I Do Not “Support the Troops”

The phrase is a cliché & buried in the cliché are a pair of pernicious ideas: 1) That individual soldiers are without moral, existential, responsibility for their acts; 2) that to argue the Iraq war is wrong, misguided, ill-conceived, badly managed, stupid, indecent, horrifying, & damaging to US interests is to somehow wish harm to "the troops." Each "troop" is a moral agent & though we make certain allowances for individuals acting under military orders, one of the benchmarks of civilization is that we hold soldiers to a moral standard of responsibility. (Unless we secretly wish the "troops" to carry out our atavistic fantasies of violence, in which case we will exempt them from morality; that is, we will turn them into beasts.) I hate the war & I understand those fighting it to be participating in an immoral undertaking; that does not mean I wish them harmed. On the contrary, I wish that they would come to their moral senses. The cliché "support the troops" is simply the most obvious node in a self-congratulatory web of patriotic discourse threatening what the patriots claim to believe in. And it is a very successful discourse, since even opponents of the war must kneel at the alter of the sanctified "troops." So, neighbor, take your magnetized Support the Troops ribbon & shove it up your ass. I hear that magnetism has magical properties. Maybe that will do some good against the cancer growing on your conscience. Update: "Send a boy to war and he comes home talking dirty," wrote Tim O'Brien in "How to Tell a True War Story." O'Brien's war was Vietnam; here are some examples from the current war.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

44 thoughts on “I Do Not “Support the Troops””

  1. “I hate the war & I understand those fighting it to be participating in an immoral undertaking; that does not mean I wish them harmed. On the contrary, I wish that they would come to their moral senses.”

    Whether or not they come to their moral senses, they are contractually obliged to do what the moral sense of their bosses indicates. The vast majority of them will honor that contract, regardless of what it calls upon them to do.

    So, it is of course one thing to rightly blame the troops for the crimes they perpetrate.

    It is also right to blame the people for having an insufficient moral sense to do whatever it might take to bring the troops home immediately.

    In any case, the victims of Bush’s and America’s crimes continue to suffer horribly every day.


    In the quick rhythmic repetitions
    of a pigeon feasting on an Egg McMuffin
    tossed from a Hummer seconds before
    it wrestled with a bomb

    there’s an open space
    descending deep into the ground
    showing the beginning is still at work

    under so much intellectual skill
    and tension going back in calculated time
    to when death was a way of honoring
    one another but now

    we can seize its real potential once again
    as political performance art for as long
    as we can watch.

  3. Peter, I love this one. In all the poems you’ve posted here, I’m particularly moved by the precision of the vocabulary & rhythm. We’re going to have to do a chapbook of these or something.

  4. “I do not support the troops” — why am I not surprised?

    Horrors, that might require communal solidarity with the unwashed masses, with one’s fellow citizens, with the nation and its history and institutions, and how could so supremely superior and enlightened a person be expected to do that?

    “Making mock of uniforms” is always in fashion among the bleatingly conformist sheep of academia — who like to see themselves as brave dissidents, of course, when they’re really part of an entrenched establishment and a privileged, unaccountable elite.(*)

    Here it’s combined with the usual abysmal historical ignorance. Following the links in the above article, one finds again and again things which are simply the inevitable routine of war — any war — presented as horrifying novelties in Iraq.

    My father-in-law fought in the “good war”, from Normandy to Prague. He was the BAR gunner in his squad, and so was charged with certain duties — shooting prisoners, for example.

    This happened about 50% of the time when Germans surrendered in ones or twos or small groups; there wasn’t time or personnel to spare for them, so they “took them down to the end of the road”. That was Europe; the Pacific War was notably rougher.

    Then there’s my uncle and his “reconaissance by fire” of Belgian farmhouses (shooting them up with a .50 caliber to see if there were Germans inside), or the 30,000 French civilians we killed in the month before D-Day during the bombings aimed at interdicting the transport net, but why go on?

    War, all war, is a brutal exercise in domination, in political coercion through organized mass violence. This is true of all sides in every conflict, without exception. “Intra armes, silent leges.”

    You don’t pick up a gun to make people love you; you do it to make them obey out of fear. Everything else is propaganda, which is to say, lies for fools.

    If anything, the war in Iraq has been accompanied by unusual and excessive restraint on our part. Restraint in war is seldom justified; it simply prolongs things, and therefore results in more damage in the long run.

