September 30, 2006

What's the message behind "support our troops"?

Passed a group of demonsrators today stationed on all four corners of the intersection of 38th Street and John Deere Rd. in Moline.

They had an array of little flags planted in the ground, and a larger flag which had the emblems of the branches of service on it. They were waving at the traffic and holding banners which said, "Support Our Troops".

Ok. That's a laudible sentiment.

But why the hell do people feel the need to stand on the corner with this message? What are we supposed to do? A lot of people honked. I guess that will really help support the troops. After all, other than spending the country into generations of enormous debt, that's more than most people actually do.

But the more I thought about it, the more I found it a completely pointless and disingenous effort.

They weren't offering people a means to actually support the troops. They were just out demonstrating their supposed patriotism, feeling, evidently, that they needed to stand out on a corner to show everyone just how patriotic they were.

That strikes me as kind of weird. But I don't think that's the whole story.

The real reason these people were there, I would bet, is as some misguided counter-protest to a group which has stood on the corner of 16th St and John Deere Rd. on Saturdays urging an end to the Iraq invasion and to support the troops by withdrawing them from the deadly quagmire they've been sent into.

The "troop supporters" with the flags were from a group with the peaceful sounding acronym "F.I.S.T". I think that was the title of a B movie at some time, but I tried to do a Google search on it to see if I could find out just what group felt the need to stand on a busy corner, wave flags, and urge us all to support the troops (as if anyone doesn't.)

The only group that popped up on a search for "F.I.S.T." was "Females Investigating Sexual Terrain", which bills itself as "social and educational club for women interested in SM, leather and fetish between women."

I'm sure the women in that group may be quite patriotic, but somehow I don't think they were the ones on the corner today. No one was wearing leather.

But truly, what is the "support the troops" group's purpose? What is the motivation to stand on a corner festooned with flags and wave at traffic and urge people to "support our troops"?

Is it not likely that these people are so misguided that they think anyone who opposes our present course in Iraq is therefore somehow against the troops?

Isn't that a preposterous, false, and stupid assumption? And isn't it pretty nasty to even try to suggest it?

What about those who feel that leaving them as human targets in a shooting gallery, sitting ducks for IEDs and snipers, getting them blown up, mangled, shot to pieces, blinded, paralized, left without limbs, and/or traumatized for life isn't the best way to "support our troops"?

Can one "support our troops" while strongly believing that they shouldn't be sacrificed simply because a few impeciles in the White House are too egotistical to admit that their assumptions were dead wrong and at least begin to change course?

What is the purpose of standing on a corner waving a sign saying "Support our troops"? What does it mean? Aren't we already supporting our troops to the tune of all our tax money now and passing the debt on to generations far into the future?
Do they mean that we should demand that the Republicans stop cutting veterans benefits? Is it demanding that we spend billions to construct the facilities that will be necessary to care for all the wounded far into the future? Is it a protest against the Dept. of Defense trying to fight this war on the cheap, sending troops into battle with inferior and insufficient equipment and protection?

What do they want us to do to support our troops?

Honk I guess.

But that's like a group protesting outrageous grocery store prices and another group counter-protesting by saying "Support our bag boys". It's stupid.
(and for the dim-witted, that's an analogy, I'm not comparing our troops to bagboys, only that they are the ones who do the work, not the ones responsible for the position they've been placed in or the way the "store" is run.)

And seriously, do these folks really think that some people DON'T support the troops? I'd bet big money that not one of them has ever heard anyone who didn't.

I sincerely have NEVER heard a person write or utter a single word hostile to our military men and women, left, right, or center. Not one word. Ever. Have you?

So where do they get the notion that people AREN'T supporting the troops? That's easy. Fox, AM radio lunatics, cable boobs, and the rest.

And let's be real. By demanding that people "support our troops", aren't they really demanding that we unquestioningly support the war, and by extention the Bush administration?

If that's the message they're trying to convey, which is hard to deny, I find it dishonest and rather disgusting for them to both wrap themselves in the flag and hide behind "our troops" in order to do so.

One group says "Stop the war" and "Bring them home", and "F.I.S.T" feels compelled to respond by saying, "Support our troops"? Why?

Perhaps it's because they don't have the guts to honestly come out and wave signs saying "Support Perpetual War!", or "The best way to honor those who have been killed is to ensure more get killed" or "We can't accept the thought that our troops are at risk and being killed for no good purpose so please don't disturb our state of denial" just won't fit on a sign, so they pull the phoney "Support our troops" thing.

Obviously it's perfectly possible to want a change of course in Iraq and support our troops at the same time. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that the best way to support our troops is to demand that we begin to get them out of a situation where they're getting slaughtered for nothing.

