Click here to read Joel Stein’s column, “Warriors and Wusses.”
I’ve seen a lot of these yellow ribbons on the back bumpers of cars. ‘Support Our Troops,’ they say. The ribbons are available at the checkout stands of Wal-Mart for three bucks a piece. I once saw a man with three of the magnetic ribbons affixed to his car.
I have no doubt that the man who put those ribbons on his car did support our troops. But these bumper stickers don’t say ‘I Support Our Troops.’ They say ‘Support Our Troops.’ It’s a command.
You should support our troops, because you do not support them currently, is the inferred message of these bumper stickers. But this is dishonest. I do support our troops. Every reasonable person in the entire U.S. of A. supports our troops. Now, here’s the question: how do I define ‘support’ and how does Mr. Bumper-Stickers define ‘support’?
To me, ‘support’ means that I recognize the sacrifice that these people are making by being in the military. I recognize that people join for a variety of reasons, some to pay for college, some out of patriotic duty, and some just out of a misguided desire for thrills. The motivation, in the end doesn’t matter, as long as you can acknowledge that there are valid motivations for becoming a soldier.
What I do not support is the act of killing. I support our troops, whole-heartedly, right up to the moment that they pull the trigger to end someone’s life. I believe that it is morally wrong to kill, and ultimately it is the soldier himself that decides that he is capable of killing. Not the lieutenant, general, or President. It is the soldier himself that must deal with the fact that he has killed another man.
The immorality of soldiers is one that they are forced into, by geopolitics, by the command structure, and by their own perceptions of what it means to be a soldier, what it means to serve one’s country.
The terrorists don’t get a free pass. They just want to win, and they don’t care what they have to do to win. They commit acts of violence that are irredeemable.
Back to Mr. Bumper-Stickers. Mr. Bumper-Stickers thinks that ‘Support our Troops’ means ‘Support Our President and all of his policies, support the war in Iraq, support the Global War on Terror.’ The equating of support of people, of United States citizens and support of specific policies is one of the things that is perverting our public debate.
Neither I, nor anyone else, can be forced to accept this double definition. To support the troops, I do not have to support the war and a huge list of policies.
I could never take up arms against another man, but I can respect those that do. There are valid reasons to take up arms. I’d like to see someone argue that we should’ve exercised pacifism during the Holocaust. Anyone would be proud to help end such atrocities. The US aide in liberation of Holocaust victims was military action that was totally justified. It minimized killing and violence, and to minimize is the best that can be done, at least in the foreseeable future.
It is up to the US government to employ the US Military in similarly honorable ways. The greatest responsibility lies with our leadership. Still, troops must decide for themselves, each time they pull the trigger: Is my action justified? Am I minimizing suffering and violence? This individual consciousness is the only way to avoid atrocities such as what occurred at Abu Ghraib.
If they cannot answer yes to both questions, then they cannot live with themselves.