Bring the Troops Home Now, yes. Support the troops? No.

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Jul 26 14:02:54 MDT 2003


I just want to make a comment on "support the troops" and "bring the
troops home now".  These two slogans do not and have not always gone
together. It was hard to deal with nuances while the DMS-Januzzi
business was rampaging day after day the 100 messages.

(It seems to me that Louis has grown a great deal more patient with
outbreaks like this since I first started lurking on the list.  There
were times a couple years ago when he would sometimes unsub so many
people in a week, he would remind me of Jack Barnes on a Bad Hair Day.
Now he cuts people a lot more slack, it seems to me.  While this may
not have panned out well with David Schanoes this time around in this
instance, I think it will work out for the best in the long run.
Debates with sectarians can sometimes really advance thinking and
understanding IF they are carried out in a sane way, and even
sectarians turn not to be wrong about everything all the time.

(It's also important to remember that sectarianism in the US left and
socialist movement is not really an error of individuals but a
historical condition
that exists for sufficient reason and not just as a monument to human
bone-headedness.  Offhand, I can't think of anyone who contributes
frequently to the list who I would consider to be free of it, myself
included.)

Anyway, back to "Bring the Troops Home Now" and "support the troops"
slogans.

At the beginning of the movement against the Vietnam war, when the
movement was new and wider forces were beginning to see the value of
the "bring the troops home now" slogan, the slogan "support the
troops" was almost unheard of.  I think hardly any of us who favored
an orientation of reaching out to soldiers and draftees about the war
used the "support the troops" slogan.

The main debate was not about supporting the troops but over whether
they should individually be treated as criminals because of the
imperialist crimes that constituted their mission (and we should make
no concessions about that), or whether we should approach them as
fellow workers, farmers, citizens, human beings who were among the
victims of an imperialist war that was not of their making.

Our campaigning began by the defense of soldiers who were resisting --
the Fort Hood 3 who refused to be sent to Vietnam, Howard Petrick who
talked to his fellow draftees about the war and its causes, and so on.
They were "our troops."

But I did not see Support the Troops appear as a slogan, always
directly linked to immediate, unconditional withdrawal until 1969,
when it became clear that a general troop revolt was taking place with
antiwar newspapers coming out at bases across the country, hundreds of
active duty GIs marching at the head of massive demonstrations, and as
it became clear that a general resistance to fighting was spreading
across the army in Vietnam.  We began to talk about supporting the
troops and sometimes even "our troops," because more and more of them
were acting like "our troops" and not "their troops."  A significant
element of what had taken place in the Russian army in 1917 when the
tsar's troops became "our troops" because of their hatred of the war
had happened to an American army.

Under those circumstances I didn't see anything social patriotic or
prowar in saying "I support the troops.  Bring them home now." The
actions of the troops were something you could throw in the face of
the capitalist politicians and the generals.

Today, I think the impulse for the movement to say "support the
troops" as a general slogan of the movement still comes primarily from
the pressure we are under to seek a bit of patriotic protective
coloration by adopting, hoping to advance our own purposes, the slogan
of the warmakers. It is not an inspired response to the actions of the
troops. The troops in Iraq are unhappy today but they are not yet in
motion against the brass in ways that we should be supporting.  It is
a mistake today to see them yet as having taken the antiwar side in
this conflict.  Today, I believe "support the troops" still means
support the military.  They are not "our troops" although they could
become so in the course of the struggle. The US military has not been
paralyzed by the sentiments of the soldiers, but is still a viable
instrument of US impperialism in Iraq.

This is not a criticism of the formulations that may be necessary to
get across antiwar ideas in a discussion with a coworker or the family
of a soldier.  But I still believe that the slogan support the troops
as one of the overarching or central themes today weakens the
unconditional opposition to the US occupation.  What about when the
troops come under attack from the resistance, for example? I also see
"support the troops" as a slogan that contributes to putting the
movement in  the "Anybody But Bush" camp, and  can be used to paint
basically prowar Democratic candidates as antiwar because they
demagogically  proclaim the well-being and protection of "our troops"
as their primary concern.,

At a certain point in the Vietnam war it became credible and even
natural to say that we supported the struggle of the Vietnamese people
and the struggle of "our troops" against the occupation.  But I think
the slogan "support the troops" today tends to put us in a different
camp than the Iraqi people and their fight for their right to
independence and sovereignty.

Yes to immediate withdrawal of US troops!
Bring the troops home now. Yes to defending the right of the troops to
speak and protest
Yes to reaching out to the rank and file soldiers as fellow workers
and human beings. Yes to the growing desire of the rank and file
slogans to be home and out of danger. Yes to the struggle of the
people of Iraq against the occupation, which is a  just struggle!  But
let's not raise the support-the-troops slogan as a central theme of
the movement when the army is not yet in revolt against the  mission
to crush and defeat the Iraqi people.
Fred Feldman




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