Whatever practical meaning the slogan “support the troops” may possess, it lays here: in praise expressed for those choosing to wear the uniform, and in assistance made available to those who suffer as a consequence of that choice.
From the perspective of the American people, the principal attribute of this relationship is that it entails no real obligations or responsibilities. Face it: It costs us nothing yet enables us to feel good about ourselves. In an unmerited act of self-forgiveness, we thereby expunge the sin of the Vietnam era when opposition to an unpopular war found at least some Americans venting their unhappiness on the soldiers sent to fight it. The homeward-bound G.I. spat upon by spoiled and impudent student activists may be an urban legend, but the fiction persists and has long since trumped reality.
From the perspective of those who engineer America’s wars, the principal attribute of this relationship is that it obviates any need for accountability. For nearly a decade now, popular willingness to “support the troops” has provided unlimited drawing rights on the United States Treasury.
Since 9/11, in waging its various campaigns, overt and covert, the United States military has expended hundreds of billions of (mostly borrowed) dollars. By the time the last invoice gets paid, the total will be in the trillions. Is the money being well spent? Are we getting good value? Is it possible that some of the largesse showered on U.S. forces trying to pacify Kandahar could be better put to use in helping to rebuild Cleveland? Given the existing terms of the civil-military relationship, even to pose such questions is unseemly. For politicians sending soldiers into battle, generals presiding over long, drawn-out, inconclusive campaigns, and contractors reaping large profits as a consequence, this war-comes-first mentality is exceedingly agreeable.
One wonders how many of those serving in the ranks are taken in by this fraud. The relationship between American people and their military—we love you; do whatever you want—seems to work for everyone. Everyone, that is, except soldiers themselves. They face the prospect of war without foreseeable end.
As the 10th anniversary of what Americans once called their Global War on Terror approaches, a plausible, realistic blueprint for bringing that enterprise to a conclusion does not exist. Those who might once have felt some responsibility for articulating such a plan—the president, his chief lieutenants, senior military leaders—no longer feel any obligation to do so. As a practical matter, they devote themselves to war’s perpetuation, closing one front while opening another. More strikingly still, we the people allow our leaders to evade this basic responsibility to articulate a plan for peace. By implication, we endorse the unspoken assumption that peace has become implausible.
Here at last we come to the dirty little secret that underlines all the chatter about “supporting the troops.” The people in charge don’t really believe that the burdens borne by our soldiers will ever end and they are not really looking for ways to do so. As for the rest of us, well, we’re OK with that.
No we're not.