Supporting the Troops But Not the War
Bruce McQuain posts an NBC News video of interviews with American soldiers in Iraq to bolster his long-held view that one can’t simultaneously claim to “support the troops” while criticizing the mission they’re fighting and dying to accomplish.
Bruce argues its “A bit like saying ‘we want you to look like a soldier, and we love you for being one, but we can’t support you acting like one it this instance.'”
While one can certainly understand the frustrations of a young soldier at hearing disparaging things about the war he’s fighting, securing the freedom to do just that is the essence of his mission. Some wars are controversial and it’s a vital part of our political process that debate not be stifled.
Further, while soldiers might not like to hear negative sentiments being expressed, they nonetheless maintain their enthusiasm and focus on the mission at hand. As I wrote in a December 2005 piece for TCS, “Does Criticism of the War Undermine Troop Morale?”
[S]oldiers in a war zone are perhaps the least attuned among us to what’s being said on television. During Desert Storm, my parents anxiously watched CNN several hours a day trying to keep up with what was going on. Meanwhile, I was focused on the mundane duties of a platoon leader, making sure my troops were taken care of and that we were ready to fire rockets down range when called upon. The only news I got was from my nightly operations briefs and from days-old copies of the Stars and Stripes when the mail got delivered.
Soldiers ultimately decide for themselves whether their mission is “worth it.” To the extent that they are concerned with political debates in Washington, it is mostly about the small picture: ensuring they get the tools and equipment they need to survive and get the job done. While they may be interested in grand strategy, it seldom motivates them to risk life and limb. They may agree or disagree with establishing a foothold for democracy in the Middle East but they fight for their comrades-in-arms, out of genuine concern for locale villagers whose situations they empathize with, and for hundreds of other reasons unique to each soldier.
Soldiers are risking their lives because they’ve been ordered to do so by our duly elected political leadership. They deserve our respect and gratitude for doing that, regardless of any beliefs you might have about the worthiness of the war. But, by all means, feel free to criticize the politicians who sent them there.