July 20, 2005


It seems Prager's article on the Left's support for the troops caused quite a stir. I thought more about the outrage that article spawned after I read this line from David Horowitz's book, Radical Son:

Hands Off Cuba! and Bring the Troops Home! were slogans designed to consolidate majorities, but also to achieve agendas that would never have been defended by most of the people who eventually supported them.

Horowitz was talking about the Vietnam era, but I was struck by the parallel to today's cries. And it made me start thinking about all of the people who are offended by the suggestion that they don't support the troops.

My father has had little contact with the military. He didn't go to Vietnam, but he had friends who went and didn't return. He recently surprised my mother with a diatribe about how we should bring our boys home. My father votes Republican, so it's not a matter of politics; I assume he simply can't stand the idea of any Americans fighting and dying, especially when his only daughter's husband is involved. I don't think that makes my dad anti-war...and I would hope that he would be horrified to hear of the birds who have flocked together. That's what struck me about Horowitz's statement.

Who can honestly say that they don't want our soldiers and marines to come home? "Bring the Troops Home!" is a huge umbrella statement that covers many points of view, indeed "designed to consolidate majorities". The scary part is when people who fall under that umbrella don't know about the company they're keeping. ANSWER wants us to bring the troops home too, but they're an offshoot of the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party, organizing anti-war protests that I'm sure many unsuspecting, good-intentioned people attended. (Hey, if my father went to a protest, maybe some activist could hand him a "Bring Home the Troops" sign, you know, since he's got his hands full with his "Death to Jews" sign anyway.)

Several people emailed or commented to say that they had done X,Y, or Z for friends and family who were deployed. Fabulous. But by being on the Left, you need to be aware of the company you're keeping. Do you know about the reporters such as the one Toby Harnden met?:

Not only had [a well-known journalist] ‘known’ the Iraq war would fail but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the ‘evil’ George W. Bush would no longer be running her country. Her editors back on the East Coast were giggling, she said, over what a disaster Iraq had turned out to be. ‘Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.’

Many mainstream writers and people on the Left are actively hoping for failure in Iraq. So are Daily Kos' readers, and that left-wing blog gets more traffic than any other blog out there. Disgusting characters like Ted Rall and Michael Moore want to bring the troops home, and I wouldn't be caught under any umbrella with them.

Most Americans want the servicemembers to come home safe and sound, but if you google "bring troops home", you get a list of anti-war sites and writings. If you want to bring them home, then admittedly you don't want them to all die (which is more than we can say for some), but it's not the same thing as supporting the troops. Support has to be more than sending a box of deoderant and candy and hoping they don't all die. As Prager said, you have to support their fight too. That's where we argue semantics, and I think it's an important distinction. I wrote about this before, and I stand by my original assertion:

LT Smash points out that we have an all-volunteer military and that "the troops are committed to winning the war. If you don’t share that goal, then you are not, by definition, supporting them." People in his comments section disagree, but Smash points out two different definitions of supporting the troops: "Your definition would appear to be 'wish them good health and hope they come home safe.' My definition of 'support' is a bit more robust than that. In my world, 'supporting the troops' also means letting them know that you appreciate the sacrifices they are making, and believe in the cause they're fighting for."

I tend to think that the first definition should be an understood, that no human would wish that soldiers should be injured or die (though some of the posts on Democratic Underground might suggest otherwise). Therefore, it's not worth broadcasting, just as "I support cancer patients" or "I support the disabled" seem inane.

Not everyone agreed with Smash, as the volume of comments shows, but I do agree with him, as I do with Prager. You don't have to agree with me on the definition of "support" if you don't want to, but just be careful of which umbrellas you're under.

Posted by Sarah at July 20, 2005 11:14 AM | TrackBack

That's the longest post I've seen you put up in a while, and I really appreciate your thoughts and perspective. I am a former Infantry officer (I got out in 2000 as a no-tim-in-grade Captain)and based on my experience, you speak for a lot of soldiers and military families. Keep up the good work; I read your site every day. God bless you and your husband and thank both of you for doing what you do for the rest of us.
Chadd Newman
Frederick, Maryland

Posted by: Chadd at July 20, 2005 03:49 PM

Part of this post is interesting, and part isn't. The argument that you shouldn't be on the Left at all because there are some nasty people over there isn't serious. The Right is a big umbrella too, with lots of horrible people under it. No matter wehre you are on thepolitical spectrum, you'll be standing close to someone not very respectable. Besides, remember the Left/Right reflects stances on a lot of different political issues. Am I really supposed to start supporting Bush's asinine stance on taxes just because I might not like the foreign policy positions of some people on the Left? (Or rather, because you don't like them?)

