Supporting the troops?

This slogan seems to have a lot of people, mainly on the right, steamed. I wonder whether those carrying the sign were aiming for hyperbole, or if they, indeed, support the actions of Hasan Akbar. The sentiment exists outside of the mainstream of peace activists because it isn’t very, um, peaceful. But since when has war been peaceful? Why is it OK for us to want to use violence if we disagree with Iraqis but not if we think the US is engaged in a criminal act?

This double standard, by the way, also shows up in the reactions to the grinning Iraqi soldier who was searching American bodies. Yes, it is horrible, and do you think that American soldiers are any more respectful of the Iraqi dead? (I will answer that question: I suspect the vast majority are. But I doubt it would be hard to find a similar photo of a grinning American soldier next to an Iraqi body.)

But to return to the central issue, entry of American troops has fragmented many of those in opposition to the war, at least in the US and UK. Realizing that the returning troops from Vietnam became unfair targets of criticism several decades ago, the peace movement wants to be very careful not to make them targets again. While I agree that they shouldn’t take the lion’s share of the blame, I do not agree that they are absolved from responsibility for their actions.

We have an all-volunteer military. Yes, they cannot “unvolunteer” when they disagree with US policy, but they chose to give up this right. Despite their instruction, they are not machines. When they kill, it is ultimately the man or woman who pulls the trigger, not the general. The blood of Iraqi children is on their hands.

I think many soldiers, in some form, realize this. They do not need to be reminded of the fact by activists. Those who do not realize it are the new recruits. When peace activists support the troops, they walk a fine line, and risk reproducing the myth of the glory of war. When the Army goes into a high school to recruit, those students should know that soldiers do not have the unreserved respect of their fellow citizens.

To be perfectly clear, I do not support troops who kill their commanders. I am far more ambivalent about those who desert.

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