Answering a question that faces the antiwar movement
By Sharon Smith | April 4, 2003 | Page 8
THE BUSH administration's rallying cry to "support our troops" is nothing more than a public relations tool to gain approval for an unpopular war. In reality, Bush's feigned concern for the well-being of the troops lasts no longer than a sound bite.
In fact, just one day after Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution to "support our troops" in Iraq, the House of Representatives approved Bush's 2004 budget--slashing funding for veterans' health care and benefit programs by nearly $25 billion over the next 10 years.
Bush himself has never been "in harm's way," since his own privileged background allowed him not only to avoid serving in Vietnam, but also to go AWOL from the reserves for a full year without so much as a reprimand.
Nevertheless, the call to "support our troops" has been an effective vehicle for gaining approval of the war among Americans. According to CNN, a poll taken the weekend before the war found that only 47 percent of Americans approved of invading Iraq without United Nations (UN) support. But support for the war jumped to 76 percent as soon as it began--once U.S. troops were at risk.
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THE "SUPPORT our troops" slogan is designed to isolate those who remain against the war by equating opposition to the war with betrayal of the young servicemen and servicewomen now risking their lives overseas.
This is the apparent justification for the blanket condemnation of the throngs of antiwar protesters turning out in cities across the country, who have been curiously absent from network news coverage since the war began.
"Now is not the time for protest," implored a military mom featured last week on MSNBC Primetime, "not now, when our troops are defending our country." But there is nothing "defensive" about invading Iraq--a sovereign nation that has never threatened the U.S. And while the networks have convinced a majority of Americans that Iraq was somehow involved in the September 11 attacks, even the CIA dismissed this claim as unsubstantiated.
The "support our troops" slogan is meant to help Americans overlook these facts. And the Bush administration's stated outrage at the appearance of U.S. prisoners on Iraqi television in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention is calculated to draw attention away from the fact that the U.S.'s own "pre-emptive invasion" is a clear violation of existing international law.
A steady media barrage of the families of U.S. troops coping with the fear and the reality of losing their loved ones supplants news of the much greater loss of life to Iraqi troops and civilians. Military families who oppose the war have not been given equal time to present their case.
Most Americans have never heard of Military Families Speak Out, a national organization of more than 300 families with relatives in the military, but who oppose the war. Boston resident Charley Richardson, the group's co-founder, argues, "Iraq is a key to the region. And the idea of taking it over as a power base has been around for a long time. But I would argue this war violates the Constitution, the UN charter and other rules of international behavior."
But MSNBC has yet to feature Richardson in one of its many military family segments. And Michael Waters-Bey of Baltimore, whose Marine son, Kendall, was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Iraq on March 20, was denounced as unpatriotic when he blamed Bush for his son's death. But Waters-Bey stands by his opposition to the war--his courage in doing so largely unreported. "I don't think this war is a just cause," he said. "They say they're freeing the people from slaughter, but basically, it is all about the oil. It ain't about Saddam."
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RALLYING THE country to "support our troops" underestimates not only the opposition to war at home, but among the troops themselves. The New York Times recently described the U.S. military as "a fighting force that is anything but a cross-section of America"--one with "minorities over-represented and the wealthy essentially absent."
Most of the troops now serving in Iraq signed up for the military to get a college education, not to invade Afghanistan or Iraq. Many have found themselves called up to fight in both wars, and are less than enthusiastic about this mission.
Before the war even began, Arab News, traveling with U.S. troops headed for the Gulf, reported the mood: "They do not want [war], and they're not happy with President Bush's--as one GI put it--'cowboy gung-ho attitude.'"
Last week, a New York Times reporter asked a 28 year-old U.S. pilot returning from his first bombing run how he felt after dropping his first bomb. The pilot, Lt. Dewaine Barnes, "started to say 'disappointed,' but caught himself," according to the reporter. "None of us here are warmongers," said Barnes.
But the warmongers are precisely the troops that Bush has in mind to "support." One such warmonger is Corp. Ryan Dupre, quoted in Sunday's Times of London, after surveying a dozen burnt and bloody Iraqi corpses killed by U.S. soldiers as they tried to flee Nasiriya. "The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," he said. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."
The opinions of troops in Iraq are divided, just as opinions are divided at home. All were promised a quick war, in which Saddam Hussein's regime would fall "like a house of cards," according to Dick Cheney, and U.S. troops would be welcomed by Iraqis as "liberators." Instead, as the Financial Times described, soldiers have been "confronted with hatred."
The "cakewalk" through Iraq suddenly came to resemble the "quagmire" of civilian and military resistance that the U.S. troops encountered in Vietnam. As a man in a crowd of Iraqi refugees fleeing Basra told reporters, "The soldiers treat us badly. Should a liberation look like this?" Another said, "The people fight to defend their country, not because they love Saddam. We need freedom, not occupation."
In such circumstances, the line between civilian and military targets becomes blurry, and the "enemy" can easily become all Iraqis. As a wounded American soldier said, "If they're dressed as civilians, you don't know who is the enemy anymore." This is the logic that led top U.S. military officials to conclude that it was necessary to "destroy Vietnam in order to save it."
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IN THE first 12 days of the war, thousands of Iraqi soldiers and hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed, while thousands more were injured. Fewer than 50 U.S. and 25 British troops were killed during the same period.
Yet the U.S. has systematically underreported the number of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. bombs and downplayed the spread of water-born disease among civilians forced to drink contaminated water after days without food and water.
The U.S. media's overarching emphasis has been on "our" troops' casualties, while the U.S. military routinely blames Iraqi civilian deaths on Saddam Hussein, even when marketplaces are bombed or fleeing refugees are shot by U.S. troops.
Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Peter Arnett was fired by NBC on Monday because he gave an interview to "the state-run Iraqi television," according to a statement by the (state-run) U.S. network.
The Baghdad-based Arnett made the apparently treasonous statement that "the allied war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance." Arnett argued that he reported Iraqi casualties to help "those who oppose the war."
An open statement to U.S. troops, signed by hundreds of veterans and posted on ZNet's Web site, posed the real choice facing U.S. soldiers in Iraq: "Your commanders want you to obey. We urge you to think."
Those who oppose the war support the right to resist--for U.S. troops and the Iraqis that they are meant to slaughter.