The concept of supporting our troops has become its own mantra in the United States. We talk about those who “sacrifice” and “defend our freedom,” in such that we should honor them for their service. We go as far as to place yellow plastic magnets on the back of our vehicles as a symbolic gesture of our support (with the money typically going to some manufacturing company in China). Even liberals have taken up the “Support our Troops” mantra by tacking on “Bring them Home” in a way to attach a degree of appeasement to the staunch advocates of continued war. But the reality is not some pretty idealized view of American bringing democracy and freedom to the world. The reality is that as a nation, we’ve accepted blanket statements and embraced nationalism without taking time to discern the facts of our history and understand all the wrong our government does in order to sustain our standard of living.
“I think I saw through the myth of the cold war almost from the beginning…you gotta go up and swear allegiance to the United States or else your a commie. I mean, we had imported fascism.” -Gore Vidal, History of the National Security State (film)
People join the military for a variety of reasons. Some feel they could use it to build self discipline. Others see it as a means of paying for college. Some see it as a way to get away from their parents and try something new when being unsure of pressuring college or the workforce. Some do it out of a sense of pride or serving their nation. But for whatever the intentions, either noble or indifferent, people choose to join the US military. Unlike World War II or Vietnam, today every solider in the US military joins because they choose to do so, and not because they are ordered to do so by draft.
“Hollywood and Washington is a symbiotic relationship. They both deal with illusions. Reality doesn’t often play much of a part.” -Gore Vidal
Many Americans believe that the United States is like a child of noble birth, a manifestation of a light made to shine upon the world, or simply “The Best,” as one person I met in a bar put it. We are taught about the greatness of our nation as children in our school systems, yet the tragedies and shame are often glimpsed over.
Vietnam cost the lives of over 50,000 troops and the resolution that led us into that war was based on attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin, attacks which a 2005 declassified NSA report proves never actually happened1. In 1951 Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, democratically elected president of Iran, in an effort to bring more of the nation’s wealth to his own people, nationalized oil reserves that had been previously held by the British. Admits fears of communism President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in conjunction with the British, started Operation Ajax which succeeded in a coup d’état against the democratically elected president and lead to the installation of the Shah who would come to be known as a tyrannical dictator2. On September 11th, 1973, Chile’s president Salvadore Allende, a democratically elected official, was overthrown leading the country into violence3. Documents declassified during the Clinton administration show that US black operations were the direct cause of the coup d’état and were ordered to carry out Allende’s deposition by President Nixson4.
The list of US sponsored atrocities is as long as you care to make it. Suffice it to say that America is not the golden child or the messiah that brings light to the world. No, America is a well intentioned teenager who has gotten into trouble, had a couple of DUIs and possibly had a few girls knocked up and then killed to avoid child support. America is the rich trust child who wears the $500 blazer while snobbing at the banquet, between trips to the bathroom where American is on the floor, shaking while preparing to snort another line of Cocaine of a toilet seat in a bathroom stall.
It is important to understand that of those running our government, very few actually care for the lives of soldiers. Although publicly, senators and representatives may portray soldiers as brave men and women who fight for our freedom and their country, underneath this illusion many, but not all of them, merely see soldiers as tools. Some may not even do so consciously. Elected officials must distance themselves and compartmentalize the military, in the same way the military is taught to compartmentalize the enemy, in order to be willing to send them to battle.
“Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy5.” -Henry Kissinger
In the same way, soldiers must compartmentalize in order to survive psychologically. In the famous 2004 documentary, Inside Iraq: The Untold Story, Mike Shiley witnesses and video tapes a late night “bitching session” by soldiers who continually refer to Iraqis as “Hadjis.” One female soldier talked about how she and a male officer broke into a “Hadji church [mosque]” on base in order to have sex, only to find another pair of soldiers had broken into the same mosque with the same intention.
In March 2006, a video began circulating in the Internet of the song Hadji Girl, written and preformed by Corporal Joshua Belile. In the song, he described how he’s led by an Iraq girl to her parents’ house where he in confronted by her family members who are armed with AK-47s. The song describes him using the girl’s younger sister as a human shield as a proceeds to kill their family members. An audience of other soldiers is laughing in the background during the entire course of this song6. Strangely enough, instead of outrage, many people and media outlets came to the support of this solider who claimed the song was simply a joke7.
In 2010, WikiLeaks released a video of a 2007 attack in which an American Apache helicopter mistakes a camera for an RPG launcher and requests permission to open fire. They end up killing several civilians including two employees for Reuters Magazine. In addition, they are also given permission to open fire on a van that comes to assist the wounded.
