What Does It Mean to ‘Support the Troops’?

When Patriotism Means “Shut Up”

The simplistic propaganda that equates “support for the troops” with support for the President’s war politics has always been cheap demagoguery, designed to shut down (or in the case of talk radio, out shout) reasoned political criticism of the war. Right-wing talk radio runs wild with such demagoguery, of course. “Patriotism is supporting our troops on the battlefield, not undermining the mission and morale,” says Rush Limbaugh. Beyond giving us a window into Limbaugh’s inner totalitarian, what is the man really saying? Does he mean we should endorse bombing raids that rain death and sorrow on the Iraqi landscape? Does he mean we should cheer Marine snipers who pick off human targets in the dark of a Fallujah night? Or maybe he means we should salute those soldiers who under the corrosive influence of the occupation culture erode into heartless killing machines, delivering death to Iraqis with a shrug of indifference for their “raghead” lives?

Or, does supporting the troops mean telling the truth about the war? It should. The staggering human costs of the war, measured now in the over 1,000,000 Iraqis estimated to have died under its auspices, according to the latest estimations by British pollsters Opinion Research Business (ORB), represent a historic crime against humanity. No wonder 78 percent of Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition troops in their country, as reported in a recent ABC News-USA Today poll. No wonder nearly half of all Iraqis support attacks on American troops.

Indeed, the bipartisan beltway bickering of our political leaders over the merits of the troop surge plays out like a tragic, corrupt farce when set against Iraq’s catastrophic reality. “The violence in Iraq is overshadowing a humanitarian crisis, with eight million Iraqis-nearly one in three-in need of emergency aid,” concludes a July report from Oxfam International and a network of aid organizations working in Iraq. Currently, 70 percent of Iraqis are without adequate water supplies, up 20 percent from 2003. Twenty-eight percent of children are malnourished, up from 19 percent before the invasion. Fifteen percent of the population regularly cannot buy enough food. Fifty percent unemployment continues to stalk many areas of the country.

Among U.S. troops the casualties now number over 3,800 dead and 29,000 wounded. More than 185,000 returning veterans have sought medical and disability assistance for post-traumatic stress and other injuries. And the Bush Administration’s only answer is more of the same. No wonder also that like the public at large, many U.S. troops increasingly question the war. A Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll taken in 2006, for example, found 72 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq supported an exit from the country within a year. Only one in five favored the President’s “stay the course” rhetoric. read article

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