"An honest criminal, if he's caught and convicted, will abide by the fact he's broken the law and is gonna do time. I've learned that's how you get through life without punching walls and hurting yourself; you abide by the facts of the situation, whatever it is." -- Elmore Leonard
A few nights ago, I joined my neighbors at the Flagstaff City Council meeting to consider a "Support the Troops" resolution. The sponsoring councilman claimed the resolution was purely to back up the troops and their families. Had his proposal been that simple, there would have been no debate, my neighbors and I might have left with at least a veneer of unified support for the troops.
The councilman was incapable of keeping his resolution one that might foster cooperation. Instead, his multiple whereases included: "Whereas, the United States of America has steadfastly devoted itself to making our Nation secure and advancing the cause of worldwide freedom ..."
Some of us said we could agree to support the troops. We could NOT agree that our country had "steadfastly devoted itself to advancing the cause of worldwide freedom." We reminded the Council of Pinochet, of government apathy over Tibet. We asked for a change in the resolution -- for the sake of a unified message to the troops. A councilman put forth an amendment: "Whereas, the Flagstaff City Council takes no position, either for or against, the war in Iraq," The wording was not acceptable to the member who had proposed the resolution.
The "other side" reacted. They were determined to be the "other side". I'm surprised I was surprised. The war supporters have called local peace advocates "maggots," "traitors" and "terrorists."
When the final vote came, three council members abstained. Four, including the mayor, voted "yes." The public moved out into the hall. A woman stomped up. "So you support that monster Hussein," she said. I asked her if she had heard my statement. "No." I told her I'd talked about my former partner, a Special Forces medic dead from Agent Orange, and how when he came back from covert ops in Laos and saw the president on television telling America there were no troops in Laos, he had decided the Washington chickenhawks were liars. I said I'd suggested that those who wanted troop support should put their taxes where their mouths were. I asked her where America was during the vicious Chinese occupation of Tibet.
"I don't know anything about Teebet," she said, "besides what's that got to do with support. You're a fool."
I couldn't sleep that night for the word "support" nattering in my mind. As teen-agers, my kids would tell me some hormone-brained scheme and, good self-actualizer that I was, I'd say, "I support you." "What does that mean?" they'd ask. Together we'd chorus, "Nothing."
I don't support the American troops. I've claimed to from fear of being labeled a traitor, and from respect for my former partner's war stories -- though he said he had NEVER expected support. He had signed on to soldier voluntarily. The only heavy response he made to the first Gulf War was when he saw a televised military family support group. He bolted off the couch yelling, "F*** their f***ing support. What lily-livered bull!"
The soldiers in Iraq signed on to the military -- that included knowing one might be asked to kill or be killed on orders from above. They knew that meant abiding "by the facts of the situation." And, if they didn't, it's their responsibility, or the responsibility of a culture that sanctions anaesthetizing war video games and a corporate media congealing in jingoism.
If I support the troops, I support the killing of women and children in a civilian van, the murder of citizens in a marketplace. AND I support the death and maiming of American soldiers. I am not a true pacifist. If someone threatened my family or my animals, I would attack the attacker, face-to-face, no hesitation. I would NOT send someone else to do my work.
I am afraid to say any of this publicly. But, it must be said -- because too many of the "support the troops" audience at our City Council meeting were bullies. They not only wanted the freedom to their opinions, they wanted to annihilate mine. Too many of them could not listen to the dissent they wanted to ensure for Iraq. Too many of them would stand in a crowd cheering a totalitarian dictator without a flicker of unease.
Mary Sojourner is a writer in Flagstaff, Ariz.