A lot of the “Support our troops” rhetoric has been re-emerging lately, seemingly not unlike Prometheus’ liver in its ability to regenerate itself, and it’s continuing to do a very good job of the thing it was designed to do, which is shutting me up.
There’s a number of reasons why it leaves me scratching my head, slack-jawed and unable to respond, not least because it’s always seemed to be such an obvious straw man argument to me: nobody *doesn’t* support the troops. Nobody’s cheering at the idea of American soldiers getting shot at. People bring up the military men returning from Vietnam who were spit on: but I find it extremely difficult to credit that that’s going to happen now. The cultural climate’s changed, not least because of people yelling about supporting our troops.
Taking the argument at face value, I just plain don’t get it, and I’m the first to admit it: I don’t see how claiming that the invasion of Iraq was a horrifically bad administrative decision, a bureaucratic fuck-up for Blobby’s Big Book of Bureaucratic Fuck-Ups, is somehow an expression of contempt for the guys on the ground.
Probing a little deeper, I think it has to do with a differing concept of love: that for them, love of country must be composed of a kind of blind adulation, an unwavering support for everything it does. Let’s add this to the list of the things I fail to get. I mean, I love my family, but I can acknowledge that they’ve done some pretty fucked-up things. If I found out that, say, my nephew had murdered somebody, I would do everything I could to help: speaking in his defense, getting him a good lawyer, trying to get his sentence reduced, et cetera. I get the impression that the “Support-our-troops” camp would be helping him hide the body.
But we can get a little deeper than that, can’t we? Ultimately, the reason I have such a hard time responding to the slogan is because there’s a grain of truth to it: I *don’t* support our troops. I support the American people; in a broader sense, I support the human race, the species into which I was born, of which the military branch of the United States government comprises a very small percentage. As long as that percentage is doing work that I feel is beneficial to the rest of the species — including my favorite component of it, me — then, yeah, I’ll support it. When I feel that it’s doing work that’s actively harmful? I’d be nuts to.
None of which, none, is passing any kind of judgment upon the individuals inhabiting that percentage. I don’t have any issues, good or bad, with the individuals. It’s collectives I don’t trust: and that’s the case whether they’re parties, corporations, governments — or militaries. As James Madison put it, “A standing army is one of the greatest mischief that can possibly happen.” (His syntax, not mine.)
One of the better concepts drilled into me growing up was “Love the sinner, hate the sin” — and if we can sidestep for the moment how terribly loaded those particular word choices are, all it’s really saying is that people can do shit you don’t approve of without you passing judgment on them.
In my last political satire, Libertarian Rage, I made a conscious decision early on not to mention any politicians by name — because I wasn’t interested in ridiculing *people*, I was interested in ridiculing *ideologies*. I may object to just about every decision Bush has made since he was appointed to his office by the Supreme Court (including, y’know, that one) — and I will call him on every bullshit decision he makes — but I am singularly ill-equipped to pass any judgment on him as a person, as a human being, because I *don’t fucking know him*. I honestly can’t tell if he’s a bumbling puppet or brilliant con-man or a dangerously wide-eyed idealist. And even if I could, I don’t know what his private thoughts are in the dead of night, nor do I have any desire to. Not my job.
Christ’s injunction to “Love thy enemies” is one that gets thrown around pretty glibly, but its implications are terrifying: it means, well, loving your enemies. It means loving Osama bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein; it means loving both your military and political opponents; it means finding a way to love George W. Bush. Not letting them get away with shit. But not passing judgment on the contents of their hearts, either.
Vengeance is easier. Rage is easier. Hell, a lot of the time it’s useful, too — witness this site. But left unchecked, it leads to things like blood feuds, crusades — and wars. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness — they’re hard. They’re *fucking* hard. But if we entered this raging inferno in a state of grief and anger, we’re not gonna crawl our way out for as long as we’re clinging to the things that brought us here…
…e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.