Support Our Troops

Ever since the first "support our troops" stickers appeared on the backs of cars, I've wondered what was the point of putting them there. I assumed they must be there to make the drivers feel empowered, just as "united we stand" and flag stickers proliferated right after 9/11 to buck us up with righteous anger and ward off our demoniac fears.

That slogan turned stale after a couple of weeks, and the new one didn't stay fresh much longer. The former statement was a declaration of defiance—unfortunately to the choir. The latter was an imperative lacking a mode of action. How were we supposed to support our troops? Most of them were (and still are) overseas. Give us a charity to give money to or an address to send care packages to (and tell us what to put in them: socks? porn? humvee armor?). Don't just tell us to "support" our troops. (Note: Stars and Stripes has a few suggestions—by way of Gnomon.)

But now I'm not so sure the slogan is innocent. Until recently, I assumed it was an entreaty. Now I wonder if it's not an order: "Keep your mouth shut." And even if it doesn't mean that (assuming there's a way to gauge its meaning), enough sloganeers are saying as much. Saying that talk of all the bombings and consequent civilian and military deaths in Iraq undermines the "war effort."

But I don’t see it. Do we imagine that Iraqi "insurgents," in a country with rampant power shortages where phones often do not work, spend their time tuned to CNN and not, say, trying to kill other Iraqis or Americans? If they do watch it—after wading through news about the social security and tort-reform debates in the US—is it the news of violence in Iraq that lifts their downtrodden spirits? Or is it that they can walk outside and see the rampant devastation and fear first hand? The effectiveness of their terrorist attacks is probably clearer to them in person than on TV.

Then again, maybe it's not the terrorists that criticism affects. Maybe military personnel see criticism of their laudatory efforts and wonder why they're in Iraq. Maybe they were troubled by the pictures from Abu Ghraib, or that question posed to Rumsfeld about lack of armor, or the piling-up of evidence that we were suckered into conflict, or the news that we had no post-war plans and not nearly enough troops to keep the peace. Or. Or. Or. But I suspect that just being in Iraq, with all the bombings and shortages and frustrated civilians (not to mention sand flies, sleep deprivation and Kafkaesque rescinding of orders home) does the trick.

What should we do? Shut up for a few years and keep our fingers crossed, standing by our man and presenting a "united front," no matter what happens in the war? How will that help our troops?

It won't. And no, I don't know what will, except giving them whatever they need to finish the crucial and dirty job they have to do. But that should not include silent obeisance to the White House. The irony would be stark indeed: Invading a country in order to "liberate" its people—and I'm not saying we didn't to some extent succeed—while at home calling those who question the invasion "anti-American" and telling them to shut up and present a "united front."

As a neighbor of the notorious California Pearcy family said, "I'm outraged. We have our men and women in uniform that are dying to protect our rights and I think it's a disgrace that somebody would be allowed to hang a U.S. soldier in effigy in front of their house." Evidently, she hasn't been listening to the President. Doesn't she know that the terrorists hate "our freedoms —our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other"?

While some self-styled "conservatives" rage at the anti-Americanism of Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy and the bias of the "MSM," our own Porter Goss testified yesterday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that
The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists.... Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.
Do we wish the committee had interviewed Goss in secret?

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