Clearly, supporting our troops and supporting the way this war has been waged are NOT the same thing whatsoever. Supporting our troops and opposing the war aren't mutually exclusive, so what's the point of the "support our troops" gang?


At 10/01/2006 12:07 AM, Blogger Huck Finn said...

TID, I guess there are a couple of layers to it. I think some of us still have the images of soldiers and sailors being called baby killers and spit upon by anti-war protesters upon return from Vietnam. I think the "support your troops" flag wavers today see the anti-war movement as the same as the very negative war anti-war movement from the '70s and want the "troops" (all 1 of them that are passing 16th and John Deere Rd) to know that they're valued.

But, like you said, I think the anti-war movement we see today is very much NOT directed at the troops. And I think the reason that is possible and well-understood by those in uniform these days is that we have an extremely talented all-volunteer professional force that's subordinate to civilian control. As citizens, we really only have the civilian leaders (SECDEF & POTUS) to blame for a bad strategy.

But there are still a lot of folks that don't understand that. These folks believe that if we're not 100% behind the strategy (as ill-conceived as it may be), we're not supporting the troops.

The troops, the 1% of Americans actually sacrificing, need lots of support (not the 'Lord Farquaads' and 'Danger Men'). They need decent pay to stay off food stamps, they need decent housing and medical care for their families (which they often don't get), and they need to know that when they complete their service that America will be grateful.

Our soldiers volunteer. We are quick to say how they sacrifice their lives for our freedom without thinking about that significance. But we forget that even the ones that have come home and retire on a decent pension made big sacrifices. Effectively they sacrificed the prime years of their lives when they could have the opportunity to be selfish and get rich and they spend those years in uniform in the most unluxurious places. Sure it's conscious choice, but it's also a conscious sacrifice.

The hardest role in this story is a leader sending young men and women into the fight, the officer or NCO that orders the troops to risk their lives. Almost all the troops are emotionally tied to the mission. They want to do well and they want to think its a noble cause. They see their buddies die and they don't want to think their friends died for no good reason. They want to carry on for their friends. I think it's important for a leader in uniform to separate any agreement/disagreement with the politics. If a leader doesn't agree with the strategy, the leader should make recommendations up the chain of command. But once the mission is assigned, it's time to execute. Even if a leader fully agrees with the mission and politics, there's a boundary to maintain. I've seen policy change midstream too many times, and a leader that's "married" himself to yesterday's politics will lose the dedication and morale of his soldiers when they're suddenly told to change course. The best way for these leaders to support the troops is to make sure those under their command are as prepared and well trained as possible.

For the rest of us, we can support the troops and we can be more effective than standing on a street corner wearing a flag. We can say thanks directly to a soldier we meet. We can fight for their pay and benefits. We can speak up for the right strategies and policies to make sure they're assigned the right missions. We can speak up for and support open and honest civilian government leadership from both parties when we see it. We can offer their spouses jobs when they move into our neighborhoods. And there's plenty of other ideas at the America Supports You website.

At 10/01/2006 2:13 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Huck, thanks so much for that.

It really completes the thoughts I have on the issue. There are so many REAL, on the ground, ways in which we, as a government, don't support those who have served.

There's the instances you mention and many other ways in which vets are simply not being adequately looked after and we're breaching the implicit agreement that we have with our military that if they are willing to risk all for us, then we'll look after them if they are lucky enough to return.

The only thing that made me bristle a bit was your mentioning that you'd been influenced by stories of soldiers being called "baby killers" and being spit on on their return from Viet Nam.

I'm sure you may have been, and I'm sure there are many who still are.

But the fact is, THOSE WERE STORIES MADE UP by the right of the time to exagerate the situation.

Reporters and others have searched and searched and searched for an instance or report of ANY servicement being spit on upon their return to the states, and have found that it just didn't happen!

Yet it strikes such a hot button, and has been retold so many millions of times that it's entered the folklore of the country and is considered true by almost everyone.

That's really too bad. The fact is that Viet Nam vets didn't get a WWII type greeting, but it wasn't "hippies" or anti-war types that supposedly spit on them, it was the country and the government in general which metaphorically spit on them, turning their backs as many descended into drug abuse, homelessness, and mental illness.

Yes, many Viet Nam era vets got treated like shit, but it wasn't by the left! The "spit on" "baby killer" myth is perhaps one of the most pernicious ever.

It wasn't the "hippies". Hell, most of the returning vets ended up as "hippies" themselves!

It was the entire country suffering from some sort of misguided shame at having lost the first war in it's history, and a government that tried to ignore them as much as possible.

And the fact remains that these "support our troops" people have absolutel NO reason to think that current vets aren't welcomed and honored. Hell, they're given more show and more attention when they return than any WWII vet could ever imagine.