    (*) unaccountable until recently. Things are changing…

  5. On one point I would take issue with klasher’s post. That is, the Uniform Code of Military Justice has within it policy and procedure for dealing with soldiers as moral agents. In fact, though they are generally required to follow orders, soldiers may also choose not to do so and may not be prosecuted for this on a variety of grounds. Therefore, our troops currently in Iraq do have an option. As to whether or not government prosecution would be successful, I have no legal expertise to offer. But I suspect we all know what the most likely outcome would be.

  6. “War, all war, is a brutal exercise in domination, in political coercion through organized mass violence. This is true of all sides in every conflict, without exception. ‘Intra armes, silent leges’.”

    And that’s an argument for war? I suppose this is what passes for moral realism on the American Right these days. I think Tim O’Brien’s sentence, quoted in the update above, is a more eloquent statement about the ugliness of war.

    As for my historical “ignorance,” I would simply note that I was not addressing previous wars, though I might have made the analogy to Vietnam, another war fought for corrupt causes by corrupt leaders. The reasons for a war make a difference in assessing the moral responsibility of those who fight it.

    I thought I would receive more comments like S.M. Sterling’s. I expected the clichés about the left, though sliding in the attack on academics was, while not novel, at least enterprising.

  7. U.S. soldiers are indeed moral agents. Their responsibilities are to carry out the political economic will of our government by way of military force. And, in a democratic republic such as ours, one might say their responsibilities are to carry out the political economic will of their fellow enfranchised citizens. I think you are pointing your finger in the wrong direction. Your beef is with our democratic republic and the power elite we have allowed to control our military resources. Your beef is not with our soldiers. They are doing EXACTLY what they should be doing. If there have been moral failures that led us to or have kept us in our Southwest Asia wars or our war in Iraq specifically, then we and our fellow U.S. voters are the moral agents responsible for those failures.

  8. My haiku;
    Political prisoners
    ghosts inside our new machine
    you are a douche bag.

  9. Leave the country, you commie. The DemoKKKratic Party is the party of, by and for the terrorists. You aren’t patriotic. You hate this country, its traditions, its people, its institutions, its constitution and you won’t rest until we’re living under Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro. Fuck you.

  10. “So, neighbor, take your magnetized Support the Troops ribbon & shove it up your ass.”

    In isolation, I could forgive a single line of crudity, but in reality, nothing gets applause from the Left more quickly than profanity, and in normal discourse, it’s not the Right which almost immediately descends into it when their views are challenged by someone who can actually hold his own.

    It does not, therefore, surprise me that the Chronicle of Higher Education saw fit to deem this particular post of this particularly blog academically noteworthy. It’s what “academia” has become.

  11. Thank you for having the guts to clarify what we on the right have always thought. You guys really don’t support the troops, even though they obviously didn’t choose this war. They joined the military for many reasons but always understanding that they might have to actually use what they’ve been taught. They accepted this risk because they love their (dare I say our) country. They didn’t join Bush’s military, they joined America’s military.
    Would you have supported them if Clinton had the guts to back up his words about the evil, dangereous Saddam that had weapons of mass distruction? Or maybe you actually believe that Bush lied but Clinton was just mistaken when he said the same things.

  12. Dear jd –
    You have failed to address the argument posited by Mr. Stirling, and instead substitute a number of ad hominem attacks and references designed to create outrage in general. I recommend Adams’ “Best War Ever” concerning the subject of WWII, which, to reiterate, you have neglected to address.

  13. I am not sure I understand your logic.

    Presumably when you say that you “wish the troops to come to their moral senses” you are advocating the individual troops refusing to serve, not re-enlisting, etc. Actions whose aim would be to cause the US to withdraw.

    Yet, every analysis of the situation indicates that there would be massive civilian casualties if the US withdrew as the various factions would be at each other’s throats.

    In what way would this be the “moral” solution? To abandon thousands to genocide and ethnic cleansing?

    While withdrawing from Iraq may be in the US national interest, it is in no way can be termed to be the most “moral” solution. In fact it is the
    “amoral” solution as it disposes of any consequences to Iraqis caused by our withdrawal.

  14. Thank you for this post. It’s honesty is as refreshing as its conclusions are appalling.

    For several years it has been interesting for those of who support the war and the troops to watch the left try formulation and formulation that allowed them to praise the troops while damning the war.

    That might have worked in Vietnam when most troops were conscripts (not that it was tried) but today’s servicemen and women know what they are volunteering for. Nearly 6 years after 9/11 and 4 years after the invasion of Iraq no one can claim ignorance.

    It’s refreshing to see a war opponent acknowledge that today’s military is made up of men and women who are responsible for the choices they have made. To often opponents of the war degraded those they claimed to support by claiming they are ‘children’ who were ‘lied to’.

