There was a story on the local news the other day about a car show dedicated to Jeeps. We get them (car shows) locally every so often, but the hook to this story was that one of the Jeeps would not be on display. Apparently, it was the pride and joy of one of our servicemen presently doing time in Iraq, and the pictures indicated that it was in good shape, albeit a bit dirty. His family characterized his relationship to the Jeep as “#1”, ahead of even his family. I’m sure that wasn’t true, just mere hyperbole for the story, but it appears it was also part of the setup for the sales pitch. The family had decided that as a surprise for their military man, they would have a compete makeover of the Jeep accomplished: new upholstery, new dash, supercharged accouterments and accessories, etc, all to the tune of about $25,000. And they were asking for donations from people who were attending the Jeep show at the local fairgrounds to help cover the cost to do so. The unstated, underlying theme of the fundraiser was clearly “Support The Troops”.
Now I’m a big fan of the idea of support for our troops, but it irritated me that this family thought that they could cash in on the natural patriotic fervor of all Americans, bolstered recently by the front-and-center debate about the war in Iraq, to get the public to pay for the upgrade of an automobile for one of their family members who just happened to be in Iraq. I certainly agree that for the service he is rendering to his country, and indirectly to us, he is entitled to far more remuneration and benefits than our government is compensating him with, and a nice refurbished Jeep is probably wholly deserved. I wish him well, and hope his family is able to provide it for him. But why should we, the American public, be asked to help pay for it. He’s not down on his luck, he hasn’t been injured, and his family didn’t look like they were without the means to pay for it themselves. Call me cynical, but it seems more like a crass attempt to take advantage of the national guilt we have for sending him to Iraq in the first place, and not adequately supporting him once he got there.
And why do we have a national guilt? The answer is obvious. We are guilty because our leaders have really fucked up, and we, the voters of this country, put them in the position to do so. Think about it. If you were going to take this country to war, would you not 1) make sure that you had a very good, well articulated reason for doing so; 2) makes sure the country and you were on the same page, that is, you had adequately and thoroughly explained to the country what your reasons were for taking this monumental and country altering step; 3) insure that the country was in agreement with you; 4) adequately plan and provision the armed forces prior to attacking, and continue to provide more than ample support to the troops as it proceeds, to the point of redundancy; 5) make sure you had the best and the brightest people in place not only to work directly under you, but also on the ground at the war locale, to makes proper policy decisions and to lead the war; 6) make sure that you had a plan for how to secure and maintain control of the war locale, and also, in the event you had to get out quickly, have a plan for that; 7) make sure the country understood the nature and objectives of the war, and was willing to accept the loss of life and health that was bound to occur, not to mention the expense; 8} provide for the continued support and maintenance of the returning veterans from the war, including the families of those who died, the ones who were injured, and the ones who came home healthy.
Now I ask you: Is there any evidence that this country’s current leaders fulfilled any of those requirements? Again, the answer is no. A resounding NO. Not one of them. Our President, the man we elected twice (well, at least once), lied to us about the reasons for going to war, created facts out of whole cloth in an effort to use our natural anger after 9/11 to blindly accept the war, put the war into the hands of incompetents, (people that made us feel just Rummy), did so with an inadequate number of troops to maintain control of the Iraq after it was taken over, and to add insult to injury, failed to ensure that the men and women on the ground, the ones putting their lives on the lines, had adequate armor to protect themselves. Now, this administration is doing everything it can to make sure that the returning veterans have to fight for benefits they should have been guaranteed.
This is why there is a pallor of national guilt hanging over us, and why it’s easy to use that guilt to get some poor slob’s car refurbished. I’m sure he’ll be happy with it.
If he makes it home.
Personally, I am getting sick and tired of hearing “support the troops’. Frankly, I’ve said this before, but that phrase is simply an argument stopper, designed to deflect someone who opposes the war, by implying that opposition to the war equates to a lack of patriotism. I doubt you would find a single American who opposes the support of our individual troops (with the arguable exception of the current occupant of the Oval Office). Criticism of the war is not the same as criticism of our troops, as the right wing war mongers would have you believe.
While it’s a nice gesture, supporting the troops doesn’t mean sending a Care package to the front lines, or affixing a magnetic ribbon to the bumper of your car, like the one in the picture above. It means what I said above. It means not going to war unless you have a good reason for doing so. (Why should one good American serviceman die for a lousy, unfathomable reason?). It means once you send people to put their lives on the line for their country, that you spend the money and the brainpower to insure that they are well supplied, armored and capable of defending themselves in a hostile environment, so that they have the best possible chance of returning in one piece, or at all. Finally, once they do come home, often psychologically, if not physically, damaged, they are often left to their own devices, often time finding that the heroics of war don’t equate to a wonderful life at home. Many suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome are not getting adequate treatment. They should be entitled to adequate post war care and benefits.
I’m going to climb out on a large, sturdy limb here, and say that this “support the troops” response to criticism of the war is not patriotic. It’s false patriotism. Blind patriotism is worse than no patriotism, because it allows the government to do whatever it wants, without any check or balance from the people presumably being governed. “Your Country, love it or leave it” is counterproductive to good, responsible, accountable government, and government, in order to be good, must be accountable to the governed. That is impossible if we don’t hold our leader’s feet to the fire, if instead we go around spouting “support the troops” without actually making sure that our government is doing so.
In short, proper support of our troops should come from the top, from our government, not via some pitiable platitude from individuals in the street, nor via donation to some Jeep refurbishment fund.