Long before this past Veteran's Day, in fact long before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the idea that antiwar activists had to somehow include support for our troops as part of the package of their antiwar agitations was being promulgated.
Indeed, the seeds of this convoluted idea were planted during the Vietnam War, most especially with the archetypal and apocryphally conjoined images of returning U.S. veterans being called baby-killers and then being spat upon. Never again, the powers-that-be vowed. (See H. Bruce Franklin's Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, for a thorough debunking of this myth.)
With the war against Iraq these seeds have blossomed into weeds that are in danger of choking off real, anti-imperialist opposition to this war and to the wars that are set to bleed beyond the borders of Iraq.
"Support Our Troops" demands some serious unpacking with regards to just what this means and where its adoption and continued use may lead those who cling to this slogan as a way to avoid being branded unpatriotic and treasonous.
When the army of the American empire sallies forth, jackboots grinding across the soil of other countries and peoples, when the engine of U.S. military carnage rolls across borders and leaves in its wake death and carnage, what does "support" actually mean? Furthermore, when we call these forces "our troops" are we agreeing with those who would foist upon the world a militarily enforced Pax Americana by disguising it as the spread of freedom and democracy?
In a number of recent Veteran's Day essays around the web, many voices have called for telling the troops the truth, having indicated that this is the best way to support our troops. What is this truth that needs to be spoken? Sadly, it is not that the war in Iraq was done under false pretenses, or that it was undertaken illegally. Leaving it at this level allows U.S. military conquest to be deemed okay the next time Congress "legally" authorizes it or enough votes are strong-armed within the U.N.
No, the deeper truth is that this war is an act of imperial aggression, undertaken to expand the U.S. empire by controlling oil and resources in the key geostrategic regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. If this is the truth that must be brought to the soldiers' ears, then the support for the troops would consist of three things:
One, demanding the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq;
Two, demonstrating against all further recruitment/enlistment efforts;
And three, supporting all soldiers in their resistance within the armed forces.
If antiwar activists really want to claim the banner of "Support Our Troops" then the clearest act of support would be turning all soldiers into anti-imperialist activists; then, indeed, they would be "our" troops.
Until then, utilizing this slogan means supporting criminal atrocities like the napalming of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the torture dungeons like Abu Ghraib, and all the other acts that imperial armies have engaged in over the millennia.
T. Patrick Donovan is a doctoral student in depth psychology and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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