I have a brother who is a Captain in the Army. He has done year-long tours in Korea and Iraq, and is now preparing for another deployment, probably (I'm assuming) to Iraq or Afghanistan. I love my brother and I'm very proud of him, and I try always to be cognizant that he and thousands of others like him--men and women with families, spouses and kids and parents and siblings--have voluntarily signed up to put themselves in harm's way to protect my country and my freedoms. His stories about his deployments have made it clear as day that this is not child's play. I must acknowledge right away that his contributions to our country already in his young life far outshadow any contributions I have made, or ever will make. And I'm aware that my thoughts rightly belong under a heading of “Those Who Have Not Served.”
This acknowledgement of the debt we owe to our country's soldiers makes my feelings for our current president and government, and especially my criticism of them, a sensitive issue for me. I'm not ambivalent about what I feel, but I'm sensitive that my opinions are not things that a person deploying to a war zone wants to hear. Even if the criticism is just, I can't imagine a soldier being happy that orders they are bound by oath to follow are in pursuit of a policy which is not supported by the citizens of their country. Or worse, that the policy, and the mission that pursues it, are thought to be ill-advised and unworthy of the sacrifices required. I'm not even sure that as a country we are on board about the most general goals of our current policy in the Middle East. Anyway, long and short: I want not to fire off my dislike of W and his governance lightly.
So that’s all difficult enough for my little brain to process. But it gets worse: W and his surrogate strategy module, Karl Rove (and the rest of his intellectual life-support system), have been very quick to use the honor of the soldiers as a shield for his government's policies; criticism of our government, we are told, is a slap in the face to people who are dying to protect us.
Man, that's a hard thing for me to hear. But this concept is so badly thought-out (and was surely not followed by those same conservatives during the Clinton administrations) that it's hard not to see it as ugly opportunism. Thomas Jefferson said "Dissent is the sincerest form of patriotism," and our freedom of expression seems among the most precious freedoms we have and the most worthy to protect. Criticism of our government is the absolute cornerstone of free speech. In truth, I'm a bit surprised that there has not been more resistance within the military (beyond the ongoing and increasing difficulty finding new recruits) to a mission which, oath or not, many of THEM must also have grave questions about.
It is this honor--the honor of the mission of a country's soldiers, and the honor of the men and women who have chosen to serve--that makes me think that the use of our troops must be governed by the most scrupulous code of ethics. What we seem to have now instead is a squandering of that honor for political advantage, and I for one find it deeply disturbing. Again and again I am reminded that politics is a dirty business: Rove knows that a particular brand of conservative will leap to the defense of W--no matter what--and that his policies can ride the coattails of this blind allegiance. But to me this is another of a host of tricks this administration is happy to play to move its agenda forward, instead of simply being straightforward and honest.
Maybe I'm naive and this is simply not how anything will get done in politics. But I will not allow this sect of Republicanism to define the debate for me. I do love my country, and I am proud of our soldiers.
I agree with the bumper sticker: “Support The Troops--Bring 'Em Home!”