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Commentary ::
Support Our Troops? An Alternative View
03 Feb 2004
Exactly which troops should I be supporting?
Support Our Troops? An Alternative View

Every day in the alternative media I hear prominent progressives proclaiming how strongly they support our brave troops abroad and how, because of that support, they are just as patriotic as those on the right. Just today I listened to an interview with Dennis Kucinich, the most liberal of the Democratic presidential candidates, adamantly expressing his support. But I am confused. Exactly which troops should I be supporting?

Should I be supporting the pilots who drop cluster bombs in civilian neighborhoods? Or maybe I should be supporting the troops firing million dollar Tomahawk Cruise Missiles from the safety of naval vessels far offshore? Should I be supporting the Marines who machine-gun down whole families at US military checkpoints in Iraq? Or how about the ones kicking in the doors of homes in Baghdad? Or the ones breaking up the Iraqi political protests against the US occupation of their country? Should I support the pilots who bombed the offices of news agencies in Baghdad, or the tank commander who fired on journalists in the Palestine Hotel. How about the troops who recently brutalized the Reuters reporters?

Maybe I should also extend my support to the troops who remain behind here in the Homeland, carrying out the necessary but less glamorous tasks that keep our capitalist economic system smoothly functioning? Like the ones teaching counter-insurgency and torture to Latin American cattle prod specialists at Fort Benning's School of the Americas. Or maybe the ones backing up our domestic police forces, beating up on passive protestors exercising their constitutionally-protected right of free speech.

Enough is enough. If demonstrating my patriotism means that I have to voice my support for a bunch of brutal thugs, forget it. Count me among the unpatriotic. I don't support school yard bullies, I don't support mafia gangsters, and I won't support US troops who act in a similar matter.

In proclaiming support for our military troops abroad, progressives seem to be exhibiting a double standard. When we are clubbed and tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed by the police in the streets of Seattle, or Washington, D. C., or Miami, or any other US city for daring to voice our views in public, you don't hear a lot of proclamations from activists about how they support the police. Instead, you hear cries and demands for investigations into the police violence. Why do we have a different standard for US troops abroad? Both the police and military are all volunteer forces. Both the police and military troops have taken an oath to uphold the US Constitution. The police use excessive force to defend capitalism and globalization here at home, while the US military uses excessive force to defend capitalism and globalization abroad? Maybe if more of us were the direct victims of violence at the hands of US troops we would see those troops in a different light. Among the survivors of the thousands of destroyed families in Iraq, I doubt you would find many people who would proclaim support for our troops.

Are all US troops guilty of behaving like thugs? No, of course not, but with Vietnam War veteran Senator John Kerry now the Democratic frontrunner in the race for the presidency, it might be a good time to recall his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971:

"I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....

They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."

I would like to think that things are different now, but I know better. Just recently I saw a US soldier interviewed in Iraq. His comment to the interviewer? "We're in the business of population control." I'm assuming he wasn't talking about condoms and birth control pills.

We are not in Iraq to fight terrorism or to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction or to bring freedom and democracy to the poor Iraqi people. We are there to steal Iraq's oil reserves and extend the US empire, and like it or not, our brave US troops function as nothing more than enforcers for US transnational corporations and global capitalism.

Like it or not, the fact is that the actions of US troops in Iraq are in clear violation of the law. At the time of induction, US troops take the following oath -

"I,____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God"

Under the US Constitution, international treaties signed by the US government become the equivalent of US law. The war in Iraq is in violation of several international treaties, including the Hague Convention, the Geneva Convention, the Nuremberg Principles, and the UN Charter. Further, it is abundantly clear that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to which all US military personnel are bound, our troops are not obligated to obey unlawful orders. In fact, they have a legal obligation to disobey unlawful orders. This is spelled out clearly under the principles of the Nuremberg Code, adopted by the Department of Defense in 1953.

Should I feel sorry because so many of our front line troops have ended up in the military because they are poor and uneducated and lacking in options? Sure, and I do. But I don't feel nearly as sorry for them as for the innocent civilians they are killing and brutalizing in my name. Do I think that the troops are the only ones to blame for the war in Iraq? No, of course not, but why should they be held less accountable for their actions than the officers and politicians giving the orders to kill? Within the US court system, killers for hire tend to fare poorly.

So, with those thoughts in mind, here's an idea. Whereas the US military is composed entirely of volunteers, and whereas the troops are the ones doing the killing in Iraq, and whereas neither poverty nor ignorance of the law qualify as an adequate defense for homicide, I propose that every soldier in the field in Iraq, from the lowest-ranking private to the highest-ranking general, be rounded up and put on trial for war crimes alongside Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and company.

Buffy Sainte-Marie had it right in her 1964 song The Universal Soldier -
"….without him all this killing can't go on.
He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame…"
In my life I have to be accountable for my actions and it is time that our troops are held accountable for theirs.

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