    It seems the left has finally had its fill of this charade, what with the publication of ludicrous stories from Iraq in the Nation, the front page post on Daily Kos (not by a mere diarist but by a co-blogger) and of course the latest hate filled rant by a has been celebrity, again on the Daily Kos (the lefts premiere weblog and host to all the Democratic presidential candidates at its yearly convention).

    Thank you for providing a honest statement of belief that so many of your fellow anti-war partisans fail to make.

    I look forward to this debate finally playing out between all sides in a honest and open way. I hope more people on the left will follow your example and be honest enough to say what they really believe about our troops.

  15. As for my historical “ignorance,” I would simply note that I was not addressing previous wars, though I might have made the analogy to Vietnam, another war fought for corrupt causes by corrupt leaders.

    If you keep talking about Ho Chi Minh or Gen. Giap like that, you’ll lose your lefty academic bonifides.

    How much academic freedom do you think you’ll have under the caliphate?

  16. I give S.M. Sterling my post of the day award.

    ‘warfought for corrupt causes by corrupt leaders. The reasons for a war make a difference in assessing the moral responsibility of those who fight it.’
    Sounds like my grandmother. She thought that ‘Pearl Harbor’ was justified. Some things never change. She also believed the ‘European War’ was none of our business. FDR simply did a good job of quelling dissent. She was a ‘Taft’ Repubican, a protectionist.

    As for Vietnam, you should really not engage in revisionist leftist history.

    Read this:
    UNHERALDED VICTORY: The Defeat of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army 1961-1973
    by Mark W. Woodruff

  17. This is quite a leap of logic you’ve made, asserting that somewhere in the phrase “support the troops” lies the notion that “[I]ndividual soldiers are without moral, existential, responsibility for their acts.” You live in a representative democracy which decided in 2003 to send troops to Iraq. If you disapprove of the actions they undertake ostensibly on your behalf and indisputably by way of your tax dollars, whose fault is that? “Support the troops” is a much-abused political slogan. But how about people like myself who use it, for whom “Support the troops” means this: Either pass the Iraq supplemental and keep supplying the people our president and lawmakers put in harm’s way to fight this war, or grow a pair and force lawmakers to use the legitimate congressional power of the purse to end the war. Pick one. You seem to regard the ethos of people who support this war effort as so retrograde — “cancer growing on your conscience” — that I wonder how can you stomach paying for it with your tax dollars at all. Do you at least withhold your tax contributions? I see from the bios of you available on the Web that you haven’t taken (or haven’t advertised taking) an NEA or NEH grant for a decade. That is a good start.

  18. I have a question for left-leaning academians since they are inclined to trash this war and now the supporters of it by its sloganeering. The war-supporting types draw their conclusions on the righteousness of this war from 9/11 and the obvious (or wait, I’m a righty questioning a lefty, TRUMPED UP) attempts by the aligned forces to damage property and injure citizens of the United States (can’t say ‘OUR COUNTRY’, that’s another bumper sticker waiting to get stuck in an orafice). We often rationalize the war in terms of the sacred cow or wars that even the hardest Marxist won’t deny was righteous, WWII. This may upset lefty anti-war types for making that analogy (likewise for lefties upseting righties comparing this war to Vietnam, which may fruitate in outcome given our current Congress). My question is when do anti-war academics begin to dismantle WWII for being the great war that conservatives point to for being the justification and necessity of war in an attempt dress down current or future arguments for war, especially in cases when the United States (again, not going po-mo) is attacked. My impression is this will start to happen when the boomer deneration begins to die off and those who told us the oracle of us being the good guys (henchforth, Mr. Stirling’s decendents doing things that obviously would get them in big trouble today) and the Nazi Germany being the bad guys. That has always been the oracle and little has questioned it, since a lot is talked about the justification to going to extremes to defeat the Germans and the Japenese. If those who have no emotional link to that sacrifice are around, it will make those who only see that war in terms of horrible photographs, calculations of casualties and such to look at the intrinisic factors of, say, the Nazis, and see what could be perceived as our diplomatic are administrative bungles which led the Germans to the conlusion of rolling through Eastern Europe. Then, of course, there was no sacrifice really to value when approaching that or any conflict. And that will make it easier to shove supporting our military up our collective asses (er, I mean the argument to not go to war).

  19. Well I support the war, and I also support sending those against the war to concentration camps until the end of hostilities.

  20. Its very difficult for me to understand your perspective, but then again, my head is not shoved up your ass, so we are seeing different things.

    Facts are, whether we should be there or not, we are there and frankly, leaving the place to ethnic strife and terrorism is immoral, is it not?

