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The Column Joel Stein Should Have Written

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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.

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  • Karen: I love that you speak in a patronizing tone and advise me to get more experience in the real ways of the world.

    Thank you for failing to address the points I made in the article, and also for failing to note that a dozen students at my high school become soldiers in the military every year.

  • Karen

    Dear Sam Jack, the columnist of this article:
    I am also a young columnist in my town’s newspaper, and I mostly write about current events and politics. I can only say that maybe you should spend more time dabbling in other arenas, because being a political commentator is not for you. People in high school live in a world of idealism, not of reality, so maybe wait a few years until you start to understand that soldiers don’t go into battle with terrorists in order to lose, “minimize deaths” or to “play nice”. If soldiers fought in a “PC” manner, they would be killed. End of story. Peace is a nice concept, but when a portion of the world is bent on your destruction, you can’t afford to be sympathetic.

  • RogerMDillon

    Bing, I know you are easily distracted by waving flags, bright yellow stickers and shiny metal objects, but at least make an effort to know what you are talking about because you weaken your side’s case every time you let an ill-formed thought out.

    “Are you supporting the troops when you vote for liberal Senators and Congressmen who for the most part vote against militatry funding?”

    Are you supporting the troops when you support an administration that sends them into battle without the proper equipment, that sends them into battle without an exit strategy, that tries to cut the troops’ pay, their housing benefits, their tax cuts, their health care and education for their children?

    Did you even know your side was doing that? You, sir, are part of this country’s problem and not its solution.

  • RE: #28

    Gonzo, it’s been two hours since you posted that comment. I’m still laughing.

  • zingzing

    if a soldier told me to shut the fuck up, i probably would. soldiers have guns. but bing only has words!

  • zingzing

    i don’t think that the troops are mostly liberal. why would they go fight for something they don’t believe in? i do assume that most are going to be pro-bush… it’s only natural. some are there because they believe that bush is doing the right thing. some are there because they signed up before all of this happened. the longer this drags on, the more republican the army will get.

    my support goes to the individual soldier, not to the military (who sometimes–not always–make decisions that cause unneccessary deaths on both sides) or warmongering politicians. our military budget is out of proportion with the rest of the world. it makes us dangerous.

  • gonzo marx

    thanks for trying Bing…

    Bing sez…
    *Lastly I don’t assume that I speak for the troops and them speak of them in condescendign terms like a lot of liberals do. Most liberals assume that the troops agree with them when in fact most troops are more conservative leaning Republicans who I bet would sooner tell zingzing and Nancy to shut the F&^K up then agree with them.*

    does anyone else but me spot the hypocritical Irony in this statement?

    just a thought


  • Bing

    Fair enough Gonzo.

    First and foremost I vote for Senators and Congressman who don’t seek to limit military funding every chance they get.

    ALso I don’t go around referring ti the military as the American death brigade as some on BC do. I think Nancy did this.

    Lastly I don’t assume that I speak for the troops and them speak of them in condescendign terms like a lot of liberals do. Most liberals assume that the troops agree with them when in fact most troops are more conservative leaning Republicans who I bet would sooner tell zingzing and Nancy to shut the F&^K up then agree with them.

  • Nancy

    Sounds like “support” to me, Zing.

  • zingzing

    cheers to bing! no, i don’t do any charity work for the soldiers. not my job. i don’t do charity work for anyone. not my thing. but, i have friends whose loved ones are over there. a few have come back. one has died. i do my best by helping these friends get through the times that they just can’t understand why their loved ones are there. i don’t jump into some political diatribe (i save that for here), but i do my best to explain that their decision reflects their beliefs, and that there can be no fault in that. their decision was brave and selfless.

  • gonzo marx

    heh..now Answer the same Question for us Bing…

    what do YOU do?


  • Bing

    Cheers to gonzo for answering my question.

    Jeers to Nancy and zingzing for regurgitating trite leftist platitudes.

  • gonzo marx

    to Bing – fair enough Question, let’s see..you got a minute?

    first…drives here at work to fill boxes of things that soldiers need..in the summer, gold bond medicated power and sanitary napkins..(to line the helet with and preven sweat in the eyes)…comfort foods, cigarettes…etc ( via some e-mails i’ve gotten as much specific requests as possible)

    also, more than people should have,has been spent on international calling cards for folks in Iraq…it seems that the company handling telecomm duties can overcharge the soldiers

    this is mostly done by “democrat” folks up here in Maine…when a soldier returns to the area, many businesses have signs out welcoming them back…and for a month or so, the soldier’s money is no good in many places

    on and on

    but no..i refuse to put one of those cheesy fucking yello ribben stickers on my car…as i said above, such empty gestures are literally the LEAST one can do

    so Bing…what do YOU do to show your support?


  • Nancy

    Supporting our troops – who tend to come from the plebescite, like most of us – does NOT automatically mean marching in lockstep with those purporting to direct US policy, of whichever political persuasion, who almost universally are from the overprivileged, overmonied class who can afford to buy elections and office.

