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Afew doors down from my own newly-purchased slice of the American dream pie, found here in one of America’s “All American Cities”-Lafayette, Indiana-a yellow ribbon wraps the front yard tree as tightly as a mother’s arms around her daughter’s body as she departs on her tour of duty, or a father’s handshake as his son departs for basic training. No fool would look at the ribbon or love’s embraces and think unkind words to the families experiencing such emotions, no matter their political alignment.
Unfortunately, America is filled with fools.
It seems that we find ourselves uncertain about what “Support Our Troops” means these days, days of political mediocrity where few really say much of anything, and where you and I are more concerned about our favorite college football team’s success and which seasonal craft brew is the one to have at the autumnal equinox party we are hosting.
Meanwhile, sons and daughters of the American dream we get to live are fighting a war that, according to the latest opinion polls, we don’t support. We say we want to bring them home, but the likelihood of that happening is equal to the probability of you and me admitting that we care more about our savings account than whether or not a twenty-year old fellow citizen is killed on the streets of Iraq; it’s not probable that we’ll say the money in the bank means less. Unless we know the non-breathing life in the coffin, the money is where our thoughts are.
Let’s be honest with ourselves America: as long as we can sustain our status quo lifestyles, and if we are able to continue fighting wars against the world’s poor to provide us the capability of living as we do, we are then able to lay down at night and rest on the pillow of “God Bless America” and “America is the Greatest Nation on Earth.”
Talk to anyone working with America’s homeless, and you will quickly learn that one of the larger-represented groups living without a roof over their heads in our nation are veterans of the Vietnam War. How many of us pass them by when we pull away from Discount Mart, but claim that we “Support Our Troops?” What kind of country do we have when we praise our soldiers as heroes and declare them to be our truest patriots, and yet we, their fellow county men and women, don’t say “Hello” to them in line at the bank? At the town diner? At Sunday services? In their dirty clothes and unkempt hair on the sidewalk?
Do we say “Thank You?”
What kind of government do “We the People” allow? How is it that we allow even one of our greatest proclaimed patriots to live in poverty?
If the rate of suicide amongst active members of military is the highest in more than two decades, do we consider their deaths as “patriotic” or “heroic” as those that die in Iraq or Afghanistan? Do we share responsibility for their deaths?
To me, SUPPORT OUR TROOPS requires that we acknowledge that the life we are living right now is connected in a network of relationships-human, emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual-to those that wake in the morning and do what they are asked to do by their superiors, and in the acknowledgement that we participate in that network. I may be opposed to this war, but I’ll be damned if the foot soldiers will receive the brunt of my angst against it. I will point fingers toward the politicos and generals, but not the young women and men who have no say in the matter.
What does “Support Our Troops” mean? The definition is found in the understanding that you and I share a collective humanity that does not allow us to wash the blood from our hands. If our neighbor is fighting a war we’re opposed to, and if we haven’t changed the way we live, then we too are fighting the same war. If we do nothing to remove the yellow ribbon from that tree, then we are participating in the war.
We cannot live in a warring America and reap her benefits while simultaneously separating ourselves from war.
JAMES MURREN, M.E.S, lives in Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Honduras 1997-99), and works in humanitarian efforts in Africa and South America. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org