    But who cares right? fuck em

  21. To those who do not support our troops and wish to shove items up our backsides I simply say:
    Traitor and fool.
    Go live in Cuba or Iran. They hate us too.
    But beware of trying to speak freely in those countries.
    Hooray for the troops.
    Hooray for America.
    Hooray for freedom.

  22. It’s all well and good to spew this bullshit blogging from an ivory tower, but if you had any stones you would take your message to the moral agents themselves.

    Some handy directions you can print out.

    1.Head south on Court St toward Pearl St
    0.3 mi

    2.Turn right at Main St/RT-68/US-11
    0.3 mi

    3.Turn left at Gouverneur St/US-11
    Continue to follow US-11

    48.7 mi

    4.Turn left at RT-26
    2.6 mi

    5.Turn right at Pleasant St
    0.2 mi

    6.Turn left toward 4th St E
    0.8 mi

    7.Turn left at 4th St E
    0.8 mi

    8.Turn right at Oneida Ave
    0.4 mi

  23. Notwithstanding the flaws in your logic, your short tirade boils down to the simple statement that “I’m right, and you [troops and their supporters] are wrong. My perception of what is moral is right. Your perception of what is moral is wrong.” Is it them that need to come to their senses, or you? Perhaps less regurgitation and more original reason would help.

  24. Are you equating jus ad bellum with jus in bello. The Law of War (UN Charter, Geneva Conventions, Hague Regs among others) can be divided into two branches jus ad bellum (those laws which govern how we get into a war, i.e., is it an aggressive war or self defense) and jus in bello (regardless of how we got into the war–those regs that govern our conduct during the war).

    The law of war does not hold the individual soldier for how the war started (i.e., jus ad bellum). If that is what you are arguing, that would be novel under the law of war. National leaders (civilian and maybe military in the case of other countries) who make the decision to go to war are the ones accountable for that decision.

    The individual soldier is held accountable for his or her actions during the war (jus in bello). During the war in Iraq, numerous individual soldiers and Marines have been convicted for their war crimes at Abu Ghraib and the murder at Hamdaniya or are currently being prosecuted for war crimes at Haditha, the charges of rape and murder against Steven Green in Iraq, or the investigation and soon charges for war crimes in Fallujah.

    To say that the US does not hold individual soldiers and Marines accountable for war crimes is contrary to the evidence in the Washington Post every day.

    The US military is the world leader in holding “the troops” accountable for war crimes. Other nations have to have international tribunals do it for them. Our military does it for themselves and is generally effective at it.

    I think your argument is with the President and the Congress that gave him the authority to go to war–not “the troops.”

  25. Like Drew, I welcome this honest debate. The “support the troops by bringing them home” sentiment is dishonest and misguided. As a soldier returning to Iraq for the second time I agree that 1) I am an independant moral agent, 2) I volunteered for service understanding the stakes, and 3) I should be judged on my actions. Nobody should feel the need to kneel at my alter.

    Now if the Democratic leaders of Congess could be as honest as the author of this post, it would be a refreshing development indeed. At least they could insist on my defeat without having to tell me it is for my own good.

  26. “So, neighbor, take your magnetized Support the Troops ribbon & shove it up your ass.”

    No, “neighbor,” you shove it up YOURS.

    You’re talking about my son, and a lot of other people’s sons and daughters, and I, for one, take your vile, ignorant, hateful, faux-intellectual spewings very seriously and very personally.

    Your ramblings say a lot more about you, and your twisted concept of “morality,” than it does about the people whom you attack.

    Something tells me you got beat up a lot when you were a kid. Then again, being the overgrown brat you obviously are, maybe you weren’t beat up ENOUGH.

    So c’mon tough guy, let’s see your “truth to power” shtick in action: I double-dare you to go to any bar outside the main gate at Fort Bragg, on a Saturday night of your choice, and repeat out loud what you said above. We’ll all quickly learn how much of a man you really are.

    As for me, I’m ready to lay down a C-note right now that says you ain’t got a hair on your pasty white arse.

  27. I find it interesting that the right wing types on this blog either sink immediately to cretinism, (“f…you” or “eat s… and die”)or paint with such a broad brush, (“all you liberals hate our troops.”)
    I am a left wing, Eugene V. Debs, loving liberal and yet I, being the father of a member of our military who served nine years in the military myself find the comments by the author here to be utterly abhorrent, mindless drivel. It reminds me of the Amish or the Friends church who are on the whole conscientious objectors. What a luxury! To oppose war and yet to hide behind those who fight your wars for you.
    No doubt George W. Bush a liar and a pig, but the 19 or 20 year old kids who have pure, altruistic motives when they join the military deserve our love and respect in no uncertain terms. For a supposed learned person I find your comments shockingly insensitive.

