Monday, February 05, 2007

Supporting the Troops Does Not Mean Supporting the War They Fight

William Arkin has taken some heat for criticizing solders who feel that skepticism and criticism of the war in Iraq has undermined their efforts in Iraq. I will say that his initial post was a little awkwardly written and by the end of it I had some trouble understanding exactly what his point was (though he clarifies his position in a follow-up and again here), but this was quite clear:
So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

Quite a few who read Arkin's post interpreted this (and his other statements) as an attack on the troops. That is certainly not the case. Rather it is a blunt-even harsh-retort to those solders who believe that Americans who are not fighting in the war and don't support it should have nothing to say about it. Arkin essentially attempts to rebut two common beliefs among Americans regarding our troops in Iraq:

1. Soldiers are above criticism

This is not true. Or shouldn't be true at least. It is my own pop-psychology theory that we American civlians laud and praise the troops in inverse proportion to the number of us actually serving in uniform, in an effort to assuage our guilt about not serving or not even knowing anyone who serves. Also, summoning concern over "the troops" is a handy rhetorical device to those who'd like to quiet all concern for the consequences of the invasion. But the men and women who actually serve in uniform are not really much different from you and I. Their willingness to serve, as laudable as it is, does not make them immune from saying stupid things like that the rest of us should unquestioningly support the war they're fighting or we're not supporting them. That a soldier feels that way, does not make it right. A soldier should be able to separate his mission from the public debate on the war back home. A soldier should also be able to understand that just because we are against continuing to fight this war, does not mean we are not hoping and praying that they somehow succeed, and then come home okay. That some of them do not understand that is not our fault, and Arkin is right to say that some of these soldiers need to be more aware of that fact.

2. Soldiers know more about what we should do in Iraq than you or I do

This is also not true. It is true that soldiers are in the thick of the fighting, and are seeing the very real consequences of our policies up close. But it's also true that some of these soldiers are seeing the trees instead of the forest, as the saying goes. A soldier knows what it's like to battle insurgents and militias on a day-to-day basis, but you and I watch the news, and have been watching it for years now. We've seen the looting, we've heard the policy debates, we've learned about the lies told to us, and the incompetence practiced routinely in the occupation, we've seen the number of bombings and shootings and killings go up month after month, and we are quite justified to wonder what we're doing now and how sending tens of thousands more troops to Iraq will change anything. The average American who follows the news on a regular basis is more than qualified to form a highly educated opinion about what we should be doing in Iraq, and almost certainly knows a thing or two about the war and it's progress that the soldier on the ground-who might not have time to follow the debates at home-does not.

Criticizing certain soldiers who say certain things, as Arkin does, and criticizing the war in general, does not mean one does not "support" the troops. After all, only the worst of friends never calls out another friend on stupid things he may do or say, because he never wants to be thought of as not "supporting" that friend.


adam said...

Good post. This definitely needed to be said.

Anonymous said...

It is laughable that an individual who has never been to Iraq thinks he can accurately comment on our Mideast policy. You probably don't know the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam and think you have a clue. You my friend are humorous just for your naivete.

Xanthippas said...

No, it is not laughable at all. The vast majority of astronomers have never been to space, and yet many would agree that they are the most qualified to speak on it. The fact is if you are careful and dilligent, you can acquire a considerable amount of knowledge about a particular subject. This is especially true in Iraq, upon which nearly all of our media is trained to one extent or another.

Nat-Wu said...

Anonymous posting is also laughable. Have the guts to use a name, leave an email address, or link to your own blog where people can take equal time to criticize you. Besides which, all three Wise men here are well aware of the differences, both political and religious, between Sunni and Shiite Islam.

President Bush has never been to Iraq, and yet you're criticizing someone who opposes the war based on that same criteria. Now that's naivete, moron.