the Troops

plastic soldiers

Written March, 2003

I received an email from a friend this morning in support of "National Military Appreciation Month." I don't even know if there is a such thing, or if there is, which eleven months have been set aside for being unappreciative. The message contained a link to a petition-like web page sponsored by the Department of Defense, and a comment that only 3.7 million of 250 million Americans had signed it. I followed went to the page with the intent of adding my own name, but when I got there I found that just I couldn't bring myself to do so.

The web page was simple: It read "Dear Member of the US Military: Thank you for defending our freedom." Below that text were places to put my name, city, state, and country. There was no room for comments or equivocation or reservation. There was no room for freedom of expression. And I just couldn't put my name to it.

Now, before you assume that I'm just some sort of naive bleeding-heart godless pacifist flag-burning gay commie-pinko fellow-traveler tree-hugging drugged-out liberal Democrat, hear me out. A few of those labels do apply—or did somewhere along the way. And every last one of them is mine to claim, if I so choose, by my birthright as an American citizen.

But I am also proud to have been raised in a military family. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II. My father was a career Army Officer when he served in Viet Nam, and I remember his anguish and my whole family's sorrow when it came time to change careers. His younger brother also served, and gave his life in the service of his country and mine. I have another uncle who served as executive officer in the lead tank batallion in Desert Storm and who is still on active duty today. Whether or not I agree with the US having been in some of these conflicts, my respect for them and their willingness to serve is in no way diminished. Although I am reluctant to compare myself to these fine men who faced the trials of combat, I consider it a privilege that I was able to serve four years in the Air Force.

I am proud to be an American, and I love what my country stands for: justice and equality, the rule of law, and individual liberty. My country has developed a sense that it is responsible for defending the weak, righting wrongs, and establishing order where there is none. I understand the link between strength and responsibility, and I agree with those principles. My country will not tolerate violations of its sovereignty and will extend that protection to its friends. To this, I offer my whole-hearted support. Together as a people—as mixed as our culture is—we believe in accountability and responsibility, in perseverence and the pioneering spirit, in dedication and loyalty and family. And sadly, our American ideals must from time to time be paid for with American lives.

So where is my objection to supporting our troops? I have none. My objection is to the disingenuous implication that by making war on Iraq they will be "defending our freedom." The web site may have been there for a while, but it is without a doubt receiving more attention today because of the looming confilct. And I can't in good conscience imply that I support this planned aggression. By moving on Iraq at this time in these circumstances and with such haste, we are wrong. We are out of line with justice and equality when we vent our terror of bin Laden at Saddam Hussein. We are out of step with the rule of law when we dismiss our UN friends' calls for patience and further diplomacy. We are insubordinate to the principle of individual liberty when we send our young and our poor to die for what still looks far too much like a war for oil.

Every one of our men and women in uniform has taken an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution from all enemies, "foreign and domestic" and to "bear true faith…to the same." I took that oath myself, and to this day I wonder who exactly the domestic enemy is, allowing our troops to be committed and our lives to be lost in an undeclared war on foreign soil. I bear my true faith and allegiance by raising that very question. Every one of our men and women in uniform has promised to obey the lawful orders of his or her superiors. I took that oath myself, and I worry that a young and undereducated father will face execution because in the heat of battle he was unable to recognize that an issued order was unlawful. Every one of our men and women in uniform has committed his or her sacred honor, and his or her life if required, in service to our country. My country.

We're a sound-bite culture, so I've been looking for the right bumper sticker, the right slogan. I want one that says "Support Our Troops: Keep Them Home" or "Support Our Troops: No War in Iraq" or something along those lines. I want to send the clear message that I am behind the individual men and women in uniform, as well as their families, their friends, and their communities back home. I want to send the message that I appreciate their willingness to serve and to fight and to obey. I want to send the message that from the cozy little cubicle where I work, even as I know the sacrifices they are making, I simply cannot have a true appreciation for the risks they face. I want them to hear the message that they are more important to me than taking ten seconds to add my name to a list. No matter what month it is.

2013-11-11. Originally published on on 2003-03-18.