  • zingzing

    bing–we don’t like what the soldiers are being forced to do in the name of this country. but, we realize that they are just pawns. we support the soldiers as individual human beings, but we do not support the powers behind those soldiers. i think every dem and lib can agree with that.

    personally, i say this war is wrong, but it exists, and someone has to fight it (or else it wouldn’t exist). the poor souls that are fighting it deserve support, even while that support mostly comes in the form of pity.

  • Bing

    I’d like to ask all the Democrats and liberals who claim, “I support the troops but not the war,” exactly how they support the troops?

    Are you supporting the troops when you vote for liberal Senators and Congressmen who for the most part vote against militatry funding?

    Are you supporting the troops when glorify people like Cindy Sheehan who say things like all America does is bring death and destruction to people?

    HOw exactly do you support the troops?

  • troll

    (Gonzo – concerning #13

    there is a time for everything – it’s high time that humans decide (that’s right – it’s a choice) to resolve their differences non-violently

    about the past – if you knew then what you know now would you have responded to force in the same way – ?

    I suggest that whatever injury you ’caused’ (if any) was due to a lack of skill and unrefined intention

    but how can the principles of ‘yielding’ and ‘sticking’ in response to directed force be translated from inter-subjective directly perceived knowing to the national and international stage – ?

    I realize that this is nothing more than infantile unrealistic bullshit to most BC readers who pride themselves in being pragmatic…but

    it is my intension to live the rest of my days outside the circle of violence – I’ve done enough damage to people and other living things…so I say goodbye to all that

    EOF – read ‘end of fantasy’


  • Bliffle

    Gad! I HOPE this expensive war is for oil. What good is it otherwise? WMD? Don’t make me laugh. Bring democracy to the ME? A worse joke. If this war isn’t for oil then about the only reason left is GWBs personal vanity. Uh oh!

  • Thanks, Susan. The rights of citizens shall not be infringed (or something like that).

    I am a liberal (in many ways) but I still advocate “lock and load” for law abiding citizens. My Dad is retired NYPD, and I have been shooting since I was a wee lad. If it’s done the right way and with a sense of responsibility, there’s quite a lot of fun in plinking tin cans and also learning the importance of self reliance.

  • Agreed that the war is about oil to the extent that the middle east would not be as strategically significant as it is were it not for oil. But that’s a hugely different issue from the oft repeated claim that we invaded Iraq to ‘get’ their oil, which is ludicrous.


  • Victor, I know that criminals do not care about the laws – therefore I fully support the right for law-abiding citizens to bear arms. I, myself, have a conceal carry permit and own a S&W .380 and a Glock 9mm, and am proficient in their use. Most people would never suspect a demure “Southern Belle” to be packin’, but I do not live in a bubble that believes the world is all lightness & love.

    This is a bit off the original topic, but still within the realm of “pulling-the-trigger”

  • gonzo marx

    troll..i Understand, and you know i take what you say VERY seriously…but here we have the first time of disagreement it seems…to my own Ethic…there are times when violent Resolution is Required

    example: when i was a bouncer, most of the actual violence would come when i spotted some less than human bastard slap ro punch a woman…i woudl try and separate the two peacefully, but if he raised his hand towards either her or myself, theni woudl do what was needed…i take FULL Responsibility for my Actions, and gladly accept any Karmic debt for my decisions

    similar circumstances can be said for Nations/Tribes/People on the larger scale…and hence the role of the Warrior since time immemorial

    to both troll and zingzing – note please that i was/am NOT speaking about the Administration or it’s policies…i’m fairly certain both of you know my position on that…what i was talking about were the Individuals in the military itself

    yes, they ARE responsible for what they do, but they are NOT responsible for the Policy that sends them somewhere, merely to follow the lawful orders of their superiors…they have an Obligation to NOT follow unLawful orders (for the Abu Grahib example)

    to RedTard – careful with the “we” shit…check your history, most fo those “nations” were drawn up by British Petroleum and some american oil interests along with the Brit government (some with Royal Dutch Shell as well) after WW1

    so in essence, by your Logic..the world is paying the price for THEIR greed and ignorance

    nuff said?


  • RedTard

    Certainly, I believe the war is about oil. The middle east would be poor wastelands similiar to many African countries and we would simply ignore them and vice versa if it were not for oil.

    The poor people would continue making love to their sheep while the rich ones beat their ten wives in peace if it were not for the fact that they were sitting on a vital resource for the world economy.

    We took cultures that had been stuck in the dark ages and gave them the bankroll of billionaires and expected them to act like responsible world citizens. Now we are paying the price.

  • “i think that volunteering to be a soldier in defense of your country is one of the HIGHEST ethical achievements a person can aspire to”

    I agree with you; the act in itself of joining the military is admirable and ethical. What I was trying to say is that the government has a responsibility to honor the ethical intentions of people joining the military.

    A secondary point was that people in the military have at least some responsibility for actions that they take, even when they are following orders.

    I wouldn’t say that troops have to make an ethical judgment when people are shooting at them: of course they can shoot back. What I was referring to was less orders such as to raid a terrorist compound, and more about the kind of things that have gone on in Iraqi prisons.

