No doubt you have seen the ubiquitous “Support Our Troops” yellow ribbons on the backs of our cars, trucks and SUVs. I figure I must be an amoral, atheist, wife swapping pervert or something. Actually I am none of these things. But I question just how far those of us who place these stickers on our vehicles are actually willing to go to support our troops.
Certainly I sympathize with their concerns. The way we treated our troops returning home from Vietnam was clearly shameful. For the most part they were doing what they were ordered to do. Most of them were drafted. They did not start the Vietnam conflict. Rather as the war ground to an unsatisfactory conclusion they were our ready targets. We projected our shameful feelings on them. Our actions were wrong. Perhaps to make amends for those events thirty years ago we are buying “Support Our Troops” stickers and pasting them on the back windows of our cars. If our soldiers ever make it home they will likely find a changed attitude from the Vietnam generation. And that is all for the better.
Now there are certainly ways we can support our troops. OperationDearAbby.net allows you to send a message to any soldier out there. You can thank them for their difficult work. Our U.S. Military has put together a web site with lots of creative ways that you can support our troops without breaking much sweat. You can send care packages. You can donate frequent flier miles. You can buy prepaid phone cards and send them to our troops. You can support armed forces entertainment. You can give to foundations that help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. So if you do have one or more of these stickers but haven’t been to either of these sites by all means go to them. You can do something tangible to support our troops.
But I’ve had quite a few anecdotal conversations with people who are both pro and antiwar. They suggest to me that people who are even incidentally supporting the troops are few and far between. Those most likely to be supporting the troops are those who actually have spouses, children, relatives or close friends serving in these conflicts. For example there is a woman I know at work whose son is serving outside Baghdad. She is sending him regular care packages. When her son can get online she makes the time for extended IM conversations. I am sure she talks to him by phone when she can and also sends him regular mail. But for the record she calls her commander in chief “a snake” and believes the whole war was illegal and unjustified. And she comes from a military family! She knows the value and the price of serving the military. She was a soldier herself once too. And it was a good experience. Her professionalism carries over to her excellent managerial skills in her civilian life.
Her son, by the way, isn’t getting that Internet service in Baghdad for free. Heavens no! He’s just a grunt private. But for those times when he has some leisure and can actually get on the Internet he has to pay. She told me the going rate is about $50 a month. To make it affordable most soldiers share a connection with another soldier. I don’t know who provides the service although somehow I suspect that Halliburton is making a profit off of it somewhere. I guess I should be glad that our soldiers have Internet access at all, but it strikes me as obscene to make them pay for the privilege. Fortunately there are foundations like this one that are trying to make it easier for our soldiers, sailors and airmen to phone home for free. If you have some spare cash consider giving to this worthwhile charity.
So if you are not doing some of these things already please consider doing them. These are the least that you can do if you claim to support our troops.
But to really support our troops we need to give them a break. We have soldiers in Iraq already on their third tour of duty there. Rumors suggest that some will go back for a fourth tour of duty. It is increasingly difficult for our soldiers there to really escape the conflict. What we need are fresh troops to replace them. And this means that if you support our troops and you have children of military age you need to encourage them to enlist. And if you have never joined the military, it is not necessarily too late. Yes, as recruiting woes continue our armed forces are getting less picky. You can now be up to 34 years old and enlist in the Regular Army. The Army Reserves will take you up to age 39.
Now I don’t want to frighten you or anything. But what we are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan is increasingly looking like the intractable conflict I predicted before we went to war. The likelihood for long-term success seems increasingly remote. The 150,000 troops we have on the ground in Iraq apparently are not enough to maintain order. We cannot even keep a small stretch of road between Baghdad and its international airport secure. But the good news is that if you ever fly in and out of Baghdad you will get the airplane ride of your life. You will take off or land using crazy corkscrew maneuvers that hopefully will keep your aircraft from getting shot down. To get to and from your place of deployment you will probably have to use helicopters. It appears that in many places it is unsafe to be on the street. With luck you will be issued flack jackets that actually work and will be placed in transport vehicles that can survive mines buried in the road.
Somehow I suspect few of you reading this will take me up on my suggestion for this personal level of commitment. After all we were told that this would be a war quickly and professionally won by an all-volunteer army. Just prior to our last election Congress went on the record that they would not resume a military draft. And when push comes to shove most of us parents realize in our hearts that these elected wars are probably unwinnable. We don’t want our precious sons and daughters to go there and end up dead or maimed. Even a career working retail at Target sounds better than letting our children join the military.
How times have changed. At the start of World War II enlistees were lined up outside recruiting offices. But in our hearts I think we realize that this war on terrorism is not quite the threat to our national security it was made out to be. After all Bush implied it was a no sacrifice war. We get to keep enjoying all the comforts of home and our current lifestyle. The notions of war taxes and buying Liberty Bonds like we did in the past seem silly and outdated. We are much more comfortable putting this war on our national charge card. Instead we will let our grandchildren worry about paying the bill.
So truly supporting our troops in my opinion comes down to a few things. If you can give or donate to support our troops, please do. If you or some member of your family can enlist then they can demonstrate the courage of their convictions and will certainly earn my respect, if not my outright awe. But if this war is truly unwinnable then you can support our troops by encouraging the President and the Congress to bring them home.