Not Supporting “Support Our Troops”

by Patrick Appel

Steven Salaita hates the phrase:

A nation that continuously publicizes appeals to “support our troops” is explicitly asking its citizens not to think. It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy, presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation. …

Who, for instance, are “the troops”? Do they include those safely on bases in Hawaii and Germany? Those guarding and torturing prisoners at Bagram and Guantánamo? The ones who murder people by remote control? The legions of mercenaries in Iraq? The ones I’ve seen many times in the Arab world acting like an Adam Sandler character? “The troops” traverse vast sociological, geographical, economic and ideological categories. It does neither military personnel nor their fans any good to romanticize them as a singular organism.

James Joyner has mixed feelings:

I’m generally annoyed by and uncomfortable with out-of-content appeals to patriotism. I don’t have “Support the Troops” ribbons on my car or wear a flag on my lapel and, unless it’s the 4th of July, find it odd to have the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” performed at sporting events.

But “support our troops” can mean many things. While often used to demand reflexive support for our war effort, it can simply be a call to honor their sacrifices  regardless of one’s views of the war we’ve sent them to fight. For that matter, it can mean that we owe a great deal to those who have been gravely wounded, physically or psychologically, fighting those wars. In those contexts, I support “support our troops.”