"Support the Troops", a rather simple statement that continues to be a flashpoint of emotional and political fervor in the United States; sadly all of that emotional and political energy clouds the abject failure to live up to it. The very concept of supporting the troops only came into prominence in the last few decades initially as a response to the inappropriate conduct of citizenry towards soldiers returning from Vietnam. These soldiers were improperly viewed as a voluntary arm of the U.S. government, which anti-war protesters believed manipulated intelligence to conduct war for economic and political reasons. Unfortunately the soldiers were caught in a Catch-22 quandary as if they refused to serve they faced possible criminal prosecution where if they did serve they faced death and ridicule from the very people they were serving to protect. In addition the soldiers had no real power to control the course of events between the U.S. and other sovereign nations, so realistically all they could be responsible for regarding the events in Vietnam was their own conduct.
In effort to avoid the repeating the shameful treatment of those soldiers involved in Vietnam the slogan “Support the Troops” was founded. Unfortunately the concept of supporting the troops was twisted and corrupted by politicians by connecting it directly to the patriotism of an individual and their personal opinion regarding current military conflict; George W. Bush and this administration perpetrated the most egregious violation of the spirit of this mantra. Under George W. Bush if one questioned military conflict orchestrated by the U.S. in any region of the world, not only would the patriotism of that individual be challenged, but also their support of the men and women giving their lives in the conflict. Of course this corruption of the spirit of the mantra further clouded its misapplication. Today there are two rather large misconceptions regarding what it means to support the troops that still have prominence today.
First, when one supports the troops this support should not be a blanket of unconditional support. For instance how it is morally justifiable to support the actions of a soldier that murders citizens of the country in which the conflict is occurring when those citizens propose no direct threat? Those troops deserve no level of support and should not receive any. The total war philosophy that citizens can later turn into possible combatants or that they support current combatants with their activities both on a recreational and occupational level is foolish. The probability that these non-violent citizens enter combat activities is largely determined by the actions of the parties engaging in combat.
For example it is unreasonable to restrict most occupational tasks carried out by a citizen because such action is necessary for the survival of the individual and such restriction would lead to resentment. If the citizenry of a given region does not view the combatants as a conquering, occupying or barbarous force then little concern should be given to the concept of the citizenry turning violent. Therefore, there is no reason to kill them. Some may say that it is difficult to criticize troops without first hand knowledge of their experiences in a combat zone and although that is true, there is a clear difference between justifiable homicide and murder and differentiation between the two should not be clouded behind a uniform.
Second, it is foolish to believe that genuinely supporting the troops is a very simple task that only requires the purchase of a silly colored magnet stuck to a motor vehicle. Actually supporting the troops is derived from passing legislation that is beneficial to troops both on the battlefield and on the home front. It is sadly hypocritical that a number of individuals who display visual symbols proclaiming support for troops also vote for elected officials who cut veteran medical benefits, refuse to raise salaries for soldier while gleefully raising their own and cut education opportunities for the soldiers and their children. These individuals 'support the troops' by making it harder for them to live quality lives during and after the tenure of service is over. Clearly supporting the troops goes beyond simply saying it and displaying some superficial object. Truly supporting the troops involves voting for elected officials that will provide better training and equipment, a reasonable salary and quality benefits. In addition the public must put pressure on politicians and commanding officers to ensure proper strategies are executed and enough resources are allocated to reduce the probability of casualties and the livelihood of the wounded.
Finally military commanders themselves must support the troops by abandoning the outdated notion of ensuring each death has a purpose. The need to provide purpose to death is silly because when an individual dies for a goal that is not achieved, why is that death meaningless? The real purpose of existence is in the way a person lives life and the decisions that are made during that life. The circumstances and end result of an individual's death are irrelevant when defining the purpose of individual's existence. Of course certain deaths can be considered tragic, unexpected and even unfair, but one should not look at death as having a purpose or not.
For instance if a soldier dies in battle for the cause of freedom for his occupied country and the revolution fails, it is wrong to say that the individual's death was without purpose. To only judge a death based on the final outcome of the event leading to the death is shortsighted and stupid. It would be great if all just causes people died for were eventually achieved, but that is not reality. In the case of the military, individuals who join the military are well aware of the consequences and the potential for death, thus by volunteering they accept these consequences for the opportunity to fight for and protect what they view as important. Therefore, to commit more resources or troops to a cause for the sole purpose of giving meaning to the deaths of those who have already fallen is foolish, irresponsible and has the potential to create a greater number of individuals that die without meaning in the eyes of those that possess this narrow view of existence.