So their entire premise is some sort of twisted political statement, and I find it repugnant, seeing as it obviously suggests that if you don't love Bush's war, then you hate the troops. BS.

At 10/01/2006 9:26 AM, Blogger Huck Finn said...

TID, you make a very excellent point. It has been folks like Lane Evans that fought to make sure soldiers affected by Agent Orange receive care at VA hospitals. And I've got to admit I entered between Vietnam and the Gulf War, so my "images" are from my youth and from the stories told by the senior officers I worked with.

The officers that built the plans for the Gulf War were all Vietnam vets. They talked about having to disquise themselves on campus as ROTC students. Some had to change schools because their ROTC units were kicked off campus. They had cars vandalized, and they and their wives were looked down upon by the community as if they had personally lost the war.

Then, until Reagan took office, we went through a most painful and destructive period. Drug use was rampant (imagine working on an aircraft carrier during flight ops while stoned! I can't, so tell me). Equipment fell into disrepair. The hollow force that resulted from budget cuts deeply affected those that remained in uniform.

The Vietnam era officers I mentioned wrote the Gulf War plan in conjunction with the civilian leadership in a way that was purposefully much different than Vietnam. Our objectives were clear, we dusted off Clauswitz and used overwhelming force, and we stopped when those objectives were met. There was very much a feeling of "we're not going to do this like Vietnam."

In the Iraq War, I think we missed that same mutually respectful discourse during the planning phase and at least the first 18 months into the execution phase.

Now, as we execute, one of the concerns is that if we politically "overcorrect" budgets and force structures before or after the 2008 elections, we'll quickly fall into another era of "hollow force." We've trimmed the military for almost two decades and the remaining troops from all services have never been busier. Falling into an era of hollow force wouldn't take much.

I don't think today the pressure to cut manpower is there among politicians. That pressure will emerge until we start facing the realities of the bills we're writing today. But each service is internally facing the hard facts of the high cost of manpower.

At 10/01/2006 10:08 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Interesting perspective from someone who was there.

And yes, I don't find it hard to believe that ROTC members weren't considered too "cool" on a lot of campuses... some more than others.

They were definitely a target of campus anti-war protests.

But then again, I suppose they were legitimate targets as their peers tried to get them to not contribute to the war effort. I doubt they had much chance of success, but......

And we were discussing their supposed negative treatment upon their return, which as I say, I believe has been extremely overblown to the point where it's become accepted folklore.

Viet Nam must have been a very strange era to live through (I lived through it, but was safely outside of draft age.)

Considering the social and political movements at home, and the futile and mismanaged effort in vietnam, well... I guess that subject has been covered in hundreds of books, movies, etc.

But it was a definitive period, and I'm almost shocked at how fresh the lingering negative feelings are, as demonstrated when it was interjected into the last presidential race, and it's part in the present conservative push for more authoritarian and repressive social policies.

It's as if the old conservatives from the Viet Nam era are now trying to undo the social progress of the 60's and are using the Christian right as a means to do it.

There are clearly still divisions among Americans from that period, and as I say, it really surprised me to find out how much during the '04 campaign.

There's even threats that Haring plans to dredge up Boland's stance on VietNam and try to use it against him.

Now that would be idiotic, as a state rep has NOTHING to do with national defense (or very little and very tangentially)

But I digress. (as usual)

I defer to your knowledge of military funding, though to my mind, it's always been collossally enormous. Now if you want to separate support and equpipment for the man in the field from billions spent on fighter jets and other space age weapons systems, then I can see how perhaps it seemed like you didn't have what you needed.

I also find it odd, and doubt most people know, that it was Dick Cheney who was responsible for overseeing huge cuts in military funding and the "force reduction" efforts to realize the supposed "peace dividend" after the cold war ended, and it was Rumsfeld who was a champion of a "leaner" more agile defense.

One wouldn't think that it was two hawkish Republicans who were responsible for the largest cuts in the military.

This is far off the original subject, but I feel that our military could be just as effective and well equipped while still cutting an enormous amount from the overall defense budget.

The amount our country spends on defense is simply staggering. I truly doubt 1% of Americans are even aware of what the military budget is or what percentage of the GNP we spend on it.

At 10/01/2006 10:25 AM, Blogger Huck Finn said...

Well, let me spell it out in two words: defense industry.

The costs of equipment has skyrocketed and the defense industry has profited. Ships and aircraft are enormously expensive and the pressure is on to maintain the force levels and capabilities.

72% of the budget is related to manpower and support for manpower. That's the easy target if your a politician that's in bed with industry. Building ships with smaller crew designs is a smart way to cut manpower requirements. Asking to triple TRICARE out of pocket expenses for retirees is a dumb way that creatively cuts retirement benefits. Retiring an aged aircraft carrier is a good way to save manpower. Reducing the paygrade of enlisted jobs is a dumb way that creatively undoes pay raises. There's plenty more to come.

