"Support the troops"? Why the words matter.

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Aug 18 20:26:59 MDT 2003

I disagree with Jose basically.

But first I want to clarify something.  I left the impression, unlike
in my first comment on this a week or so ago, that I was
unconditionally opposed at all times and places to anyone saying
"support the troops, bring them home now" in any context. I have no
problem with a lot of what Stan Goff said as a practical agitator
trying to reach a certain group of people at certain times. The
response he got from Stars and Stripes indicates that the positive
class message is beginning to get across.

During the Vietnam war, I said a lot of things to people in an effort
to get across my point that I would have completely opposed making a
slogan of the movement, or even putting on a banner.  Anyway, if an
agitator goes off this way or that, it's usually not hard to
straighten it out or at least make known an alternate view with a
modest and civil discussion in meetings or on lists such as this one.

What I am opposed to is "support the troops" as one of the overarching
slogans of the movement. I am opposed to presenting Bring the Troops
Home Now as primarily a measure to defend "our troops" (and by the
way, are only the US troops "our troops"? what about the Iraqi
fighters?) , rather than primarily as a slogan for the immediate,
unconditional end of the US aggression against the people of Iraq.
Within that framework, I am for reaching out to the troops and saying
whatever can honestly be said to help them understand that we do not
view them as our enemies, but also as victims of and potential
fighters against the imperialist war.

I am also for facing reality.  Right now, the troops in general are
not on our side. They belong overwhelmingly to the oppressed and
exploited, we have common interests with the great bulk of them. But
while they are unhappy and in a process of thinking and exchanging
views and moving in our direction, they are not fighting against the
war.  They are fighting the war against the people of Iraq, as their
commanders demand, with the brutality that requires.

It is clear that many are learning from this ugly educational
experience, but we shouldn't delude ourselves about what is happening
at the moment. I am not for moralistic denunciation, and I expect to
be fighting against the war alongside GIs who are participating in
some very grim things today.

Turning to the troops is a valuable idea, but antiwar sentiment among
the troops or "support the troops" slogans are not a magic bullet for
solving the problems of building a mass antiwar fight in this country,
or a mantra that will turn the confused and substantially demobilized,
though actually quite large, antiwar forces in the country today into
a vibrant mass movement.  We should not have the illusion that there
is no mass movement today because we forgot to say, "Support the

Of course most working people and rank and file GIs and so forth
aren't going to be aware of the strategic issues that are involved in
the wording of slogans when they become involved in the fight. (The
debate over "Bring the Troops Home Now" versus negotiations was a
strategic debate, and I tend to think, in a different way, that this
is a strategic debate, too.)

As they become leaders, I think they will be more concerned about such
things.  As that changes -- as rank and file soldiers become more and
more part of the fight -- I tend to thing the meaning of "supporting
the troops" will tend to change, as it did during the Vietnam war, or
for that matter during the Russian revolution.  But I think we should
leave how we will formulate our central slogans at that time to that

I don't think that the main danger of bending to patriotism is among
the soldiers who are beginning to debate and beginning to objectively
challenge the patriotism of the scoundrels or among the workers who
marched on February 15 or among the students participating in their
first fight. In my opinion the danger of giving ground on the war
issue to  patriotic or imperialist or liberal dovish prowar sentiment
is greatest precisely on the left and in the broad and varied
leadership of the movement -- and I am not referring to just one "bad"
current or group of "bad" currents here but to broad problems that
exist across the leadership of the movement today. I also think the
strategic debate over these issues is winnable (although the elections
will undoubtedly be a big obstacle).

It matters what "the" left thinks because, with all the left's
problems, virtually the entire movement in all its sectors is led by
one or another sector of "the" left.

Fred Feldman

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