Supporting Our Troops on Veterans Day
by Ed Hein
November 11, 2004
Last week, while in Washington, D.C., I visited the National World War
II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial. They are solemn reminders of the cost of war. Twenty million
Americans served, and over half a million died, in these three wars.
On this Veterans Day, the United States is again at war. As of November
9, the Iraq War has claimed the lives of over 1,200 U.S. and coalition
troops, and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians. More than 8,100
Americans have been wounded in action.
Although no permanent monument has been erected to the Iraq War, local
chapters of the national organization Veterans For Peace have set up a
variety of memorials. Most notable is the "Arlington West" project on
the beach in Santa Barbara, California. A small white cross has been
planted in the sand for each American soldier killed, and these are
illuminated by candles at night. Of course, the memorial keeps growing
as the war drags on.
By now everyone has seen the plastic yellow ribbons stuck on cars and
trucks all across the country, with the phrase "Support Our Troops."
When I first saw these I assumed they symbolized support for the Iraq
War. Then I remembered that displaying yellow ribbons first became
popular 25 years ago, during the Iran hostage crisis. The message then
was: bring the American hostages home now. So, perhaps the unintended
but apropos message today is: bring American troops home now.
Since this war began, I have wondered what people really mean by the
phrase "Support the Troops." I have suspected that, for many people,
"Support the Troops" means refraining from publically dissenting against
the war or questioning President Bush’s foreign policy. I have always
thought we can support our military personnel without necessarily
pledging support to the war itself. After all, millions of
well-informed, patriotic Americans view the Iraq War as a strategic
blunder, at best.
Last week’s presidential election, and the campaigns that led up to it,
made unbearably clear how divided and polarized our populace is.
Reasonable persons can differ about whether the Iraq War was wise or
justified or necessary. Whether one supports the war, or is angered by
it, resigned to it, or confused about it, I believe the vast majority of
Americans can agree that our men and women in the armed forces deserve
our respect and support.
Our soldiers do what we ask of them, regardless of politics. They aim to
protect us, and they serve the nation honorably. In good faith, our
military personnel rely on us, and the political leaders we elect, to
use their selfless service wisely and nobly. Our duty to those who
perform their patriotic duty is not to put them in harm’s way
needlessly; to support them and their families while they are at war;
and to care for them when they have completed their service. And those
who do not return home alive or in one piece must never be forgotten.
There are many practical ways to support our active duty troops in Iraq
and elsewhere. A Department of Defense website [www.defendamerica.mil/support_troops.html]
lists over 50 links to private and government programs citizens can
participate in to show their support for our men and women in uniform
and their families. Those who feel that supporting active duty troops in
this way constitutes morally objectionable support for the war may still
be able, with a clear conscience, to support disabled veterans through a
variety of veterans organizations and agencies, such as the Disabled
American Veterans [www.dav.org]
or the Veterans Administration [www.va.gov/disvetres.html].
At the very least, on this Veterans Day we can all remember those who
have died or made other sacrifices while serving our country. This is a
day to reflect, to honor, and to mourn.
Ed Hein is a U.S. Army veteran and a member of the Juneau, Alaska,
Chapter 100, Veterans For Peace.