On Supporting Our Troops

Using Unity to Divide: Some commentators I respect--and some I don't--scold "the left" (a pigeonhole term, like "the religious right" that should cue the intelligent that something stupid is about to be said) for saying on one hand that they "support our troops" and on the other hand "disagree with our policy in Iraq." At the extremes, this criticism may have some validity. For example, the statement that one supports the troops is not believable from someone who clearly hates the U.S., thinks it engages in criminal activity as a matter of course, and talks as if Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are paragons of virtue and sincerity when compared to President Bush. On the other hand, to insist on a unity between support of U.S. troops and agreement with U.S. political is absurd on several fronts. First, many of these same critics disagreed with the Clinton administrations intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s while simultaneously insisting that they supported our troops and just didn't want to put them "in harm's way" or some similar cliche. Second, people who disagree with or who are uncomfortable with U.S. policy in Iraq are known to go to some trouble to entertain U.S. troops in Iraq (Al Franken, for example) or to correspond and send care packages to a deployed soldier (my wife, for example), which I would suggest shows genuine support, respect, and caring for troops. Third, and perhaps most important, the insistence on consistency between support of troops and support of U.S. policy flies in the face of the American tradition of a separation between the military personnel and civilian policy-makers. Is the soldier who strongly disagrees with his or her Commander-in-Chief policy but who follows his orders anyway guilty of not supporting the troops (including himself or herself?). The idea is absurd. This is an important tradition, one that is in large part responsible for the fact that there has never been a military coup in this country as has been common in South America. In fact, it can be said the the military in this country deserve our respect, at least in part, precisely because they are willing to follow orders even when they don't agree with them. This is an essential part of the moral virtue of the American military. In every conflict, there is an attempt to insist on the unity between military action and policy. If you support the policy, you might insist that anyone who doesn't agree with you is unpatriotic and can't possibly support the troops (as is common today). If you don't support the policy, you might insist that the troops themselves are immoral for being involved (as was common during the Vietnam era). Both are wrong and outside of a cherished American tradition. Finally, my sense is that today, pride in the U.S. military personnel--because of their effectiveness, their professionalism, their discipline, their courage, and their civility during difficult duty (with some exceptions)--is rather intense, even among most of those who don't agree with current policy in Iraq. This was not the case during the Vietnam era, and there is almost no comparison in that respect. Wile E.

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