I have a sister who’s 18. She’s studying nursing at Northern Arizona University, and I’m really proud of her. Occasionally, though, she sends me chain letters, and I just got one from her today. It consists of couplets contrasting our relative comfort against the struggle of our soldiers in the Middle East:
You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
He patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.
You’re angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.
He’s told he will be held over an extra 2 months.
You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.
He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.
And so on. It ends:
If you support your troops, send this to 7 people.
If you don’t support your troops well, then don’t send this out.
You won’t die in 7 days, your love life won’t be affected, and you won’t have the worst day ever.
You don’t have to email this. It’s not like you know the men and women that are dying to preserve your rights.
And that was enough to set me off.
The classic subtext in the “support the troops” argument is that those who oppose the administration’s objectives in prosecuting the war are somehow “against” the troops. Which is like saying you hate your favorite sports team simply because you think the owner or general manager is a bum. Actually, it’s far worse than that: it is to suggest that you therefore hate each player to the extent that you don’t care if they die.
During the first Gulf War, I was proud to wear a yellow ribbon because I was proud of the individuals that make up the military, if not the proverbial owners and general managers. That’s still true today, individual crimes and misdemeanors notwithstanding. But the yellow ribbon is now driven by that quiet dual meaning, and I won’t wear one because it’s more important for me to be clear about my divided opinions of the management versus the rank and file.
What really got to me about this letter was that it reminded me of a story from my past, and since my sister was so young, I thought it best to relay it to her:
So, you probably don’t remember this, since you were 2 at the time. But during the first Gulf War, there was a billboard on the railroad between Santa Fe and Butler (in Flagstaff, Arizona) that had a “We Support The Troops” sign. One night, someone went up and papered over the words “the troops” with “Death and Destruction”. The next day, my friend David and I climbed up 20 feet onto the billboard to scrape it off. And I’d do it again.
So if you ever meet whoever started this chain letter, tell them I said if they think I don’t support the troops because I won’t forward their preachy, jingoist message, they can FUCK RIGHT OFF. For real.
Nothing personal. I still love you. It just pisses me off like nothing else when people confuse being against the war with being against soldiers. I care a lot about the soldiers, and I’m willing to do a hell of a lot more than start a chain letter if it would help make them safe, strong and free.