Having Your Cake and Stuffing Your Face With It Too

I hate the slogan “support the troops.” I think it’s meaningless tripe designed to stifle criticism and debate, and that it has no logical, moral, or philosophical basis whatsoever. And that it really fucks with how we relate to those human beings that are actually serving in the military, especially in Iraq.

A couple of recent posts and an article in The New Republic which consisted of observations regarding Iraq from an anonymous soldier made me think about this a bit more, and as usually happens when I think, I get angry. From the TNR article:

One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.

I know another private who really only enjoyed driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles because it gave him the opportunity to run things over. He took out curbs, concrete barriers, corners of buildings, stands in the market, and his favorite target: dogs. Occasionally, the brave ones would chase the Bradleys, barking at them like they bark at trash trucks in America–providing him with the perfect opportunity to suddenly swerve and catch a leg or a tail in the vehicle’s tracks. He kept a tally of his kills in a little green notebook that sat on the dashboard of the driver’s hatch. One particular day, he killed three dogs. He slowed the Bradley down to lure the first kill in, and, as the diesel engine grew quieter, the dog walked close enough for him to jerk the machine hard to the right and snag its leg under the tracks. The leg caught, and he dragged the dog for a little while, until it disengaged and lay twitching in the road. A roar of laughter broke out over the radio. Another notch for the book. The second kill was a straight shot: A dog that was lying in the street and bathing in the sun didn’t have enough time to get up and run away from the speeding Bradley. Its front half was completely severed from its rear, which was twitching wildly, and its head was still raised and smiling at the sun as if nothing had happened at all.

I didn’t see the third kill, but I heard about it over the radio. Everyone was laughing, nearly rolling with laughter. I approached the private after the mission and asked him about it.
“So, you killed a few dogs today,” I said skeptically.
“Hell yeah, I did. It’s like hunting in Iraq!” he said, shaking with laughter.
“Did you run over dogs before the war, back in Indiana?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied, and looked at me curiously. Almost as if the question itself was in poor taste.


War is hell; it messes with people. Badly. There are mountains of evidence supporting this claim, and there is no fucking evidence that anyone with any institutional clout, DEMOCRATS INCLUDED, are doing a damn thing about it (to say nothing of dealing with the same effects as they pertain to Iraqi civilians). You want a crime against humanity? Try this one, and it absolutely pales in comparison to what people who live in the Middle East are going through.

“Support the troops” doesn’t really speak to the fact that war is hell, does it? It doesn’t acknowledge the humanity under the helmet, and it sure as hell doesn’t allow for “the troops” to behave like those noted above.

So how does this ideologically warped concept stay “pure”?

Through massive enforcement and pressure from those interested in its maintenance, that’s how.

Digby makes a good point – as usual – about the backlash against the publication that printed this piece and the soldier who wrote it:

There has been precious little good writing about the actual gritty experiences of average soldiers in these wars. Everything has been so packaged and marketed from the top that it’s very difficult to get a sense of what it’s like over there. I have no idea if this piece is accurate, but regardless it didn’t seem to me to be an indictment of the military in general, merely a description of the kind of gallows humor and garden variety cruelty that would be likely to escalate in violent circumstances. And so far, there has been nothing substantial brought forward to doubt his story — the shrieking nitpicking of the 101st keyboarders notwithstanding.

It certainly should not have have garnered this vicious right wing attack from everyone from Bill Kristol to the lowliest denizens of the right blogosphere. They want to destroy this soldier for describing things that have been described in war reporting since Homer so they can worship “the troops” without having to admit that the whole endeavor is a bloody, horrible mess that only briefly, and rarely, offers opportunity for heroic battlefield courage (which, of course, it sometimes does as well.)


It appears that what’s truly important is maintaining the narrative surrounding “support the troops” rather than providing any meaningful acknowledgment of the clusterfuck that is Iraq. Which makes perfect sense, given the context. But it’s still repulsive, and I don’t think people who have those damned yellow flags on their vehicles are really thinking about this when they slap ’em on.

Or maybe they are, and they’re just being exploited for fucked-up political reasons. I could go either way on that one.

I just don’t want to be accused of not “supporting the troops” ever again. If “supporting the troops” means supporting the shit that Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp wrote about, then fuck that. If it means supporting human beings in their quest to remain human beings, then yeah, I think we’ve reached a starting point. Just don’t tell me that “supporting the troops” requires supporting immoral, barbaric behavior. That’s a dangerous place to be, especially on accident.

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