No yellow ribbons from this ex-marine

Almost three years ago, probably in response to one of my scathing articles denouncing US foreign policy, I received an e-mail from a soldier’s mom which became “a keeper.” It was respectful, ending… “Regardless of your opinions on both the war and US foreign policy, I hope it’s in your heart to support OUR troops.” A most difficult request, indeed!

It’s a topic that even the most dedicated anti-war activists amongst us would rather sweep under the carpet. In our daily dealings with family, peers, friends and neighbors, when the subject of “troop support” surfaces, one often accedes to a condescending level of support for the “young soldiers” who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan… or just serving in the military.

We seem to get better and better at political correctness and rationalization as time goes by, or as circumstances dictate. Grouping soldiers by age is probably a face saving way to whitewash, to decriminalize the actions by some in the military: those who do not yet know better. We prefer not to blame those soldiers who kill and destroy; after all, it’s their job. They are just following orders from their commanders.

And, we certainly don’t want to embarrass the political leadership that brought about this mayhem; after all, they were “duped” by flawed intelligence. Furthermore, the consent for war was not only bipartisan, but overwhelming by those “in the know.”

And, most importantly, we mustn’t blame ourselves; after all, what did we know about those faraway peoples and places? Ours was fear of terrorism, our call to arms 9/11.

Perhaps these phony reasons, this illusory rationale, bring us to that uncomfortable issue of having to support the troops. The question of morality for the troops, or morality for the government, or our own morality, is one that begs not to be asked. Not out loud. And, if morality is not the test, what other choice do we have but to support the troops?

A bold pronouncement saying, “I do not support the troops,” is not something that you expect to read or to hear in the mainstream media. And I hadn’t… not until March 27, when a former marine of the Vietnam era had his sentiments unmistakably expressed in a letter sent to The Oregonian. Defiant and angry, he started his letter to the editor this way: “OK, if no one else will say it, I’ll say it: ‘I do not support the troops.’” No words minced with this marine… as he stood tall, at attention, with a “semper fidelis” to truth!

A paragraph in his letter summed up how he felt: “When I was 18 and as stupid as all the troops over there now, including the square-jawed, talking-head generals, I was supposed to be bringing democracy to a Third Worldntry. It was baloney then and it’s baloney now. All we did (I was a grunt in the Marines), was make a thousand Viet Cong for every one we killed. And the ones I killed have haunted me since.”

Maybe A.B. was a “stupid grunt” at that tender age fighting in the jungles half a world away… but what he saw and did in Nam turned the lights on for him, humanized him; and that “stupidity” did transform into wisdom, not just for him but for the rest of us.

What’s wrong with our nation? Why are the military, Capitol Hill, the White House… and the rest of us watching this Vietnam re-enactment in Iraq without batting an eye?

Perhaps our marine gave us a partial answer by saying in his letter that war is for cowards, finishing his letter: “War gives the Pentagon’s cowardly bureaucrats, the federal government’s cowardly politicians, and America’s citizen cowards the chance to try to convince themselves that they’re not the cowards they know they are.”

We can and should support troops-to-be, but do so before they become troops. We should post a warning sign, and disclaimer, in all recruiting stations. Prospective enlistees should be told that their new employer will not be the Department of Defense, but the Department of War; and that their service will not be in the defense of freedom and democracy, but in the building of an empire for America’s powerful elite. And that their countrymen, for all the yellow ribbons and pseudo-patriotic talk, will ultimately blame them for the added terrorism they instigate with their wars. Just like there is truth in lending, we should demand truth in recruitment.

And the most important part of the disclaimer should be: That following orders is not a defense at all – not amoral orders. It’s not Bush, or Cheney or Rumsfeld who will be blamed when they pull the trigger to kill or to maim; or when they disrupt the lives of others, whatever excuse or pretense. As soldier for the empire, you are the aggressor, the bad guy… not those you face who are defending their own country, whether you call them terrorists or insurgents. American soldiers should not be deceived into thinking of themselves as liberators when they, in fact, become captive or casualties to memories that will haunt them for the rest of their lives… even those with a callous conscience.

We should support young people, yes. But we must do it before they become troops; for there are many nations to conquer and, for now, none to defend from. And that applies not only to the regular services, but also the Reserves and the National Guard; all equally disposable to the Pentagon, and the military-industrial complex it serves.

Perhaps if we had a conscript military – one designed for true national defense, instead of a volunteer army, we wouldn’t have to support the troops; for the troops, you may rest assured, would not be today in Iraq.

Semper Fi, ex-Marine; may peace inhabit your soul! This ex-Airman salutes your honesty and your loyalty to truth.