Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester
Practically every day I see bumper stickers reading SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. I hear people being interviewed on television newscasts saying, “No matter how we as individuals may feel about the war in Iraq, we can all agree on how important it is to support our troops.” Each of the many seeking their party’s presidential nomination add their voices to the “Support our troops” chant.
I have been thinking about that sentence a lot. Maybe I’m just plain dumb, but I have no idea what it means. How can I be against the war and also support those fighting it? I ask the question as someone with a relative who is a graduate of West Point, and she is now serving in Afghanistan. I ask the question as someone whose brother was an Air Force career man, and who, in one of the great ironies of my life, was stationed in Thailand in 1967 during the Vietnam War while I was one of the first Americans to travel to North Vietnam where I watched that country being bombed from planes whose radar my brother serviced.
I am not indifferent to the loss of American and Iraqi lives, the staggering number of wounded U.S. soldiers who will be physically or mentally maimed for the rest of their lives, the disruption in the family lives of those who have been sent to Iraq for their second and third deployment, and the number of soldiers who are committing suicide.
But SUPPORT OUR TROOPS is an empty slogan that obfuscates (from a Latin root meaning “darkened”) the truth, a truth painful for many to face, namely, that our troops are risking and losing their lives in Iraq for absolutely nothing. Senator Barak Obama hinted at this a few months ago, and the media came down on him so hard that he did that rhetorical dance politicians do so well of saying he was misquoted, blah, blah, blah, support our troops blah, blah, blah. Americans need to believe that those oh so young men and women fighting in Iraq are there for a reason – for love of our country, to stop terrorism, to bring democracy, to keep America safe. The sad fact is that Americans are risking their lives and dying in Iraq for absolutely nothing.
If politicians had the moral courage to say this, if people would believe what they surely know, they would support our troops in the only way which makes sense, and that is through an outpouring of anger at those in power who conceptualized the war, advocated it, and voted and continue to vote to spend billions and billions of dollars to pursue a war the United States cannot win.
I do not understand why more Americans are not outraged over the meaningless loss of so many young lives, are not outraged that billions and billions of dollars are spent on an obscene and ridiculous war, while Brad Pitt has shown more caring about the fate of New Orleans than the federal government.
WHERE IS OUR RAGE?
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
Mahatma Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War
Anger - from Middle English, meaning, distress, grief, trouble, vex, hurt, wound. Around the 14th century the word acquired its present meaning, rage.
I wonder what happened that brought about the change in meaning. However, anyone who has suffered the death of a loved one has experienced how much of our grief is expressed as rage at the person for dying.
Maybe “supporting our troops” means experiencing grief for the dead and the maimed, American and Iraqi. Perhaps we cannot find our rage until we know our grief.
Cemetery and corn field, Whatley, Massachusetts