The bit about what it means to support the troops is interesting, but unconvincing and/or unclear. Does this mean that anyone who thought the war was a bad idea before it happened automatically doesn't support the troops? That would mean that the only way you could be a person who always supports the troops is to be a person who believes that we ought to go to war against the whole world. That way, whoever we fight next---Sweden?---you think the war is a good idea. This would be crazy, and no one supports the troops in this sense. Remember my post about Republicans who opposed Kosovo, for example.

Maybe the idea is that once we go to war you have to hope we win, even if you opposed the war to begin with. That makes a little more sense, but winning and losing wars aren't the only options. I could never want to see our troops defeated in battle, and I don't think that people who said that they hoped the Iraq policy would fail were really hoping for that either. Someone who wants to bring the troops home immediately (I don't) isn't hoping for a military defeat. Nor is the idea of bringing the troops home when the fight looks unwinnable something that only "the Left" would think of. Nixon pulled out of Viet Nam, Reagan pulled out of Beirut.

Do I have to support the way the war is being fight, in order to support the troops? I think that Rumsfeld screwed up big time by not having a better plan to preserve order in Iraq afer the invasion. Does that mean I don't support the troops? (Is Rummy one of the troops? Is Tommy Franks?) Does it help that the Army War College is on my side? If I think that Abu Ghraib was a fairly serious matter, that it is right that soldier got punished for it, and that probably some officers should have been punished along with the enlisted, does that mean I don't support the troops? If I worry about the fact that troops constantly afraid of being ambushed are sure to kill innocent civilians because something about the way that look makes them nervious, do I not support the troops? If I don't see any way we can avoid continuing to alienate the people we are supposed to be trying to help, do I not support the troops?

Posted by: Pericles at July 20, 2005 08:08 PM

I live in New York City, and know people who lost family members on September 11th.

Some want the troops home simply because they don't want US soldiers, who signed up to defend our country, to die in a foreign land fighting for a seemingly ungrateful people. They don't care about the nuances and subtleties of winning over the muslim world. They honestly just think that if we have a problem with an Islamic country, well, we have a nuclear arsenal that'll resolve any security issues overseas.

They're honest and good people, but don't think the Muslim world is worth another American soldier's life.

They don't support the liberal approach to "troops out", which is accepting responsibility for the muslim world's problems and grovelling. Their approach is "nuke the sh*t out of the bastards".

Posted by: Sean at July 20, 2005 08:45 PM

It is a weird blindness that refuses to see our interest in killing Jihadists. Their bring the troops home crap is akin to refusing to fight a forest fire until it reaches your fence.
it is likely the pressure to bring the boys home at the end of WWII was inspired by communists who wanted no interference in their push to world dominance. Now it is mostly to bash Bush. Since we know that words can kill, it is time to dust off the sedition laws and write some exile penalties.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis at July 20, 2005 09:20 PM

Sedition laws violate the First Amendment. Since Bush tells us that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms, wouldn't getting rid of the Bill of Rights mean that we were appeasing the terrorists? Frankly, I'm not sure that some conservatives' vision of what this country ought to look like is so different from Afghanistan under the Taliban, except without the beards.

Posted by: Pericles at July 22, 2005 07:22 PM

"the troops are committed to winning the war"

This is where "smash's" argument got completely retarded. The war is over. The troops are working security while Iraq gets back on its feet after we went in got rid of a bad leader and broke a bunch of stuff.

'Supporting our troops' is really a nebulous and ultimately meaningless phrase that right wingers really like since they can keep redefiining it however they like to use it to clobber people they don't like. I have friends and family in the service, I send them things, write them letters, and do what I can to make their lives bearable in that sh*t-hole over there. But since I think (and always thought) that the invasion was wholly unjustified and think that our President is working for the sake of his personal benefit and benefit of his amoral friends rather than for the benefit of either the U.S or Iraq I don't "support the troops."

The whole "support the troops" trope exists to distract from real questions and criticisms. It's just a tar baby designed to get you stuck in lame arguments where the terms can keep being redefined since they are ultimately meaningless.

Posted by: R at July 23, 2005 01:59 AM

My first question is why would you have read Horowitz in the first place? If you want to inform yourself to what's going on in the world he's one of the last people you should refer to.KB

Posted by: KB at July 28, 2005 01:40 PM