Saturday, January 08, 2005

To Hell with your Yellow Ribbon Bumper Sticker!

There are a lot of yellow ribbons on cars belonging to people who don't have kids, friends, or neighbors in the military. There are also a lot of people who have confused support for the Iraq war--meaning its tactics, the pentagon's civilian leadership, and this administration's foreign policies--with support for the individuals who are fighting this thing out on the ground. That's simply not acceptable.

Let me make my own positions clear. I thought Afghanistan was right. I think Iraq is a fool's errand. And I support any troop in our army who's fighting in either conflict. I especially support the troops who think the Iraq war is the worst idea ever, who are appalled by the senseless carnage, who think this will undermine America's strategic preeminence for the next 50 years and who are still following their orders to fight in Iraq.

I firmly believe America is stronger becuase of its professional and apolitical soldiers. It's a really bad thing when armies start taking positions on issues. Because, you know, they are uniquely positioned to persuade people to take their side of the argument--personally, I'd expect a Sherman Tank rumbling down my block to make me reconsider my position on pretty much anything.

This is why I support every soldier who is doing his job. It's his job to shoot and fight and kill and die. It's an absolutely appalling, horrible job. And it's a vital and necessary one. Whether or not I think the political leaders have sent troops off to fight the wrong war has no bearing whatsoever on the sacrifices soldiers are making. It is a soldier's job to fight every single war he is directed to fight, especially the wars he thinks are a really stupid and bad idea.

This is why those yellow "I support George Bush" ribbons piss me off so much. It's not the job of civilians to make a soldier's sacrifice worth something by patronizing him with a line about how he's really lucky to be fighting in such a great and important war. The fact that he's willing to fight in any war is reason enough to justify his sacrifice. A soldier's sacrifice is not the least bit diminished becuase he is fighting in an unnecessary war, like WWI, Vietnam, or Iraq, and only a spoiled, soft, pansy ass civilian would ever suggest such a thing. Soldiers sacrifice themselves as part of not only the most powerful but also the most professional military the world has ever seen, a hard fought professionalism that too many civilians like me take for granted. In America, we have a powerful military but we don't worry about coups, we don't worry about mutinies, we don't worry about an army that quits the field of battle, we don't worry about an army that demands political input, we don't worry about an army that plunders for a week after conquering a city, we don't worry about all the things that countries with strong militaries have worried about throughout all of history. Soldiers who die in the line of duty die for the honor of a military that has a damn lot to be proud of, a military whose ethos has made America stronger for more than 200 years.

Putting a yellow sticker on your car becuase you like George Bush is like patting a soldier on the head and saying, "That was a great war, don't you love the President?" It's not just vile because it's condescending, ignorant, and exploitative--it's vile because it dismisses your own responsibility to our soldiers.

As civilians, we have a responsibility to honor the sacrifice every soldier has already made when he steps on the field of battle. In this professional military, he has literally given over his life to us, promising to follow our civilian leaders even if he knows they're sending him over a cliff. Supporting the troops doesn't mean you put a yellow ribbon on your car becuase you like George Bush. Supporting the troops means you don't send them off to hell on a snipe hunt.

So, on behalf of all civilian Americans, I'd like to apologize to our troops. I knew this war was a bad idea. I tried to stop it, but I wasn't able to. I should have done more. We all should have done more--we should have debated it more, we should have demanded more from our leaders, we should have done something other than get caught up in the drums of war. And now I don't know what we have to do to fix it. I don't think any of us do. I'm sorry. You've done your job. I didn't do mine. I'll do better next time. I promise.


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