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Support Our Troops

A1C Courtney Wagner, getting the job done as the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster in 2017. When America thinks of “our” troops, someone like A1C Wagner may come to mind (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Divine Cox)

Today I saw a “support our troops” magnetic ribbon on a pickup truck. I used to see more of them, especially in the Bush/Cheney years of the Afghan and Iraq Wars. I don’t oppose the sentiment, though the “support” it encourages is undefined. I’ve always thought the best way to “support” our troops is to keep them out of unnecessary and disastrous wars. Even to bring them home, not only from these wars but from imperial outposts around the globe. But, again, “support” on these ribbons is unspecified, though the Pentagon seems to equate it with huge budgets that approach a trillion dollars every year.

Americans continue to profess confidence in “their” military, with 69% of us saying so in July 2021, whereas only 12% of us have much confidence in Congress. Can it be said we hold Congress in contempt? Americans know, I think, that Congress is bought and paid for, that it answers to the rich and the strong while dismissing the poor and the weak. If you’re looking for affordable health care, for higher pay, for fair treatment, best not look to Congress.

Indeed, if you want a $15 minimum wage, free government health care, and a government-funded college education, your only option is to enlist in the U.S. military. These “socialist” programs are a big part of the military, including government-provided housing as well. Yet we don’t think of them as socialistic when the person getting these benefits is wearing a military uniform.

Most Americans are isolated from the military and therefore have little understanding of its ways and even less understanding of its wars.

It’s truly remarkable that despite disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere, Americans continue to “support” and have great confidence in “our troops.” There are many reasons for this. I think most Americans recognize now that the wars our troops are sent to are losing concerns from the get-go. You really can’t blame the troops for failing to win unwinnable wars. You can, and should, blame the leaders for lying us into these wars and then lying again and again about (false) progress in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But the troops who bleed on the frontlines? No – we sense it’s not their fault.

I think many Americans also support our troops out of guilt and ignorance. Most Americans are isolated from the military and therefore have little understanding of its ways and even less understanding of its wars. Less than 1% of Americans currently serve in the military, plus there’s no draft, so young Americans can safely ignore, so they think, the discomforts and potential perils of a few years spent within the ranks. After a flurry of attention paid to a humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the mainstream media is back to saluting the troops while warning of potential conflicts elsewhere, perhaps with China over Taiwan.

The disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq, among others, are already being sent down the Memory Hole to oblivion. After all, there’s always another war looming, so we’re told, which serves to convince most Americans that a strong “defense” is needed. So why not support our troops. We’re going to need them to fight the next war, right?

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This is precisely how we fail to support our troops. We don’t ask enough tough questions – and we don’t demand enough honest answers – about why the next war is necessary. How it serves national defense and the ideals of the U.S. Constitution. We are always pressured to salute smartly, even if we’ve never served in the military. And that way lies militaristic madness.

So, if I had to define how best to support our troops, I’d answer with another bumper sticker motto: Question Authority. Especially when it’s wrapped in the flag and camouflaged by a military uniform.

It’s folly in the extreme that Americans routinely acquiesce to Pentagon “defense” budgets – let’s face it, these are war budgets — that consume more than half of federal discretionary spending each year, even as the Pentagon loses wars and fails audits. Nevertheless, our very unpopular Congress continues to throw money at the generals and admirals and war contractors, and indeed these groups are often interchangeable, as many senior officers join corporate “defense” boards after retiring from the military.

It’s not Private Jones (or A1C Wagner, pictured above) who’s cashing in here. It’s America’s military-industrial-congressional complex, which is guided and motivated by one word: more. More money, more power, and, often enough, more wars.

If we keep “supporting” our troops while funneling vast and unaccountable funds to the Pentagon and the weapons makers, America will get more weapons and more wars. It’s that simple. And more weapons and more wars will combine to destroy what little is left of our democracy, no matter how many “support our troops” ribbons we stick to our pickup trucks.

Do you really want to support our troops? Besides questioning authority, one might best begin by reducing their numbers. America’s military should be no larger than what it needs to be to provide for a robust national defense. Then we need to remember that a state of permanent war represents a death blow to democracy, no matter how much we profess confidence in our troops. Since Congress is already deeply unpopular, it should have the guts to cut and limit military and war spending to no more than 25% of federal discretionary spending.

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Cutting funds to the military-industrial complex will help bring it to heel – and force more than few spoiled and hidebound generals and admirals to bring our troops home rather than wasting them in faraway countries fighting unwinnable conflicts.

What say you, America? Ready to support our troops?

WJ Astore
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