Waging empire abroad requires a propaganda war at home, and peace
activists have been challenged by a powerful sound-bite blitz
since 9-11. As Bush, Inc. moves from its war of conquest to occupation
and exploitation, the rest of us can reframe our strategies and
language, including unpacking one of the most vexing phrases "support
For centuries a dominant feature of U.S. political culture has
been dualism: framing all issues as black or white, good vs. evil,
with no opportunity to be neither, both, or something else altogether.
Framing debate in this way not only serves as a red herring to
keep people from asking deeper questions, but is also part of
a classic divide-and-conquer strategy that keeps the majority
of people from making common cause against the oligarchy. Part
of the brilliance of such jingoistic phrases as "united we
stand," "these colors don't run," "freedom
isn't free," and "support the troops" is that they
are ambiguous, implying a political stance without being specific.
They also allow a speaker to set a trap for responders.
"Support the troops" provides a sound bite for people
conditioned to regurgitate the propaganda of the warmongers without
having to think. It channels their emotions fear, pride,
sorrow, anger, concern for loved ones, rage into something
that serves the interests of the power-holders. Its intent is
to put the responder on the defensive in the same way as asking,
"When did you stop beating your wife?" For the person
who's never beaten his wife, this is not an answerable question.
At countless gatherings across the country, peace activists have
been struggling with how to respond to "Do you support the
troops?" or the more aggressive version, "Don't you
support the troops?" Our response depends on what our goal
is in any given situation. At one end of the spectrum, you can
answer "yes" or "no" and then define what
you mean by supporting the troops, an approach employed
by many peace activists (references to some good examples are
listed at the end of this article).
In some situations, another approach is to ferret out the underlying
emotions of the asker. For example, is the person afraid because
s/he has a loved one in the military? What are those fears? That
somehow the risks of life, limb, and health are not, after all,
the noble gesture that would make this extreme sacrifice worthwhile?
That the troops will be vilified for the hegemony of those in
power? That if the troops in combat were distracted by the questioning
of the morality of their actions, they might be at greater risk
of being harmed themselves? After acknowledging the person's real
concerns, one could deflect the conversation to the hypocrisy
of a government that puts the troops in harm's way for the benefit
of oil corporation executives and wonder why such an administration
is also proposing cuts to veterans' benefits. What kind of support
is that? This shifts away from sloganeering that invalidates one
side of the debate and focuses instead on the reality of who is
doing what to whom and why.
Meanwhile, the real questions aren't debated, like what are we
trying to achieve, why, and what's the most effective way to do
it? So considering the ambiguity of "do you support the troops,"
you could begin a conversation by asking what the person means.
Then, if you have a chance to respond, you can simply state your
opinions without ever addressing supporting the troops or not.
This can help to thwart the dualism trap, at least momentarily,
and dialogue can move people to a better understanding of each
other, even if they disagree.
"Support the troops" can be quicksand for peace activists
who haven't carefully thought through their own beliefs and how
to express them respectfully and clearly. There can be a world
of difference between a sign that says, "Support the Troops
-- Bring Them Home!" and one that simply says, "Bring
the Troops Home." As people opposed to militarism, we must
continually struggle with our language -- saying no more and no
less than what we mean and doing so on our own terms, not those
of the militarists.
For many useful points to use in discussions of "support
the troops," here are Web sites for two fine essays on this
topic: "How to Support the Troops," by Kéllia
Ramares (March 13, 2003), www.onlinejournal.com/Commentary/031303Ramares/031303ramares.html,
and "Support Our Troops," by Michael Albert, (March
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)