For the last four years, the anti-war movement has been seriously handicapping itself with its "We support the troops but we're against war" mantra of qualified dissent. Initially, the phrasing of this message was a reflexive attempt to fit into the context of pro-militarism created by the Neocon spinmeisters who quickly established a flag-waving, "Support our troops" litmus test in the aftermath of the tragedies of September 11th.
Wanting to avoid being branded as un-American traitors from the get-go, the left promptly started couching their verbiage in the newly minted criteria for patriotism. Unfortunately, that line of thinking is still alive and well today and has become a serious detriment to bringing an end to the agenda of empire.
One of the guilt factors that continues to keep the mostly white and privileged anti-war movement supporting the troops is the argument that many soldiers come from impoverished circumstances and are motivated to join the military because of the education and job benefits that are marketed by recruiters and glossy advertisements. Implicit in this angst is the assumption that it is racist and classist to deny the "benefits" of military service to those who choose to enlist just because of our own ideological objections to the military industrial complex.
There are several major problems with this line of reasoning. First, the benefits aren't all they are cracked up to be. For some, military service has been a positive experience on a personal level, but for too many others, it has not. Many military personnel receive no educational benefits at all and only a few receive full benefits.
In addition, while the military boasts about job benefits, the reality is that, according to the Veteran's Administration, veterans actually make less money in civilian life than those without military experience. They also make up 1/3 of homeless men and 20% of the nation's prison population.
How then can it be appropriate to support recruits who sign up for benefits that are overstated if not totally illusory? By saying that we understand that they signed up because of the benefits, we are buying into the myth of the military as a tool for social betterment. In essence, we are excusing them (and ourselves) from questioning the morality of their participation in a system that was designed to wage war.
Getting bogged down in this line of reasoning also keeps us from examining how increased military spending, as well as trade agreements like CAFTA, destroy our economy. Would we not better support those who join the military for the job benefits if we insisted that our spending priorities emphasize education and job training, rather than cutting those funds so that the only option left is the military?
By supporting those who sign up for the benefits, we are saying that we think they are so low on the totem poll that the only way we are going to give them a chance to better themselves and lead a productive life is if they first risk their lives for something that we don't actually even believe in. And then maybe, possibly, depending on the small print at the bottom of their contracts, they might get the benefits.
Most importantly, supporting those who sign up to serve their country totally excuses the immorality of justifying the unjust as patriotism. There can be no excuse for enriching the coffers of the likes of Halliburton while bleeding dry our human capital and the resources of this planet.
It is not now nor has it ever been in the best interests of our country, any other country, or indeed the planet to kill innocent people, to poison the environment with nuclear weaponry, to destroy cities and deprive people of their health or the basic necessities of life for any reason. It does not matter what their religion or skin color is or what language they speak or how much oil is under their sand.
As Cindy Sheehan has so eloquently pointed out, using our children as "human cluster-bombs" to kill other children in never-ending wars is not a family value, it is the callous betrayal of our youth and the wanton destruction of our future.
It is for these reasons that I will not say that I support our troops.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z Magazine, Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse.
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