Morgan Jones | I support the troops
Nuggets of Wisdom | The phrase “support the troops” does not always have to be a tool of compulsory patriotism
September 5, 2013, 11:53 am · Updated September 5, 2013, 11:27 pm·
Nuggets of Wisdom
I live in what may as well be the military capital of the United States — Colorado Springs alone is home to three military bases, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Air Force Academy. There are “Support the Troops” signs in the windows of nearly every store, and patriotism runs in the water.
That is why Steven Salaita’s recent article for Salon.com entitled “No, thanks: Stop saying ‘support the troops’” caught me off guard: why wouldn’t you support the troops? I always have.
The military installations are the economic backbone of Colorado Springs, and we wouldn’t be much of a town without them. To me personally, “the troops” are friends’ parents, two of my grandfathers, two of my uncles, two of my cousins and the husbands of four girls from my high school graduating class.
Salaita raises a valuable point, however, in distinguishing between individuals who are in the armed forces and the institution of the military itself. “It does neither military personnel nor their fans any good to romanticize them as a singular organism,” he writes.
Because I have such personal ties to the military, I forget that the people I love are not “the troops” as a whole, and oftentimes they are sent to countries, homes and territories to enforce policies that I do not necessarily agree with. Blurring those lines can be a disservice to those who serve, for it assimilates their actions and morals with a political body over which they have no control.
Salaita continues by asking if it is a good thing, in mindlessly speaking the phrase, to blindly support any group or blindly adhere to any ideology just because it has been deemed patriotic.
He calls this “compulsory patriotism,” and notes how “no televised sporting event escapes celebration of the troops.” Corporations such as airlines and Budweiser invest as sponsors of different military branches, exploiting “the troops” as a consumer group. Few question if this is right, or what would happen if they likewise endorsed a party or political figure.
In deciding whether to say “I support the troops,” neither Salaita’s view nor my hometown’s is quite right. I should make the distinction between supporting those I love and showing unintended support for military policies I don’t agree with. Assuming that “support the troops” has zero political underpinnings is unrealistic.
However, he should not assume the opposite — that every time someone asks him to support the troops, they are pushing compulsory patriotism on him along with a slew of political views he does not want to adhere to. “To support the troops is to accept a particular idea of the American role in the world,” he says. That is not a universal statement, and it blurs the individual and military institution back into a “singular organism.”
“Troops” takes on different meanings for different people. Just as a cup can be seen as half-empty or half-full, its interpretation can alter depending on what background and preconceptions a person brings to the table.
Partly because of this, it is possible to divorce supporting the troops as a whole political entity from respecting the individuals who serve.
Salaita appears to understand this. As he says, “[T]he power of institutions can never overwhelm the simple act of thinking.” He uses this logic to explain why he would be okay with his son joining the military: because he recognizes that his son is capable of thinking differently from the organization.
But he can’t have it both ways: either people like his son can differentiate the two or supporting the troops is inherently “compulsory patriotism,” as he said before. It is a disservice to suggest that those in the armed forces or those who say “I support the troops” are not capable of the act of critical thinking as well.
From my own experience, compulsory patriotism does exist, and the phrase might be used for ulterior motives at times — corporations may use it for economic gain and politicians may seek a political advantage with it. That is not always the case, however, and sometimes saying “support the troops” means that, simply, you support the troops.
Morgan Jones is a College senior from Colorado Springs, Co. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or send her a tweet @morganjo_. “Nuggets of Wisdom” appears other Fridayy.