What does "support the troops" actually mean?

Mar 30, 2008, 4:41 PM |
    Ever since the events of 9/11 transpired I have been opposed (both politically and morally) to every act of violence and aggression propagated by the United States; which, of course, includes the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Since I am a relatively outspoken and opinionated person, I have, naturally, encountered a number of views that have been in opposition to my own.  Among some of these opposing views (and in society in general), I have often encountered the slogan “Support Our Troops” in some form or other.  When considering this slogan in the context of the enduring debate over US Military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is reason to take issue with the merits of the slogan—not specifically about the slogan’s overt message, but what the slogan implies covertly.
    On the face of it, the slogan “Support Our Troops” simply implies that US troops, both as human beings and as US public servants, deserve to be ‘supported’ by the people they represent and work for, essentially on moral grounds.  Simple enough.  However, if you consider this slogan in the context of a debate over the merits of a war, such as the debates over Afghanistan and Iraq for example, the implications of this slogan become far more severe.
    First of all, even though it looks like a statement, the phrase “Support Our Troops” is actually a command.  If it were a statement, it would read something to the effect of “I Support Our Troops” or “Our Troops Deserve Support”.  Instead, “Support Our Troops” is in fact telling its audience to engage in supportive behaviors towards US troops.  When used in the context of a debate over the merits of war, such a command subverts the purpose of the debate—which is to establish the grounds for a particular behavior, not to trumpet the behavior in question. 
    Secondly, the slogan underhandedly accuses its audience of presently being unsupportive of US troops.  Insofar as there is a motivation for using the slogan “Support Our Troops,” it is fair to assume that that motivation is to promote something that deserves wide acceptance, but, as of yet, has not achieved such acceptance.  In this case, those who use the slogan “Support Our Troops” are A) implicitly saying that there are people who do not presently support our troops, and B) explicitly saying that those unsupportive people ought to begin supporting our troops.  The problem I have with this is that it is rather crude to assume, or in fact assert, that someone is guilty of not generally ‘supporting’ US troops.  Since the support of US troops is largely a moral issue, assuming that someone does not support the troops is analogous to making an unfavorable moral judgment about that person.  More blatantly, the statement implies that a person is actually against the troops in some antagonistic way. In the context of an enduring debate over the merits of a war, it is unfair to attempt to stack the deck (morally speaking) against those who happen to oppose the war in question. 
    Thirdly, the slogan “Support Our Troops” can be (and often is) confused for a different, but related, slogan: “Support The War.”  As an anti-war person, I am very familiar with my reasons for opposing wars in general, and the Afghanistan/Iraq wars in particular; these reasons, however, have nothing to do with my opinion over the merits of the support/non-support, of US troops.  Despite the distinctions between supporting a war and supporting a war’s troops, I, and others like me, have nevertheless been accused of not supporting our troops as a consequence of not supporting the war the troops are involved in.  In other words, when the slogan is used this way, opposing the war equals opposing the troops—a patently false claim. 
Further, there is an ambiguity in the slogan concerning the term ‘support.’  ‘Support’ can basically refer to one of two things: A) support for the objective of the troops (i.e. their mission); or B) support for the lives of the troops (i.e. their well-being).  Most people, regardless of their stance on the war, will agree with (B) because most people, hopefully, do not want harm to come to anyone.  As far as (A) is concerned, however, many who disagree with a military’s mission will not then support the actions of the military’s troops.  For example, since I oppose the war in Iraq, I do not support the objectives of the troops insofar as they involve doing violence to the people of Iraq.  In other words, the more the US troops ‘succeed’ in their invasion of Iraq, the more my objective of “no invasion” diminishes.  Unfortunately though I have seen and experienced instances where the ambiguity of the term ‘support’ has been manipulated in such a way as to accuse an anti-war individual of being insensitive to the well-being of the troops when what the anti-war person really meant was that they did not support what the troops were, and are, doing.  
    Finally, the slogan “Support Our Troops” subtly implies that the lives of American troops are more important because they are, well, American.  I strongly object to this implication of the slogan because there is no moral basis for supposing that American lives are more important than, say, Iraqi civilian lives.  In fact, much of my anti-war perspective depends on my compassion for all human life—both American and otherwise.  Therefore, if I were to embrace a slogan that only expresses concern for “Our Troops,” I would also implicitly embrace the idea that ‘our’ people are somehow better or more important than ‘their’ people—something that I intensely oppose.  Therefore if someone refuses to endorse the slogan “Support Our Troops,” it is not necessarily because they oppose our troops, but rather because they wish to support everyone involved in the conflict.