Soon, politicians and government officials, with plenty of help from the mainstream media, will be filling the air with calls to “support our troops.” This call will sound while the young women and men in uniform are being sent to kill and die in a war that will benefit very few people. Many of the soldiers are gung ho to fight this war against Iraq. They believe, like many US citizens, that Saddam Hussein is the greatest danger to humanity since Adolf Hitler. Upon closer inspection, it is easy to see that this characterization of Mr. Hussein is overblown.
However, even if one accepts the characterization of Saddam Hussein as the greatest threat to world peace since Hitler, it is essential to remember that it is not Mr. Hussein who will be bearing the brunt of the U.S. military attack. It will be the women and children who live in his country. Soldiers and airmen/women operating in our name will be killing and brutalizing these innocents on a daily basis once the war begins. Most American soldiers will be doing this not out of any pleasure or joy, but because that is what soldiers do in a war. When the American GIs return home, they will live with the memories of what they had to do in Iraq (and wherever else they are sent). As anyone who has served or known someone who served in previous wars knows, dealing with these memories can destroy a persons life and the lives of those around them.
Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld will not suffer a bit, no matter what kind of tears they shed or pious statements they make. No, they will call it a great victory if the US further destroys Iraqi society. If the US military fails, they will send more troops in and say that the war must continue until victory. They will say they are doing this to honor those men and women who have already died in their war. Support our troops, they will say. Honor their sacrifice. Meanwhile, the soldiers families will wonder every day if their son, daughter, husband, or wife is still alive and in one piece. Plus, if and when they do come home, they will face an uncertain future.
Like the previous administration, the Bush administration continues to deny the existence of Gulf War Syndrome and any role the use of depleted-uranium shell casings might play in the epidemic of unusual and unexplained illnesses among Gulf War vets. On top of this callous disregard are the continuing budget cuts made to the Veterans Administration cuts which make it harder and harder to take care of soldiers from Americas earlier military adventures. When it comes right down to it, the Bush administration doesn’t really care about US soldiers.
Another scenario likely to unfold if and when the war on Iraq becomes full-scale is that those politicians who opposed Mr. Bush’s desire to go to war without getting a rubber stamp from the UN will join in the call to support the troops in their killing. Chances are they will even go so far as to pass a resolution in Congress expressing their support for the soldiers they sent over there. Like Bush, Cheney, et al., most of our elected representatives will also be risking nothing by passing their resolution and wearing their yellow ribbons. That sacrifice will be made by the men and women who put on the uniform because they believe that they are defending their nation or maybe just because its the best job they can get.
What about the antiwar movement? Should we support the troops? My answer is yes, of course. We should support the troops as human Beings–as sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. We should support their desire to live full lives. In other words, we need to get them out of the war zone now. The best way to support the troops is to bring them home alive. If war should begin, then we need to support those troops who refuse to serve. We need to support and organize efforts that can help GIs who decide that they don’t want to kill and die for the oil industry to get out. If we truly support the humans who wear the uniforms of Uncle Sam’s army, we must do what we can to convince them to shed that uniform. When all is said and done, it is those who refuse to serve who are the wars true heroes.
The first step in this project to encourage refusal is to get the facts to servicemen and women. Even more than most US citizens, GIs are the target of Pentagon propaganda. Despite the fact that they are fighting for the freedoms Americans expect, GIs are refused most of those freedoms. They can not peaceably assemble to redress their grievances, they do not have a free press, they can not come and go as they please, and so on. Most military folks accept these restrictions on their lives, believing the tradeoff to be worth it. However, as the movement within the military against the US war in Vietnam proved, there comes a point when GIs began to seek the whole story about their mission. It is our job to help them find the information they have been denied. Once this is provided, many of these men and women will question their role. Some will live with the contradictions between their beliefs and their job, some wont be able to.
For those who can’t, the antiwar movement and its allies must provide an alternative. Many communities have a minimal structure of resistance to the military left over from Americas past wars. These structures must be reactivated and expanded. We must move from draft counseling to desertion counseling. From draft resistance to resistance in the military. Some of the groups that an individual can contact if s/he is interested in supporting this type of endeavor are the Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War-Anti-Imperialist, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. If you are in the service and want to get out, or if you know someone in that predicament, contacting one of these groups is a good place to start. If we truly support the troops, we will do whatever we can to bring them home. Before war changes them forever.
RON JACOBS lives in Burlington, VT. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org