“Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe. ” - Arundhati Roy
I've been to a handful of recent antiwar demos, all of which were inspired by the evolving situation, re: Syria. I've heard accurate condemnations of Obama, Kerry, Assad, Putin, etc. One thing I haven't heard: any mention that U.S. saber-rattling is made possible by those who enlist to be paid to wage illegal and immoral wars, interventions, invasions, and occupations.
Reality Check #1: There is no American Empire without the cannon fodder we call “our troops.” They push the buttons, pilot the planes, staff the ships, write the codes, guard the prisons, launch the drones, design the missiles, and so on... and so on.
We rightfully aim our rage and invective at the masters of war, but seem to shrink at the prospect of calling out the volunteer warriors who make it all feasible.
There are simple, almost knee jerk methods by which the idea of unconditional support for our (sic) soldiers during war can be questioned. The easiest involves any variation of this query: Would it have been acceptable for the people of Nazi Germany to support "their boys" even if those same folks did not agree with Hitler's maniacal methods?
However, in the name of toning down the emotional potency, here's a different challenge: Let's say you're opposed to morally indefensible and scientifically fraudulent institution of vivisection. Would you be amenable to "supporting" the scientists (sic) performing lab experiments? Surely they are "just doing their job" and "following orders" as much as any U.S. marine in Afghanistan.
Or what if you're an activist fighting to end exploitative labor practices? Is it acceptable to expose and condemn the CEOs of Nike and The Gap but still hang yellow ribbons for the men and women who handle day-to-day operations of a sweatshop in, say, Vietnam? They're just as "stuck in a bad situation" as the soldiers who ran the show at Abu Ghraib, right?
When it comes to our (sic) troops, we often hear justifications like this: Don’t blame them soldiers; they only volunteer because they lack any other feasible economic options.
I wonder if the same economic excuse making would hold water for those who opt to become gang members: the poor black kid who “enlists” in the Crips, the poverty-stricken Hispanic who “enlists” in the Latin Kings, or any underprivileged kid anywhere in America who “enlists” in any of the myriad mafias and crime syndicates.
These kids also face a stark choice -- being destitute or choosing a uniform and weapon -- but no one hangs yellow ribbons for them. Of course, there are two primary differences between the kids I just described above and those who volunteer to join the U.S. military:
When I say “more dangerous and deadly,” I'm also referring to the reality that the U.S. Department of Defense (sic) (DoD) -- the interventionist institution formerly known as the War Department -- is the biggest polluter on Planet Earth, for example, releasing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined.
Reality Check #2: True environmentalists don't support our (sic) troops.
To add insult to injury, the world's worst polluter -- the entity wrecking havoc upon the landbase that makes all life possible -- also gobbles up 54 percent of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
But it takes more than obscene amounts of money to keep this criminal enterprise afloat. It also takes more than the volunteers willing to be paid to wage illegal, immoral, and eco-system destroying wars. The DoD will be able to maintain its crime spree as long as most of us continue to unconditionally support those troops.
Then again, in a society as warped as ours, “support” doesn't even mean “support.”
While most American citizens -- even if they identify as “antiwar” -- are manipulated, harassed, coerced, and guilted into hanging yellow ribbons, generation after generation of U.S. military personnel have suffered a distinct lack of support from their own government (and the corporations that fund it). Our (sic) troops are just as controlled and exploited as the U.S. citizens programmed to worship them.
Yellow ribbons, flag-waving, repressive laws, peer pressure, and loud chants of "USA" don’t qualify as support. Rather, this is self-policed obedience orchestrated by a corporate-dominated state.
Here’s something else that doesn’t qualify as “support”: Radical activists being awestruck by the veterans within their ranks.
Veterans -- whether they are activists or not -- don’t need such superficial backing when realities like this exist:
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the number of suicides among people serving in the armed forces has jumped more than 25 percent since 2005. In 2010 alone, 454 service members killed themselves in combat zones.
Life doesn't get easier for those who make it home. About one-third of the adult homeless population is veterans and,according to the VA, is 95 percent male, mostly likely to be: single; hail from an urban area; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders.
People of all ethnicities may sign up to defend (sic) the land of the free (sic) but 56 percent of all homeless vets are African American or Hispanic (despite only accounting for 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the U.S. population, respectively).
More VA stats:
Another 1.5 million veterans, says the VA, are considered at risk of homelessness due to "poverty and lack of support networks."
Yes, you read that correctly: "lack of support networks."
Despite the government’s demonstrated unwillingness to truly support volunteer soldiers, Americans continue to enlist -- and this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Even if we miraculously remain immune to wartime spin and propaganda -- even if we don't buy into the story that America has been dragged into conflict after conflict and perpetually left with no choice but to wage a humanitarian war against a savage enemy -- we still face the guilt factor of the "support the troops" peer pressure, e.g. no matter what we think or how we feel, once the actual fighting begins, all Americans must unite behind our troops to insure their safety through victory.
Reality Check #3: The "support the troops" mantra specifically ignores any real examination of who those troops are, what those troops are doing in war zones, what happens to them when they come home, and why many of us don’t want them waging war in the first place. In other words, when we're told to "support the troops," we are, in essence, being compelled to support the policies that exploit those troops.
Inform the Troops
Whether the vets you know were drafted back in the day or more recently volunteered, they need far more tangible supportthan bumper stickers, campaign slogans, or idealistic hero worship.
In turn, what the entire planet needs is a culture that values dissidents infinitely more than it values mercenaries… and this is where activism can become even more of a game changer.
For example, from the official OWS Declaration of the Occupation of New York City:
It is precisely because "the nation's wealth" is "wasted on war" that so many Americans actually volunteer to kill in the service of the 1%. The point many seem to be missing is just how deep the socio-economic connections run:
If a more equitable economic climate were created, young Americans would no longer feel compelled to enlist solely for financial reasons (and by doing so, provide manpower for wars of empire). In such a scenario, those who do volunteer could then rightfully be exposed as willing accomplices to U.S. war crimes and maybe we can finally retire all those counterproductive "support the troops" stickers… and get busy with the counter-recruitment.
Let's Reinvent Veteran’s Day
“The antiwar movement has been so thoroughly discredited,” says author H. Bruce Franklin in Vietnam and Other American Fantasies. “One would never be able to guess from public discourse that for every American veteran of combat in Vietnam, there must be 20 veterans of the antiwar movement.”
Reality Check #4: The veterans of the antiwar movement are OUR troops. If you must fawn over someone, these brave individuals deserve it much more than defenders of empire.
Hmm, I smell an idea brewing…
What if we reinvented Veteran’s Day as a way to honor all the activists who fought before us and blazed a path?
"Antiwar" isn't a useful mask to wear at an activist costume party. This label signifies one as being against all war (exceptclass war) and against all those who volunteer to be paid to help wage war -- no matter which political party has commenced the invasion, the bombing, the sanctions, or the covert operations.
As I sit here typing this, all life is under threat from ever-increasing military actions -- with the United States at the forefront of this global carnage. All the protests during all the wars have not been enough to even dent the machine. Thus, to fall back on old activist approaches is to passively accept more failure.
Educate yourself on and fully accept the realities of U.S. foreign policy and spread the word far and wide -- especially to those young enough to volunteer. If Americans learn the truth and refuse to enlist, the interventions -- and the inevitable atrocities -- will decrease proportionally.
Reality Check #5: Let's not fret about stepping on a few combat-booted toes when we have more important things to worry about. We have a fuckin' planet to save.
Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.
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