The man pulls a cigarette from a pack tucked into the breast pocket of his brown jacket and cradles in in his hands. He reaches into the pockets of his blue jeans, retrieving a silver lighter that glints in the light of the setting sun. A faint whisk of orange flame flares into existence, and a moment later a wispy trail of smoke snakes through the air. He inhales. And exhales, a cloud of smoke billowing forth from his mouth. The doctor says they’ll kill him. He doesn’t care. They help him relax.
He stands next to a small, dying tree in the backyard. It is a lonely place, a farmhouse that has seen better years. The gray paint is beginning to chip and fade away, and the screen door on the porch no longer shuts all the way. It awkwardly clatters in the wind, banging against its frame. The sun slowly sinks below the western horizon, the yellow light washing over the land gradually transforming into a faint orange glaze. Off in the distant woods, the man can already hear the twittering of insects waking themselves up for the night.
He holds the cigarette in his left hand, which still feels awkward to him, as he had been right-handed his entire life.
He looks down at the awkward stump that used to be his hand. He is not wearing the prosthetic at the moment. It makes him itch, and he doesn’t enjoy how that feels.
Without it, he can feel the phantom of his hand. He can feel the flexing fingers, the bending wrist. It is no longer there of course, and what remains of it lies among the dust and dirt of a land far from here.
He closes his eyes. Ethereal sounds of an explosion reach his ears. The memories of the burning pain and the fear are just as powerful as if it had happened yesterday.
It fades. His eyes open again. The sun is now little more than an orange smudge on the horizon. He takes several more inhales of his cigarette, watching the giver of light sink below the curve of the planet. When it is gone from sight he throws the cigarette to the ground, extinguishes it with his shoe, and trudges back toward the house.
The above paragraph is not based on anyone in particular. It’s simply something I made up on my own. However, it serves as a good scene setter for what I want to talk about today.
I’ve long thought over the idea of “supporting the troops” versus “supporting the war”. For some people (especially those of the conservative bent), there’s really no distinction between the two. To support the troops, you support the war. Which is why whenever someone says they’re against the war, these people tend to get very angry. They see anti-war people as ungrateful and disrespectful toward those serving in the military.
But is there really no distinction between the two? I think there is.
Here’s the way I see it. I don’t like war on a general level. I think it’s a last resort option for people who lack the ability to compromise with each other. However I also recognize that, in a way, it’s inevitable where human nature is concerned. We are a tribal sort of people, drawing lines in the sand all over the place. When others outside of our specific group cross those lines, we tend to get angry. And when pushed far enough, that anger will explode into violent action.
I was against the war in Iraq. I honestly believe we shouldn’t have gone in there in the first place (although I recognize that some good did come out of it, especially where Saddam Hussein is concerned). But that doesn’t mean that I actively wished the U.S. troops ill. Quite the opposite. I wanted them to come home. I wanted them to see their families again. I didn’t want them to breathe their last so far from the home they’ve known all their lives. But to some people, that doesn’t matter. To support the troops, you support the war. And doing anything otherwise is considered being against the troops.
This incredible, patriotic zeal can likely be traced back to the aftermath of 9/11. Following the horrific attack, people weren’t willing to question or provide explanations for why it happened. And those who did were almost universally shunned by the public. This lack of an answer for “why” allowed then-president George W. Bush to step in with his “they hate freedom” rhetoric that propelled us into the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. And to a certain extent, I understand how this happened. We here in the United States felt so secure and so safe. And then suddenly, that illusion faded. We were left scrambling to pick up the pieces. Our nerves were frayed. Our minds were shot. And it is far easier to create a simplistic rhetoric of “good vs. evil” than it is to explain all the underlying factors that led to such an event, such as the anger over U.S. troops being posted just outside Saudi Arabia.
And here’s the thing: these two wars didn’t really accomplish much. Sure, we took out two very bad guys, but in the end it was in many ways a hollow victory. In doing what we did, we destabilized the region to such an extent that various insurgent groups sprang up and began vying for control (especially in Iraq). It could be argued that this destabilization inevitably created the conditions which lead to the rise of ISIS. And we all know ISIS, don’t we?
This is what I mean by supporting the troops, but not supporting the war. There are far too many variables, far too many factors at play in the world to reduce everything to such simplistic terms as “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong”. Don’t misunderstand me, ISIS is a terrible and hated group and we should be doing our best to stop them. But if we don’t learn from our past, all we’re going to do is set the stage for another group to rise following ISIS’s fall. We reap what we sow, to borrow a philosophical cliché.
I support the troops, but I don’t support the war. I support the people, but I don’t support the violence. And that’s all there is to it.
Thanks for reading! Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.