'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Someone Finally Confronts the "Support the Troops" Nonsense 

UPDATE: Stein's column is now the lead headline on the Drudge Report, after it was posted there yesterday in relatively understated fashion, and he is receiving an enormous amount of hate mail:

Joel Stein said he has been "bombarded" by hate mail over the incendiary article -- which was headlined "Warriors and Wusses" and held that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were "ignoring their morality" -- but does not regret writing it and stands by the premise.

"I don't support what they are doing, and I don't the see point of putting a big yellow magnet on your car if you don't," Stein told Reuters in an interview. "I don't think (soldiers) are necessarily bad people. I do plenty of things that are wrong too. But I don't agree with what they are doing so I don't see the logic of supporting it."

Let's hope that he survives, and doesn't get fired like Robert Scheer. His personal e-mail address is difficult to find, but you can e-mail comments of support to letters@latimes.com. If anyone has any better ideas, please feel to provide them in the comments section.

ORIGINAL POST: Boy, I hope Joel Stein has a good filter for his e-mail account. Unlike all those antiwar, anti-occupation fence straddlers like Medea Benjamin, United for Peace and Justice and the columnists over at the Huffington Post, Stein, normally known as a humorist, is hardnosed enough to state the unpleasant truth in a column published by the Los Angeles Times yesterday:

I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.

And I've got no problem with other people — the ones who were for the Iraq war — supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.

But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.

Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there — and who might one day want to send them somewhere else.

Like say, Iran and Venezuela? From the mouth of a comedian comes what is apparently otherwise unspeakable in polite society. Or, as Hunter Thompson used to say when someone provided an unavoidable, uncomfortable insight: Cazart! Indeed, Stein's prose strikes the ear as a gentler, more whimsical version of what Thompson himself would have written on the same subject.

And, bless his heart, Stein even dusts off that old quaint notion of personal responsibility for one's actions, you know, the concept that Clinton selectively applied only to welfare recipients:

But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. An army of people ignoring their morality, by the way, is also Jack Abramoff's pet name for the House of Representatives.

I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq. I get mad when I'm tricked into clicking on a pop-up ad, so I can only imagine how they feel.

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.

Yikes! Didn't someone tell Stein that this is how you end up having all of your electronic communications monitored by the NSA? More seriously, though, glad to see someone get something published in a mainstream newspaper that echoes many of the themes on this subject that I presented here back in October.

Space limitations probably prevented Stein from elaborating further about the perversity of transforming American troops into the victims of the Iraq war in light of the extreme violence and destruction that they have inflicted upon the country. Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch has picked up the baton from Stein, publishing two highly personal, compelling e-mails from Vietnam veterans after his own reflections on the war in Iraq in relation to what has been described as the "Vietnam syndrome".

Here is an excerpt from one of them, written by Wade Kane:

At about the same time My Lai occurred, I was flying as a crew chief/gunner on a Chinook. Passing a small village I thought I heard a single shot directed at my helicopter. Or maybe it was just "blade pop." Looking into the village, I could see women and children in the streets in what I'd call a "pastoral scene." I elected not to "return fire," though by my unit's rules of engagement I could have done so. About an hour later we happened to fly past that village again. There was no one in sight, but there were numerous bomb craters in the rice paddies and where homes had been. My guess is that someone else received fire, or thought they received fire, returned fire, and the pilots called for an air strike. I doubt any of the people in the village had time to flee from the attack. Never ever have I heard anything about that event, just My Lai...

People here got really worried about a flashlight at a Starbucks (which might have been a bomb). Had it been a bomb, which it wasn't, it would have weighed about 1/500th of what we routinely drop in residential neighborhoods in Iraq. It's like most people don't seem to realize what devastation we inflict there on a frequent basis. Today, for example, someone I know sent me some "feel good pictures" about our troops in Iraq. You know: old ladies holding up "Thanks, Mr. Bush" signs, smiling kids. Pictures she said that "just don't make the news." For "don't make the news," how about some pictures of kids that our bombs have eviscerated?

Both e-mails expose our ethnocentrism, our insistence upon making the occupation of Iraq about us, when instead, it is overwhelmingly about the people rendered invisible by the media, the military and the resistance: the Iraqis themselves. Perhaps, only when the last soldiers are being evacuated from Baghdad, will we finally acknowledge that the Iraqis were the lead performers in this conflict. It is their lives, their families, their injuries and their deaths that constitute the core, the centerpiece of this narrative. The politically puerile call to "support the troops" by some on the left, a call that frequently mutates into emphasizing the need to actually improve their weaponry and safety gear, such as body armor, merely serves to push the day of this evacuation farther into the future as more and more Iraqis are killed.

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