21 November, 2006

Support and the Soul

Jules Crittenden's provocative column in the Boston Herald, "Quitting a Worthy Fight Would Be a Great Mistake," has created some interesting discussion on his blog. The issue of "supporting" the troops but not the war came up in the context of the reception Vietnam veterans received upon their return home.

When the U.S. military went into Afghanistan, I had a powerful personal reaction to thoughts of what was being done on my behalf. It was a reaction of overwhelming sorrow and humblest gratitude. At a level that was as yet inarticulate, I understood I was inextricably linked to what happened on the battlefield and that the aftermath of those events created in me and every other U.S. citizen a response born of moral obligation and a debt that would never be repaid. And so from that day I knew at a deeper level than ever that support for our military and its goals was my obligation now that the fighting had started.

But yesterday at Crittenden's blog, a commenter finally gave me words for what I knew in my heart five years ago. He articulated exactly why it's not only incorrect to say one can support the troops without supporting their goals, it's morally reprehensible.

I had first written in comments (in part):

...[Vietnam veteran] soldiers who came home and were told their service was either dishonorable or useless (due to us giving up) had a harder time coping with the psychological and physical aftermath of that service. Humans can bear an amazing amount of suffering if they believe it is a result of [in service of] something noble or admirable, but being told they suffer for nothing good can literally make it harder to cope.

The response from commenter NAMedic:

As a combat medic and Vietnam Veteran who is 100% disabled due to PTSD, I can confirm the general point you make. It was not until five or six years of therapy, peeling away all the layers of horror from the war, that the final root of my problems was revealed. The worst trauma was in coming home, by far, and by far it was the hardest to see, and the most painful to admit. [snip]

A nation cannot ask normal human beings to engage in warfare unless that nation, top to bottom, validates what they have to do in such extremities. Normal human beings cannot remain psychologically whole, believing that their behavior was immoral - and all warfare is internally recognized by any soldier as profoundly immoral unless it is validated by a "higher power" outside the individual soldier.

Yes, it is our obligation to fight a wrong policy with every ounce of our strength before it is implemented, particularly when it involves issues of life and death. But war is a very special case, for so many lives hang in the physical and psychological balance. Once a war has begun, there can be only one course of action. To do otherwise than embrace the soldier for what he does for you is a kind of pernicious evil that takes the selfishness of one's natural desire to avoid the ugliness of this world to a new low [quote continued from above]:

This is also why the whole pose of "support the troops but oppose the war" is so insane and naive, if not deliberately and hypocritically self-serving. The "support" that counts, the only support that counts, is moral validation. If you oppose the war, you are withholding that very validation. You are destroying the soldier’s soul.

Yes, this is a democracy and you have every right to think your soldiers are on a fool's errand. But once it's been started, shut the hell up! Let them do what they must to win so that the duration is shorter and the suffering is less.

With the military power we possess, we have the capacity to win any conflict (it simply matters how much damage we want to inflict), so you cannot argue that a war we are engaged in is fundamentally unwinnable. It simply comes down to whether or not you want to pay the cost. If you don't, or you think that the prosecution of that war is a bad thing, then fine. But the only other option to winning is losing. So face up to it and admit that you want our soldiers to lose, you want them to believe they are doing immoral things for no moral reason, you want their death and suffering to be in vain, and that you are (in the words of someone who has "been there, done that") "destroying the soldier's soul."

Don't you dare stand there and clothe yourself in the rightousness of being "anti-war!" For your actions are not only prolonging the conflict and increasing physical suffering (on both sides), but they are robbing your fellow citizens of the healing they require for what they have done in your defense. And no, short of taking up citizenship in another country, you cannot repudiate their gift to you. It is always there, staring you in the face whether you pick it up or not. And frankly it's a defining moment for your philosophy and and relationship to humanity: are you going to pick it up and embrace the giver in sorrow and gratitude? Or are you going to try to simultaneously kick aside his gift as stupid at best and try to tell him that walking the darkness with the demons was wasted on you as you assure him you "support" him?

This is why what Code Pink did in the beginning months of their protest at Walter Reed ("Maimed for a Lie," etc.) was so evil. This is why military support volunteers do what they do. This is why a wounded senior NCO at WR once said to a friend of mine: If it wasn't for y'all [the volunteers here], half these boys would be suicidal.

War is not something that happens to others on a distant shore. It happens to all of us, and all of us have an impact on how it plays out and what happens to those most directly involved. What's your impact?

If you haven't yet, please read NAMedic's entire comment at Crittenden's; he has important things to say.

[Cross-posted at Argghhh!]