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While I don’t like to criticize any expression of opposition to our current imperial designs in the Middle East, I’m a bit puzzled by what seems to be a new shibboleth among some opponents of Bush’s war.
It’s one of those statements that is both obligatory and essentially bereft of meaning, akin to the ritual request at the end of Republican Convention speeches that "God Bless America," which generally makes me wonder just what the speaker means by any of the three of those words.
The phrase I’m thinking of, of course, is "I support the troops." Such tepid luminaries of loyal opposition as Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi, have invoked the phrase, as have any number of well–meaning grassroots activists thrust unexpectedly before the cameras of local TV news stations.
What do these people mean when they say they’ll "support the troops"?
Do they mean they’ll shut up once the war in progress? Clearly, some have, but others who mouth the words seem still to be opposing the war, some of them loudly.
Do they mean they endorse whatever military tactics it takes to keep US soldiers alive, regardless of cost to the people of Iraq? Again, it’s clear that some do so mean, but others — fettered by such traitorous notions as adherence to the Geneva Convention and a personal sense of morality and justice, don’t intend their support to entail justification for carpet–bombing residential neighborhoods.
Of course, some use the slogan to turn it on its head. In these very pages, Ron Jacobs has eloquently pointed out that the best way of supporting the individual people who make up the troops is to bring them home right away. What better support can there be than to give a person a better chance of a long, full, happy life, replete with love, family, and a full complement of limbs, devoid of battle nightmares and tortured waking conscience?
But it’s clear that’s not what most people mean when they pledge their support to our troops. There’s a certain mental shrug, an Altermanish "oh, well, our side lost, let’s make the best of this war" fatalism that goes with the phrase that makes it clear people aren’t talking about putting all the kids on troop transports and shipping them back to San Diego.
No, it would seem in fact that what people generally intend by the phrase is a defense against an old story told about those of us who opposed an earlier war now fading from the public consciousness. Thirty or so years ago, the story goes, poor beleaguered GIs returning from Vietnam were met with torrents of abuse from anti–war protesters. We called them "babykillers," we called them "Nazis," we spat on them, we contributed to the general sense of alienation that fostered the well known phenomenon of the Psychotic Vietnam Vet. If not for the antiwar movement, Vietnam vets would have folded neatly and unobtrusively back into society just as their Greatest Generation daddies did after Anzio.
Counterpunch readers are more likely than most to know that this story is at best, an ideologically–driven exaggeration of one or two unfortunate incidents. At worst, it’s a damned lie.
In the 1960s and 70s, antiwar activists opened coffeehouses near military bases, to provide soldiers with troubled consciences places to spend a few off–duty hours in like–minded company. We harbored deserters and AWOLs. We wrote letters to GIs, sent them care packages, grieved over them when they joined the damnable body counts announced on the Five O’Clock Follies.
And — not to put too fine a point on it — antiwar activists also fought in the goddamned war.
The Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Winter Soldier Organization was the very heart of the antiwar movement in the US, that is, before a lunatic sectarian coup gutted it in the process of forming the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Resistance within the military is credited by some analysts as having been a factor in the ultimate rout of the US, and subsequent fall/liberation of the South. Many of the troops, after all, were there involuntarily, not a few of them as a result of civilian anti–war activity.
That’s not to say there weren’t those who, for one reason or another, conflated their distaste for the war with their feelings for the grunts who fought it. There are morons in every movement, after all. And there were, in fact, national organizations that made habits of lambasting returning Vietnam vets, in some cases actually denying them membership or services regardless of the vets’ personal views. (The VFW comes to mind, as does the VA.)
The fabled massive anti–war trashing of "our troops" never happened: it’s nothing but a goddamned lie. Still, it’s a convenient lie for those who want to cast opposition to this new war as treasonable, as somehow more deleterious to the average Specialist First Class than it was to ship him into combat in the first place.
CHRIS CLARKE is editor of Faultline, California’s Environmental Magazine. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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