Four years into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thirty-some years after Vietnam, this country is still wrestling with a relatively straightforward question: "Can you support the troops, but not the war?"
I've made my stance on the issue pretty clear. I think you can do both. I write about this topic (and others having to do with the politics of the Iraq war) extensively in my new book, Chasing Ghosts. Regardless of what you think of this war - right, wrong or indifferent - we all have a moral obligation to take care of the men and women who serve. When it comes to issues such as VA funding or adequate body armor, it's time to put ideological differences and partisan bickering aside and just get the job done. "Support the Troops" is not some jingoistic rallying cry, but rather a clear imperative that should be separate from your feelings for or against the war.
As an Iraq Vet, I have always been treated well by all Americans--whether they are for this war or not. And that is tremendous progress from where this country was during Vietnam. My generation of veterans have the Vietnam vets to thank for the warm welcomes we receive today. When Vietnam vets came home in the 60's and 70's, they faced second battle. They returned home to face a nation filled with frustration and anger about a war, that was directed at them personally. And that was wrong. Vietnam was not their fault. But over time, they worked hard and taught this country to separate the war from the warriors. It is one of the most important lessons America learned from Vietnam.
So what do some other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan think about the same question? We put the question out to our member veterans. Here's a sampling of their responses from the IAVA blog:
Perry Jefferies served as a First Sergeant in Iraq:
"I think so, but this question has become a minefield set for political purposes and tends to engender more acrimony than support for anything...I think that often neither side has really thought through what they are saying."
Marissa Sousa spent a year in Iraq as a Staff Sergeant in a tank unit:
"Supporting the troops is as American as apple pie, or as baseball. I think the best supporter is the one that questions why the troops are sacrificing their lives, their buddies, and their families, to fight. The best supporter is the one that understands the troops, and fights for their rights both on the ground and on their return."
Monroe Mann is an actor and National Guard Soldier who returned last year after a year in Iraq:
"I think it is completely possible to be against the war, but support the troops...None of the troops decided of their own volition to start the war. They were simply doing a job. I think most Americans realize this."
Ray Kimball served as an Army Captain in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and mentions Cher, Henry Rollins and others who break the stereotype: "It seems contradictory, but I say yes - you can be against the war, and still support the troops. 'Support' doesn't mean a bumper sticker, and it doesn't mean an endless litany of praises and recitation of the virtues of those in uniform. It means real, concrete actions to support those tasked with carrying out a dirty and difficult task."
Keith Klewe served in Afghanistan, and had this to say: "I'm 100% for the troops, whether they are U.S. troops, Coalition troops or Iraqi and Afghan troops. I'm all for fighting for something you believe in. I believe in the individual motivation of all soldiers to do the right thing, support their country, make things better. At the same time, I'm 100% against war with no objective."
You can learn more about Keith and all the other IAVA bloggers here.
For another perspective on the question, check out this interview on "American Microphone" with Major Owen West.
What do you think? Can you support the troops without supporting the war? Or do you think that by supporting the troops you are supporting the Bush doctrine and prolonging the war in Iraq? Sound off here on the discussion board. I'll be checking in from time to time to and adding comments where I can.