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Commentary :: War and Militarism
Support the victims of the troops
08 Feb 2007
We shouldn't pay more attention to the troops than to their victims.
The slogan “Support the Troops”, as Chomsky once said, makes as much sense as saying “support people in Iowa”. It really means “support the war” and/or “our troops are more important than their victims”. The most popular antiwar rebuttal to those who use the slogan is not to say “Support the victims of the troops” but simply to add “bring ‘em home”.

Why do we care more about US soldiers than their victims, the roughly 700, 000 Iraqi civilians and resistance fighters killed (and millions maimed and tortured) in what Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials called a war of aggression, “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”?

It’s true that US soldiers are human beings with families and friends. We know that because the mainstream media constantly humanizes them and shows them in a positive light, and ignores their victims.

Certain important questions are never asked:

Weren’t Nazi soldiers human? What about the Russians who invaded Afghanistan? Weren’t they also to some extent victims of their circumstances? Didn’t they fight against people who used terrorist tactics? Didn’t they suffer or have wives, families and friends who cried and worried? Was it right for Russians and Germans to worry more about their soldiers than about their victims? Are American people and soldiers more or less responsible for their crimes than the citizens of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia?

If some more powerful country had invaded the US, killing 100s of 1000s and maiming millions, would we worry more about the suffering of the invader and his friends and family (or his insufficient body armor) than about American suffering? Would we be in favor of a massive bombing of the invader state? Would Americans be content with “an eye for an eye” or their usual “1000 eyes for an eye”?

As a cursory look at history shows, if any state does to Americans a fraction of what Americans do to others, Americans are in favor of a crushing retaliation with terrible consequences for the civilian population. Yet American soldiers and civilians are more responsible for the crimes of their government than the citizens and soldiers of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, whose civilian deaths at our hands were (or would be) considered “collateral damage” at best.

Americans live in a freer, more democratic country. That entails more responsibility. They have more say over what happens in the society, and have less to fear from their government if they dissent. Principle IV of the Nuremberg Tribunal states: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."
The “moral choice” is easier to pursue for American people and soldiers. Furthermore, the military are not all “a mercenary army of the disadvantaged” as Chomsky calls them. As Mickey Z recently pointed out, a NYT article showed a study that "analyzed demographic data on every single enlistee, not just a sample, and found that in terms of education, last year's recruits were just as qualified as those of any recent year, and maybe the best ever. Over all, wartime recruits since 1999 are in many respects comparable to the youth population on the whole, except that they are on average a bit wealthier, much more likely to have graduated from high school and more rural than their civilian peers." Youths "from wealthy American ZIP codes are volunteering in ever higher numbers" while "enlistees from the poorest fifth of American neighbourhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the last two years, to 13.7 percent. In 1999, that number was exactly 18 percent."

In nationalist ideology the state, its soldiers and its wars become an extension of the ego.
It becomes impossible to apply to oneself the same standard one applies to others.
If we are to become decent human beings we have to apply moral principles universally and start paying attention to our own crimes. We can start by supporting the victims of our troops.

This work is in the public domain
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