Monday, September 24, 2007

Just What Does "Support Our Troops" Mean?

Unfortunately, along with many things in our country right now, the meaning of this phrase has divided us. For me, I do not choose to put a magnet on my car that says, "Support Our Troops." I made the decision long ago when I discovered the magnets were made in China probably by children in sweat shops with profits lining the pockets of some corporate guys who could care less about our troops.

To me, supporting our troops means caring about them. The kids fighting and dying in Iraq are the same ages as my children. Supporting them means making sure they have the best equipment to provide safety and to increase their chances of survival whether it be bullet proof vests or armored humvees. Supporting them means providing them with food and amenities to ease the time in the desert. Supporting them means not sending them to Iraq over and over again with barely time to breathe between deployments. Supporting them means providing the best immediate and follow up medical care when they are injured both physically and mentally. Supporting them means providing them with educations after they are home and benefits allowing them to buy homes and cars. Supporting them means bringing them home and keeping them out of danger the moment it becomes clear the war is based on nothing. When was that moment? When we discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction? When it became clear Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? When Saddam was ousted from power? When Saddam was hung? When we have finally killed enough Iraqis to satisfy our vengefulness? When enough Americans have died to make us feel victorious? Perhaps, just perhaps that moment was the day BEFORE we invaded without provocation a sovereign nation that posed no imminent threat to the United States.

To other folks, "Support Our Troops" is code for "Support Bush; Support the War; Support the Surge." Any dissent from this side is viewed as unpatriotic and unamerican. Asking questions or exercising our consitutional right of free speech is thought of as supporting the enemy. And if there is a claim that maybe blindly supporting a questionable war is a betrayal of our country---oh my, all hell breaks loose. For some reason this crowd can throw around the word "unpatriotic" and label anyone who even slighty disagrees with full fledged war in Iraq as a traitor, but they can't take it when the suggestion is that they are the side that is destroying the values that have made this nation great.

Who are the true patriots? In my view, anyone who is willing to join the military out of love of country and out of a feeling of the importance of service to our nation is a true patriot. Many people who have worn the uniform and served during war time are Democrats. Others are Republicans. John Kennedy comes to mind. Dwight Eisenhower comes to mind. Max Cleland comes to mind. John McCain comes to mind. Jim Webb comes to mind. Wesley Clark comes to mind. John Kerry comes to mind. My own father who served both in WW2 and Korea comes to mind. Hmmmm. Bush and Cheney don't come to mind. General Petraus would come to mind if he wasn't the political front person and the mouthpiece for Bush.

Why am I writing all of this? On Friday, a rally was held to celebrate the release of Robert (Bobby) Pennington from military prison. He had been convicted of conspiring to murder an Iraqi civilian during his third tour of duty in Iraq. Bobby was my son's friend and next door neighbor for 14 years. I did not want him to join the Marines after he graduated from high school but after he did, I supported his decision to serve our country. September 11 was the reason. The horrors he faced in Iraq were unimaginable. He was doing what he needed to do to survive, to protect himself and his fellow Americans in sometimes impossible circumstances. I did not agree with the accusations against him and was greatly relieved when he was released from a possible eight years in prison. Unfortunately, the people who sponsored the rally welcoming Bobby back to Mukilteo were the "Support Our Troops/Support Bush and War" crowd and I got the distinct impression that people like me were not to be there. I was there anyway because I do support our troops. I care deeply about what happens to these young brave Americans. I care about Bobby. I felt sad that it was not a rally for all Americans who love our country.

I did get the chance to personally welcome Bobby and to give him a hug afterwards even if the president of the sponsoring company asked me who I was and why was I there. Someone must have told the CEO, as I stood there with my puppy Apolo, that while he was speaking I announced to the men standing around me that maybe some of us in the audience were Democrats. Or maybe he saw the faces I made when he said some of the things he said. One of the greatest characteristics of our nation is that we are allowed, though not encouraged these days, to hold widely differing opinions. This is what a democracy is.

And democracy is American.

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Bobby, still with dimples, and his parents, my friends.
Kevin Nortz / The Herald

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Taking down the banner.
Kevin Nortz / The Herald