So, should we support the troops? This seems to be an eternal issue, displayed as it is on bumper stickers and on the news.
At the outset, I should note that as a Christian pacifist, I believe heeding Christ’s call and caring for the world’s citizenry should be a higher concern than supporting American troops. Still, this seems to be an important issue these days, so here are my thoughts on the issue:
The Troops as Individuals
We need to start, for the time being, by dividing the issue of “supporting the troops” from that of “supporting the mission.” See, the troops are individuals, and as such they deserve our love and support. I have a number of military friends, some of whom have been to Iraq. In fact, I just talked to one yesterday. I give love and friendship to these people, as they are children of God who are loved by Him. I do not agree with their occupation, but agreement is not a prerequisite for friendship.
Also, while on the subject of soldiers as individuals, I should say that I do not hold contempt for the troops for what they do. I know that, with an all-volunteer military, the people in the military are fully responsible for the fact that they’re in the military– none of them were drafted– but still, I believe it is wrong to hate (or abuse) soldiers because of what they do. Not only is that against the Christian peacemaking witness, but I also would argue that the main responsibility for unjust wars rests with politicians and military brass. Individual soldiers should be held responsible for war crimes they commit, of course. However, we should also have sympathy for the soldiers who are being used, in a sense, as pawns in a game of economic domination.
That said, though, I believe that defending soldiers by saying “they’re just doing their job” is somewhat of a cop-out. Heck, Hitler’s SS troops were “doing their job” when they gassed Jews. That was the excuse they gave when on trial. People who work in porn shops and strip clubs are also “doing their jobs”. Clearly, while reasonable people may disagree about the morailty of soldiering, we should be able to agree that the excuse “they’re just doing their job” is not good enough.
Supporting the Mission
Is “supporting the troops” one and the same as “supporting the mission”? Well, as I see it, most people hold one of two basic positions on this issue. On the one hand, there are those who would reason as follows:
(1) Our nation’s foreign policy is always just, and
(2) Our nation can always win, provided we equip our military properly
(3) Therefore, the only way to support the troops is to make sure they win
Then, there is another position, as follows:
(1) Our nation is imperfect, so it may or may not always be right, and
(2) Our nation may or may not always be able to win every battle through military might
(3) Therefore, to support the troops may, at times, mean admitting we were wrong.
Let me give some examples. Using the first line of reasoning, many people compare the Iraq War to World War II. It would have been wrong to pull out of World War II, they say, even when the going got tough, because we were fighting a just war and because we had the wherewithal to win. That, people say, would have been unsupportive of the troops. On the other hand, we use the second line of reasoning when speaking of Nazi Germany. They were fighting an unjust war and could not have won. Therefore, it was wrong of Hitler to keep fighting and waste the lives of so many soldiers.
I would argue that the first line of reasoning is unsupportable. While I understand that many people hold a certain emotional attachment to this nation, it is simply impossible to argue that we are always just. We defend ourselves by saying we are “a nation of laws, not of men”, but the fact is that our constitution, while it is a pretty good one, was written by men, and it is interpreted by them. Thus we are just as prone as any other nation to human error and evil. We may sometimes be less evil than our enemies, and other times we may be more so.
Where does that leave us? I suppose it means that, if we are to support the individuals in the military, we must do all we can to unbiasedly judge each situation on its own merits. The notion that America is always right, or can always prevail, is out.
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