Specalist Josh Stieber, a conscious objector to the war, was part of the company, Bravo Company 2-16, that made up the group forces involved in the 2007 incident. However, he was not on the ground during the 2007 attacks. In an interview with Democracy Now, Stieber talked about how incidents such as this one were not uncommon. He did not want to morally justify what happened, but he did explain that this was what the soldiers were trained to do. When asked about a part of the video where a solider is heard say, “Oh well…It’s their fault for bringing their kids to battle,” referring to the children who were shot by the van driver who stopped to carry the wounded to a hospital, Stieber talks about how dehumanization is often necessary to justify the actions of soldiers8.
“…I would say that it’s definitely very troubling, but I guess, thinking from the military mindset and again, this is not trying to morally justify it, but to explain something from that perspective that you have a lot of young, impressionable people that, I think, at one point were idealistic in why they enlisted and why they participated in the military, and they find themselves in this horrible situation where, again, it is acting out the training that we’ve been so instilled with to do things like this. And part of that training is the dehumanization of the people in whatever country we happen to be in. That’s, you know, been the process throughout the history of militaries, in general. So it’s a result of the training8…” -Specalist Josh Stieber
It’s important to note that during the interview Stieber refused to mention the names of specific soldiers who he could identify from their voices in the video. Stieber didn’t seek to justify what any of the soldiers did, but still held that the soldiers specifically followed all their training and procedures. He focused more on how the system itself needs to be revisited and reevaluated.
Stieber became a conscious objector to the war and later joined the Iraqi Veterans Against the War. There are many soldiers who can not adapt to making the moral justifications needed to psychologically survive. Even those who do are often plagued with combat stress for the rest of their lives, something that’s been labeled as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A study by CBS news showed that in 2005 alone, more than 6,000 veterans took their lives9.
“Mom, I killed two hundred and twelve people and some of them didn’t deserve to die.” -Said by Corporal James Jenkins to his mother before he took his own life9
Soldiers give up their democratic rights when joining the military. They are told to follow orders without question. Their training gives them the false sense they are individualistic soldiers who must make critical decisions, when in reality they and programmed to follow strict training in order to preserve their lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers. Placing soldiers trained this way into positions of civilian defense and peace keeping is quite dangerous. A civil police officer shouldn’t shoot into a crowd of civilians if being shot at. Justifications such as, “It’s a war zone,” tears down many of these barriers. This type of military training has spilled into the training of American police officers who are often given military grade weapons and trained in military tactics. In many ways, we have not stopped terrorism abroad to prevent it from coming to our home country. Rather, we have spread terrorism around the world and have brought it back to our own nation.
“Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become.” -Che Guevara
If one is to stand against the role of the military, that one is often attacked by people saying he or she is “anti-military” or “against American.” It’s a belief system based in the blind nationalism that equivocates soldiers with the foundation of our country and equivocates peaceful solutions with weakness. The phrase “Support our Troops” is too broad sweeping a statement that encompasses such a vast amount of beliefs summed up into a mantra of propaganda. It leads to a degradation of thought and turns objective debate into childish pundit statements.
There are moments in history when US soldiers fought for freedom, such as Kosovo and possibly Somalia during the Bill Clinton administration if one stretches. During World War II, solders specifically fought for the the freedom of America and its allies. Not every fight is one of US imperialism, ideology and dominance, neither did the majority of the interventions during the past several decades have anything to do with US security or freedom. But regardless of intentions, our military is large and unsustainable. The Military Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned people about has grown into a force that will perpetually require war in order to continue to employee the thousands of people required to run it.
“Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, into a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and, instead, spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would do many times over – not one human being excluded – and we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever. In peace.” -Bill Hicks
The simple phrase of “Support our Troops,” promotes a blanket statement without taking in all the complexities of the socioeconomic and political systems that require such a large military. To say we should support our troops no matter what helps promote a state of blind nationalism and ignores the fact that soldiers are volunteers. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t support our troops, but is to say we should think carefully about what that statement truly means in the context of America’s role in the world. If one were to replace such a statement with a mantra that would encourage insight and thought from a more moderate perspective, something that would have us think more critically rather than recite mindlessly, I would say our bumper stickers should read, “It’s more complicated than that.”
1 Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-August 4, 1964
2 A Very British Coup BBC. 2005 (Radio Show)
3 Remembering Chile’s 9/11. Street. September 10, 2003.
4 United States Senate Report (1975) “Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973” U.S. Government Printing Office Washington. D.C.
5 Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POW’s in Vietnam (1990) Jensen-Stevenson. Stevenson.
6 Hadji Girl. (Video)
7 Hadji Girl. Rampton. PR Watch. June 22, 2006.
8 This Is How These Soldiers Were Trained to Act…. Democracy Now! April 12, 2010.
9 One Soldier’s Suicide: James Jenkins McLaurin. American News Project. July 21, 2008. (Video)