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In his memoir “Man of the House,” former Speaker Tip O’Neil described his response to being informed about the 1983 Granada invasion: “The invasion was already under way, so even if we opposed it, there was nothing any of us could do. I had some serious reservations, and I’m sure my Democratic colleagues did as well, but I’d be damned if I was going to voice any criticism while our boys were out there.”
O’Neil thought the invasion nothing more that a cover for the Reagan Administration’s blunder in Lebanon, where a few days before a suicide bomber had killed 248 US Marines who were on a “peacekeeping mission” in Beirut. “Over a hundred American troops were killed or wounded in [the Granada invasion]. . . . And as far as I can see, it was all because the White House wanted the country to forget about the tragedy in Beirut.”
When I first read this book years ago, I was struck then by the vexing incongruity of these sentiments. Whatever one thinks of Tip O’Neil, it is impossible to think he was naïve or stupid, yet he seems to argue that he didn’t want to criticize the President when “our boys were out there” while, in almost the same breath, he admits to feeling that they were “out there” as some sort of human sacrifice for the President’s shattered prestige. If a person does not know that a horrible crime is being committed, they cannot be blamed for not acting to stop it. If O’Neil knew that American lives were being sacrificed to boost the President’s poll numbers, his failure to act (even if he could not have prevented the Granada invasion but could preclude the next betrayal of our troops), is, by any fair definition, an act of treason. O’Neil, I’m sure, bought in to the insane notion that to support the troops, one has to keep silent as they are being killed.
If the mantra of “support the troops” has such an effect on as bright an individual as Tip O’Neil, the current use of the phrase by those in “pro-war” circles is problematic. The key word that needs analysis in the phrase “support the troops” is “support,” for it is safe to say that there is convention on the meaning of “the troops.” “Support,” according to the seventh, and most appropriate, definition at www.dictionary.com, means “to aid the cause, policy, or interests of” or “to argue in favor of.” We must then determine what the causes, policies, or interests of the US troops in Iraq are, and see who is arguing in favor of those ends.
A war supporter would reflexively argue that one who doesn’t support the war does not support the troops. This would only be true if the interests of those who sent the troops to war were the same as the troops themselves. It can be argued that there has never been a war in which the motivations of war planners and the troops coincided, and this is mostly certainly true to even a casual observer of the current war in Iraq. The “cause, policy, or interests” of the war planners is, by their admission, the control of Iraq, regardless of the effects on the health and well-being of the men and women fighting the war. (Their indifference to the well-being of the troops is proven by the neglect shown to those veterans of the first Gulf War, who were poisoned either by reckless American attacks on Hussein’s chemical weapon stockpiles, or by the US’s utterly criminal use of depleted uranium weapons. Over 10,000 Gulf War veterans have died since the end of the war. Or note the cutting of veteran’s benefits by $15 billion in current budget proposals, a level of depravity I thought even below the ilk of the Bush Administration). While individual troops may share the goal of ousting Hussein, no sane member of the military wants to get killed. As Patton said to his troops, “your job is not to be some poor son of a bitch who dies for your country; your job is to make the other poor son of a bitch die for his country.” There is, then, a divergence between “supporting the war” and “supporting the troops.” Conventional thought, however, would have us believing the opposite.
Last weekend, after attending an antiwar rally in downtown Los Angeles, I returned home to watch coverage of the protest on local news. After a standard report about the turnout at the antiwar event (police estimates of 5,000, organizer estimates of 25,000), the anchor intoned that there were “also rallies in support of the troops today,” emphasizing the word “support,” the implication being that the peace rally was not in support of the troops. One gentleman interviewed at a “support the troops” rally argued that, as a Vietnam veteran, he knew how his comrades had not received any support and had suffered as a result, necessitating Americans to “support the troops” fighting today in Iraq. (This man was extrapolating on a myth meant to discredit antiwar protesters, as detailed in a recent CounterPunch article by Chris Clarke, “We Never Spit on Any Babykillers” . Also see Jerry Lembcke’s excellent book, “The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam“. How could this man possibly think that supporting the war on Iraq is supporting the troops? How is wanting troops to stay and continue to kill and be killed in an illegal war considered “support”? Returning to our definition, it is certainly not in the “cause, policy, or interests” of troops that they continue to be killed, so support for the war is definitely not support for the troops. As a letter to the Los Angeles Times stated last Saturday, “Saying that being pro-war is ‘supporting our troops’ is like saying that arson is supporting our firefighters.” Indeed, the only way to support the troops is to be against the war.
I would argue further and say that those who do support the war are committing treason. The United States Constitution defines treason in Article III, § 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” The enemy being adhered to in the case of the war on Iraq is Bush and his inner circle. They have systematically threatened the security of the people of this country, not only by reckless military ventures that are, according to CIA Director George Tenet, increasing the likelihood of terrorist attacks and therefore decreasing national security, but also by violations of the Constitution. When an American joins the military, he or she swears (or affirms) an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”; the obligation is to defend the Constitution, the rule of law, not any one person who may be President. President Bush and his cohorts have violated the Constitution in numerous ways, but perhaps most significant, and most relevant for the troops in Iraq, is their abrogation of Article VI, which makes all treaties entered into by the United States the “supreme law of the land.” (The Supreme Court, over the years, has brooked no latitude when it comes to this clause; it is binding on federal, state, and local governments, as well as individual citizens.) The United Nations Charter, the Geneva Convention, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Genocide Convention, just to name a few, are supreme laws of the land which are now being violated by the Bush Administration. Presidents swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States,” and are constitutionally required to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Bush is therefore violating both his oath of office and the United States Constitution, and he and anyone giving him “Aid and Comfort” are guilty of treason. Military personnel are obliged to defend the Constitution, and therefore must resist these illegal, unconstitutional, and treasonous actions.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically states that members of the military must obey the lawful orders of their superiors; implicit in this is that they are allowed to disobey unlawful orders. More explicit is one of the supreme laws of the land mentioned above, the Nuremberg Principles: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” This was the principle under which people were hanged at Nuremberg; you cannot argue that you were “just following orders.” Thus, any person, military or civilian, is responsible for their actions if they violate international law. There is an important exception, though. An individual is responsible only if “a moral choice was in fact possible to him [or her].” It is debatable whether members of the American military have such a choice, given that they are so often pushed into the service by socioeconomic circumstance, are relentlessly brainwashed into following orders without question, and have a diminished capacity for moral reasoning intentionally drilled into them. (For more on this, see “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman [<].) Still, those who are aware of this moral choice are required to disobey unlawful orders. Those of us outside of the military, who have only the brainwashing of comparatively weak government/media propaganda to contend with, have an even greater obligation to resist the treason of the Bush Administration.
So we return to the critique lobbed at those of us being against the war as not “supporting the troops.” Do I support the troops? In as far as they are willing to abide by their obligations to defend the Constitution and resist treason, yes I support the troops. I believe that anyone who truly professes to love this country should feel the same.
TOM GORMAN is the president of the Antiwar Coalition at California State University, Los Angeles. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can join his email list by sending an email to email@example.com.
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