November 2022

 "He is the universal soldier and he really is to blame, but his orders come from far away no more. They come from him and you and me, and brothers, can’t you see, his is not the way we put an end to war."

  “Universal Soldier” – Buffy Sainte-Marie

I started writing this essay on Memorial Day 2006. I had just finished listening on the radio in New Hampshire to one of those obligatory Memorial Day lists of men and women who had died in Iraq in the past year. It was a long list, and that particular list only included military people with Massachusetts ties. There wasn't time to give the longer list of all the U. S. war casualties of the previous three years.

  According to the narrative accompanying the list, every man and every woman whose name was read was a hero. If you approved of the Iraq war, you probably agree. If you didn't support the war - well, you probably agree, also. But should you?

  Over and over again, I heard people opposing  the Iraq war in the strongest terms - citing its immorality, needless destructiveness of life and property, mercenary self-interest, and occasionally its sadistic viciousness. Then I heard these same people extolling the virtues of the young Americans involved in the conflict, admonishing everyone to "support our troops" no matter how wrong the war. Folks, this is nuts. It was wrong for the Iraq war; it is wrong for most other wars that we become embroiled in.

    Change the situation a little bit, then think about what you're saying:

*My son is a serial killer, but I support him.

*My daughter beats her children, but I support her.

*My husband is a pedophile, but I support him.

*My brother is stealing money from his business, but I support him.

  Do you say those things? Maybe you do, but I bet what you really mean is that you hate what they''ve done, but you still love them, and you'll see they get a good attorney or psychiatrist, you'll visit them in jail, and you'll help them rehabilitate when they get out. You're not saying that you are going to help them keep doing the wrong things they've been doing. And yet, what you are really saying when you say you "support the troops" is that you are willing to continue enabling them to do immoral, illegal, mercenary and sadistic things.

  Face it: If you feel a war is unjust, then it is unreasonable to regard the people fighting it as just or heroic.

  This is a hard one for those opposing any war. Few want to appear unpatriotic (for, after all, patriotism is the hallmark of the true American); fewer still want to be branded (as they will be) as being indifferent to the loss of American lives. But remember that wars can only occur if there are people willing to fight them. There have been times when young men were required by law to go to war - as in our years of death and futility in Viet Nam. Some still resisted, and were punished for their “lack of patriotism.” Our current military is all voluntary. No one made any of these men and women fight against their wills. They are either: (1) mercenaries who fight for the money or the thrill; (2) people who consider themselves "patriots," who feel they are "fighting for their country," and that killing is a legitimate way to deal with problems; (3) folks who are in the military as a career, and are willing to follow any orders given them in order to maintain that career; or (4) people who never for a moment thought they would be in a war, who joined a National Guard unit either to serve in local emergencies or who sold themselves for (as one of the commercial come-ons put it) some extra money to buy a boat. None of these reasons is heroic in itself, and dying for any of these reasons does not constitute heroism.

  I don't think there are any "just wars," but there are people who opposed the Iraq war who feel it is okay to kill people and destroy civilizations in other circumstances. These people often point out that military people have to fight wars, no matter what they think of them, because they aren't free to pick and choose between the wars they will and won't fight. Sure, they are. As I began this essay in 2006, the news reported that a career military officer had just refused to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty because he had become convinced that it was an unjust, immoral war. I'm sure there was a penalty for his decision - dishonorable discharge, possibly loss of pension, maybe even jail time - but apparently his personal integrity made him willing to pay that penalty, rather than obeying orders he felt were immoral. Others have made similar decisions in the past; others will make them in the future. Anyone can make them who has a strong enough conviction that disobeying orders is worth the personal sacrifice. If we judged the Iraq war - or any war - as evil, as our verbiage indicated we did, then these refusers are the people we should be considering heroes, not the ones who keep the conflict going.

  Do you really want to "support the troops?" Then, help find a way to stop senseless killing and being killed. Elect politicians who will see to it that war is not the first choice for settling differences between nations. Demand of our leaders that the United States become a cooperator with other nations, not a selfish bully. Work through your elected officials to make sure that there is a clear demarcation between the military and the National Guard, so those who chose to serve this country in its domestic needs are available at home in times of crisis, and can support their families. And "support the troops" when they come home, with proper medical and psychological care so necessary after the damages of any war.

I feel sad that so many Americans were killed in Iraq, but no sadder that I feel for all the Iraqi lives lost. I feel compassion for the American families who lost husbands, wives, lovers, sons and daughters, but no more compassion than I feel for the far greater number of shattered Iraqi families. I support every effort of the United States to work as cooperator in resolving problems around the world. But if I don't support a war, then I don't support the troops.




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