We see them every day on the back windows of SUVs, on the fuel doors of sedans–stickers and magnets that say “Support Our Troops.” Sometimes they sport yellow ribbons; sometimes American flags. Often they are weathered, peeling off the metal or glass. We see them so often it’s easy to tune them out. Like the inoffensive “Have a nice day,” the slogan is a pleasant sentiment that skims across our consciousness and disappears into the air.
On Veteran’s Day, when we honor all of those who have served our country through the military, it’s helpful to take a closer look at these three words that have become so familiar: What does it mean to truly support our troops?
Often, when people ask us to support our troops, they are asking us to support the Bush Administration’s decisions in Iraq. But is the Administration supporting our troops by sending them into a war based on lies? By sending them into one battle after another with inadequate body armor, inadequately armored vehicles? By bringing home the wounded in the dead of night so we can pretend they don’t exist? By cutting veteran’s benefits upon their return, so they have to struggle to pay for their housing, their groceries, their medical care? By making young men and women fight an unwinnable war, a war that no longer has the backing of the American people?
Since March, peace groups including CodePink and Veterans for Peace have been staging a weekly candlelight vigil in front of Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, to highlight the needs of injured soldiers. Lately, the vigils have been met by aggressive counterdemonstrators, who line up on the opposite side of the street with signs denouncing the vigil. These people support the war in Iraq and argue that demonstrations are demoralizing to the recovering soldiers. But how demoralizing must it be for soldiers coming home to discover that in state after state, Veterans Administration hospitals are being shut down? How demoralizing must it be for injured soldiers to have to fight for disability benefits, to be faced with increased co-payments, to be told that their post-traumatic stress disorder is not war-related?
What is the impact on soldiers still in Iraq to learn that the Bush Administration manipulated the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in order to justify an invasion? How must they feel when they learn that Iraqis don’t want us there or understand that their acts of bravery are not making their families safer at home? How demoralizing must it be to see their buddies die in a war that increasing numbers of soldiers don’t even believe in?
More than 2,000 of our troops have been killed, and more than 15,000 injured. These numbers are important to remember, but it is also important to remember that our troops are not numbers, not statistics. They are human beings, and there are actions we can take to support them that are much more meaningful than blindly supporting our President or slapping a magnet on the back of our gas-guzzling car.
Send care packages to Iraq: books and snacks and toiletries to mitigate some of the harshness of the desert war zone. Donate to organizations, like the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, that provide help for returning soldiers struggling to put their lives together after war. Stand on street corners with candles and signs that spotlight the injustices our troops face. Support groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, made up of courageous soldiers speaking out against the war. Urge elected officials to end this misbegotten military adventure. Support clean, green energy programs and lifestyles that move us off our dependence on other countries’ oil.
As we honor the sacrifice and courage of our veterans, let us recognize that the best way to support our troops is to call for their swift exit from Iraq, to guarantee them the care they deserve when they return, and to make policy changes that will stop us from ever again rushing into a reckless war.