We've got more than our fair share of waste, but we also have more than our fair share of politicians profiting politically and personally from industry.

At 10/01/2006 10:28 AM, Blogger Huck Finn said...

As far as your digression, I believe there are more than a few that wish we lived in the 1950s and will try to get us back there.

At 10/01/2006 10:39 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

The '50s were a great time ... if you were white.

And I think most people that long for those days have sort of gilded the lilly a little bit in idealizing the era. It was the height of the cold war, duck and cover, etc.

At any rate, even if you might think the country would be better off stepping backwards, the fact remains that it's futile to try to shove toothpaste back into the tube.

So many people, and so many politicians, particularly Republicans, simply don't get that essential truth.

A country and society need to ADAPT to change, not try to undo the march of time.

I had this argument with a friend on the subject of trying to ban violent video games and all the "bad stuff" available to kids on the net.

Trying to make laws against such stuff is largely useless.

As frightening as it may seem, people simply have to learn to adapt to new situations, not try to undo the inevitable.

In the age of wide net access, we simply have to A. Be aware and care about what our kids see, B. employ technological solutions to filter what content kids have access to which will in turn become better and easier to use, and C. educate our kids about the bad stuff and why it's bad without making a federal case about it.

My point.... reeling myself back in here, is that we'd all be better off if the public and their representitives in government would simply be forward looking and swim WITH the tide of change, rather than against it.

At 10/01/2006 10:59 AM, Blogger Carl Nyberg said...

I've got a pic of a "Support Our Troops" billboard.

It's clear that people who say "support our troops" in response to criticism of the Iraq War really mean "support Bush's policies." They just lack the integrity to say what they mean.

At 10/01/2006 11:03 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Carl, I'm sitting here laughing, not about your comment, but at myself.

You just said in one short paragraph what I took about 50 to get across. I could have saved people a lot of reading. Damn!

At 10/01/2006 11:07 AM, Blogger Carl Nyberg said...

huck finn, do you realize that there are no contemporaneous records of a single soldier being spit on.

It didn't happen. People make shit up.

Read Spitting Image by Jerry Lembke.

At 10/01/2006 12:17 PM, Blogger Huck Finn said...

Carl, it's really just the "image" that I think created the phenomenon.

I'm not a Vietnam vet. All I have are the "images" from my youth, which I'm sure were tainted, and the real stories of the senior officers I've worked with.

And as far as people making stuff up. . . wow, do I see a ton of it everyday! It's amazing the perspective change a couple of decades makes.

At 10/02/2006 8:33 AM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Carl, just to set the record straight.... I'll give you a "contemporaneous record" of a spitting incident.

1970 - downtown Davenport - two of Fr. John Smith's Quad Citians for Peace members spit on several soldiers who had returned from Vietnam and were in uniform - I was there and saw it - a radio station reporter and two TV stations were there, too.

It DID happen and some people DON'T just make up shit.

At 10/02/2006 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find that acount simply unbelievable.

Perhaps someone could try to dig up media accounts of this, since obviously Benton Harbor says they witnessed it.

I would bet big that no accounts exist and that the incident, as recalled, never happened.

At 10/02/2006 2:47 PM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Sorry, anonymous, it did happen at one of the sit-ins at the Federal Building in downtown Davenport. Don't infer that I'm a liar unless YOU can prove different.

At 10/02/2006 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benton Harbor, you're a little mixed up there. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim.
Anyone knows that.

So absent any evidence, it can't be considered fact.

At 10/02/2006 6:53 PM, Blogger Carl Nyberg said...

Benton Harbor, since the radio and TV journalists were there I'm sure it is recorded. You've won if you can find a contemporaneous record of the incident. But I'll bet you can't.

At 10/02/2006 11:17 PM, Blogger Benton Harbor said...

Carl and anonymous... I won't even waste my time since your mind's are already made up. But I should borrow annonymous' line - the burden of proof is on you, Carl. You made the claim that there aren't any examples, you prove otherwise. We'll need more than one source on that and Lembke only counts as one.

At 1/06/2007 3:03 AM, Anonymous Meta said...

Hi, I stumbled across your page looking up Quad-Citians for Peace, I was one of its principle members, I helped organize those sit ins at the Federal Building in 1970. I do recall we got chased by the Rock Island Armory Police when we took some signs onto the R.I. bridge, but I'm racking my brain to remember any spitting and the conservative Quad City Times would have made that front page headlines. So try to find a supporting article. And as to a radio station reporter and two TV stations being there we only dreamed about getting that kind of coverage. Maybe you saw a drunk vet trying to forget some war crimes puking on himself.


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