    Giving up one’s own prerogatives in favor of the will of others is something that holds a certain horror for me, and willingness to do so in defense of a cause, however erroneously understood, is admirable.

  • troll

    to the extent that the war is about oil it is about internationalizing production in Iraq’s underdeveloped fields


  • Ruvy, no matter what we do with our troops your country will always be more troubled and divisive than the US. That’s just a fact of life.

    As to the original article, it’s remarkably more sensible and coherent than the Stein article. I think the point is still trivial and mean-spirited, but it’s well put. If people want to make a small and symbolic gesture by putting a ribbon on their car I’m not sure that any of us knows enough about their motivations or circumstances to judge them.

    And Zing, old hat. The war STILL wasn’t about oil no matter how many times you repeat that claim. All we had to do if we wanted oil was strike a deal with Saddam and he would have sold us all we wanted under market. That argument has never made any sense.


  • troll

    the end – a secure and free nation – does not justify the means – violent conflict resolution

    if it’s going to work at all then it’s going to have to work for all

    finally – don’t let anyone tell you who to kill or put you in a position where the question is moot


  • As incoherent as Zingzing seems, he’s right in many ways. I could quibble with minor points here and there, but the bottom line is that your nation ought to get ought of my neighborhood and it won’t. So for you, “supporting the troops” will mean supporting more casualties.

    Yes, yes, I have my selfish interest in wanting US troops as far away from Israel as humanly possible (one of the moons of Saturn would be about right).

    And I have not forgotten the fact that guys who fought in Nam were routinely called pigs, and had to bear much of the brunt of a faulty foreign policy. I hope never to hear or read that men in uniform have been blamed for the cowardice of the civilian leaders who send them in harm’s way. Neither in your country or mine.

    But I am afraid that events in my own country will be more disappointing and divisive than in yours.

  • zingzing

    gonzo–while i agree with your basic premise, that volunteering to defend the abstract concepts of the constitution and the people is a high ethical achievement, i do not think that this war is about defending the constitution or the people. anyone who volunteers under that misconception is going to be disappointed. this (iraq) war is about oil and a personal vendetta. we are creating more terrorism than we are destroying. we are giving them reasons to exist. sure, they already existed, and the reason they did is because we try to control the middle east. and now we are exerting more control. we are fueling the fire. so far, it’s burning strongest over there, and it’s “only” iraq’s people that are dying. oh, what a moral victory! if we would just get the hell out of the entire middle east (in which, let’s be honest, we’ve done more damage than good,) then the terrorists would have no real reason to exist. at least, they would have no reason to attack us. the people over there seem to want to fight. the arabs fight amongst themselves over small ideological differences. they attack the jews. the jews attack them. secular and non-secular regimes attack each other. it’s just a mess that we cannot, and will never, control or better. they need to work it out themselves.

  • Susan,

    As to your question about guns, I’ll ask you a question:

    Do you think criminals apply for gun permits? Do you think they worry if their state/city prohibits citizens from owning guns?

    Your answer should speak for itself.

  • gonzo marx

    interesting Article, thanks for the read…

    here’s my thing..you see it’s the least folks can do to put one of those yellow ribbons on their cars..

    i mean it, it’s the absolute fucking LEAST they can do

    all the action does is assuage their egos without having to really sacrifice or deal with what those troops are going through, and it causes NO inconvenience or sacrifice for them to slap that magnet on the back of the car and feel good

    to me, that is just fucking pathetic

    now, to set this straight…here is where i disagree with the Poster..

    i think that volunteering to be a soldier in defense of your country is one of the HIGHEST ethical achievements a person can aspire to

    being willing to place yourself in harms way to defend the Abstract concept of the Constitution and the people of the Nation is possibly the greatest act one can perform

    just me i guess

    full disclosure: i am ex-military


  • I am probably opening a huge, stinky can-o-worms here … and I may regret asking this question … and, let me preface it by saying, I agree with your comments on support should not be a forced issue with hidden agendas and a wide range of policies, politicos, etc. hiding behind a simple symbol of our support for the common soldier doing his duty. I’m with you on that. I don’t believe in killing for the sake of killing.

    My question is, do you believe we – as citizens – have the right to bear arms and protect ourselves?

    *yikes* I’ve probably opened Pandora’s Box, right???

  • Sam, I believe as you say that one can advocate peace and still support the troops.

    Still, there is no way a soldier put in the field can not pull the trigger if he/she is faced with a life and death situation. Sometimes pulling the trigger is not something he/she has time to consider at that moment. He/she may have thought a lot about it before hand, and maybe even right before the moment, but then it is all instinct.

    For a book I’m still writing, I spoke to quite a few soldiers and former soldiers because the book features battles scenarios (WWI and Vietnam). What I mentioned above is a short summary of what most of them said. I didn’t encounter one who was gung-ho or wanting to kill. Even the old timer (who told me about his father’s WWI experiences) said that his father hated having to kill the Germans he killed.

    So while supporting the troops is definitely an important thing, it’s also a very personal matter and no one should be told how, when, or where to do it.

  • Well said, esp.the bit about showing support for the troops.