Support The Troops All You Like, But On Your Own Time


Since the discussion over on the Blackwater thread is getting kinda long, I thought I’d drag some elements out into the open.

I saw something in Ottawa recently that really irked me: police cars, ambulances and fire trucks with “support the troops” bumper stickers.

Let’s examine this phenomenon… What does it mean to “support the troops”?

  1. Certainly, only a heartless asshole would not wish for our soldiers to escape unscathed from their mission. If that is support, then I’m 100% behind that.
  • A slightly more discerning individual might see “support” as wishing that the military’s current mission be effected with great efficiency and effect.
  • A more literal interpretation would see “support” as a vow to petition the powers that be to better effect (1) and (2) above.
  • The less obvious interpretation is that “I support the troops” also means “I support our decision to go to war”.

All of the above options, with the exception of (1), are political positions. This is especially true when the war in question (Afghanistan here, Iraq in the US) is not one of direct service to Canadian citizens, but is rather a voluntary foreign excursion opposed (according to current polls) by the majority of citizens.

It is my belief that option (4) is in fact the most common usage of this particular trope. This is the result, I believe, of disingenuous forces (certain members of the media, and politicos) wishing to silence anti-war voices by accusing them of “not supporting the troops”. The result is that, increasingly, “supporting the troops” is a sentiment best associated with those who wish to vocally commit their approval of the political decision to go to war.

Have I overstated the case? I don’t have any evidence for this, but I think I’m quite correct. This guy, speaking for the American case, is on board. And this blogger shares the position, but with considerably more ire.

Donna Saggia is even more cynical than me, again regarding the American case. She writes:

“In other words, ‘support the troops’ feeds the cult of the military and allows Americans to be self-righteous about our global interventions. It has absolutely nothing to do with, well, supporting the troops.”

And here is a considerably angrier screed by blogger Ed Strong about how “support the troops” is simply “pro-war propaganda”. Sadly, there is a growing sense that the red poppy, so long a Canadian symbol of post-war peace, is being co-opted into a symbol for rallying pro-war support.

Given that 3/4 of the possible interpretations of “support the troops” that I listed above are in fact political positions, and not assertions of public values, I question the appropriateness of seeing this sentiment/slogan broadcast on the bumpers of public-owned vehicles. If we accept that “support the troops” is increasingly becoming propaganda for “support the war”, then a police car with such a bumper sticker is essentially expressing support for a particular federal party, the one vowing to sustain the war effort.

To me, this is just as unacceptable as a police car having a “I’m pro-choice” bumper sticker, or even something as inane as, “support mixed member proportional representation”. The personal beliefs of the policeman are irrelevant; he’s welcome to explore them on his own time. But he should not be using his position or tax-funded equipment to advertise a platform that is beyond the mandate of his station.

It was expressed to me in the Blackwater thread that policemen, firemen, etc, are entitled to express solidarity with their brothers in uniform who have similarly put their lives on the line in the name of public service.

This is a nice sentiment, and indeed peace officers are free to do so… on their own time, using their own vehicles. The formality of expressing such support on publicly owned vehicles and equipment is, I believe, a deliberate attempt to confound two unrelated phenomena: the righteous, heroic sacrifices made by policemen and firemen in the service of taxpayers, and the deployment of troops on foreign soil to kill and die for a political edict that I and the majority of Canadians oppose. It reinforces the supposition (one rejected by many, including myself) that Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying for us in this particular war.

(And let us leave aside the truly scary image of men with guns and authority overtly suggesting to the rest of us what political position to embrace. Is this not how the term “police state” arose?)

I have heard calls for an augmentation of the slogan to, “I support the troops, but not the war.” This is, unfortunately, even more of a blatant political statement.

So what’s the solution? Ideally, it would have been nice if the slogan weren’t politicized to begin with. I know who I blame for that. Now it’s too late. But a solution to the immediate issue of misuse of tax-funded vehicles is for city administrators to issue an immediate order that no public vehicle will be used to advertise any political message, even one as deceptively harmless as “support the troops”.