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On “Supporing the Troops”

February 4, 2009

I know this has been said before—many times—but it apparently bears repeating, because I’m still hearing it.

What the heck do people mean when they say they “support the troops”? Here are a couple of possibilities:

  1. They are actively campaigning the state, asking that troops be withdrawn from unnecessary military occupations overseas.
  2. They are actively campaigning the state, asking that troops in military action receive better protections (i.e.: better armor, bullet-proof vests, etc.).
  3. They are sending troops “care packages” with friendly letters and personal amenities unavailable oversees.
  4. They are praying that supernatural beings will protect the troops and help them annihilate their opponents.
  5. They are putting a yellow ribbon sticker on their car or are actively saying to others that “I support the troops.”

By my estimation, few people who say “I support the troops” are campaigning the state or sending care packages.  It seems like most people who say this are simply stating they support the troops or praying.

It is not clear to me that merely praying or stating “I support the troops” actually supports the interests of the troops. In fact, it is my understanding that these actions (and sending care packages as well) leave the status quo in place (in lieu of challenging it), meaning that the troops remain forced to engage in dangerous military action. So, praying and saying “I support the troops” and sending care packages may actually inhibit the interests of the troops.

However, saying “I support the troops” seems to perform an important social function. In sum, it allows people to have their cake and eat it too: they rhetorically position themselves as caring for the troops (as if people who are opposed to foreign military occupation wish the troops harm) while, at the same time, declining to do anything that would help them.

The caption below is fictional, but it could be true:

deceased, deceased, deceased, deceased.

Troops with care packages; from left to right: deceased, deceased, deceased, deceased.

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