  28. You are hearby invited to move to said country where the military can really mean what you think it does, like Iran or Syria.
    Please try posting this and then standing in a town square of your peers for oh, say five minutes.
    You will be “disappeared” before you can blink your eyes.
    Those men and women in uniform that you despise are the ones who protect your right to post such assinine bat guano that makes you appear “enlightented” to the next “free love” and “no war” society.
    If it pains you so to see America still the home of the free and land of the brave (that’s warrior talk kemosabe) then you really ought to be peddling your dribble in a country that can remain truly nuetral, like Switzerland in WWII.
    You know netral enough to hide Nazi gold and still be able to criticize the U.S. for being brash.

  29. Soldiers perform the duties imposed upon them by the representative government elected by the people. If you don’t support the troops, you don’t support the system. You can be a member of the loyal opposition, but to expect the troops to disobey lawful orders because you oppose the will of the electorate is to call for acts of rebellion and treason. You are free to have an opinion regarding the war and the soldiers, but the soldiers are simply performing their lawful duty as directed by the representatives of the people of the United States.

  30. Why is college tuition increasing at 3 times the rate of inflation? Why are college professors and administrators paid so much for part-time work, especially since they have slaves/TAs working without medical benefits, minimum wage, etc. Why are liberal elitists at the universities across this country making it impossible for the middle class to educate their children? Why do they allow people to graduate dumber than dirt and unqualified to fry an egg?

    I support the troops much more than I support a liberal, white rich academic with way too much time on his hand hating our country, but collecting a big fat paycheck and conspiring against the working class sending their children to college.

  31. Karen, you need to meet more college teachers. I’ve never had a TA in my life. And I can assure you that my income is solidly middle class. Maybe you could write my dean and suggest he get one of those “big fat paychecks” in the mail to me. I agree, by the way, that college education is too expensive. Actually, I think it ought to be free to anyone who can do the work, all the way through to the PhD. But that would require taxpayer money, which you seem to be against spending.

    It is a great privilege, though, to be a college teacher. Not because I work “part time.” (You don’t know how much I work, obviously.) But I do get paid reasonably well for doing work I love & making a contribution to American society. More than 90% of the graduates of my university have a job within six months of graduating & GE, Citicorp & other giant corporations can’t be employing them all as egg-fryers, I think. Some also go to work for non-profits working on the environment, social issues, etc. In short, you have conjured up a boogyman of academia & then denounced it. Your picture of my life is, very simply, untrue.

  32. JD –

    I find your posting and the underlying moral weakness that prompted you to write it reprehensible, but it’s your right to say what you believe and it is no surprise that as a veteran I strongly disagree with your viewpoint. We each see things in our own unique ways.

    I did, however, want to chime in with the observation that I am impressed that you haven’t pruned the comments, no matter how vitriolic. That’s a bit of fortitude that isn’t really the norm anymore.

  33. Thanks, Dave. But I have an “underlying moral weakness” that is “reprehensible,” but your are “impressed” by my “fortitude.” Sounds like maybe ideas & judgments don’t fit so well on bumper stickers or in nasty blog comments. Which was part of what I was trying to say in the first place.

    Dave, since you are a veteran, let me address you directly & say this one last time. I have not called for harm to any American soldier serving anywhere: I think they have been miserably used by men who care nothing about their well-being, or indeed, about their lives. But neither do I think that serving in a misbegotten, elective war & bloody occupation is wrong. And, unlike many Americans, I am unwilling to hide behind a simple-minded, knee-jerk motto. I hate lies & “support the troops” is a kind of lie. Look at the quotation marks in my post’s title & in the body. What do you think they mean? Presumably, you would agree with me that soldiers are neither children nor robots.

  34. i’ll paraphrase general stark,

    in order for some to live free some may die: for the soldier, death is not the worst of evils

  35. I hear that magnetism has magical properties


    and since we are essentially reviving a medieval conflict, why not revive medieval concepts like alchemy as well?

  36. I don’t disagree with Mr. Petey, above. But that’s not what I was talking about. But the war-freak Right seems to positively delight in soldier’s deaths. Those deaths are a component of their violent fantasies about power, feeding the atavistic beast. Apologists for atrocity, torture & the apparent murder of fellow-soldiers who don’t toe the militaristic line … That’s why the Freepers & other psychotics’ most hysterical hatred is turned on members of the military who decide that they are in fact moral agents with moral responsibilities. Developing: Pat Tillman murdered by fellow Army Rangers who didn’t like his views on Iraq? Now, there are some “troops” the war-freaks will “support” without reservation.

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