Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Support Our Troops Means What?

Yesterday, a twitter friend suggested that it would be nice if the folks at ball games could salute someone other than the troops.

The idea was that there are other folks who play a role in sharing/defending American values.  That a free press, for instance, is fundamental to democracy even it happens to be reviled right now.  If only the press were mentioned in one of those early amendments....

He got some pushback since some folks think that the troops always come first.  I did as well from folks who said that I would know better if I had served.  Actually, many veterans and current soldiers/sailors/airfolk/marines feel awkward about the excessive veneration of the troops, about getting to go on the plane first and all of that. 

The joy of living in a democracy is that the armed forces are not a major force in the political or social system.  Civilian control of the military is a fundamental part of any democracy, and most folks in the military know their role is a subordinate one.

I get it that there is a history here--that people regret how the troops returning from Vietnam were treated, so and so we all decided to "support our troops."  Given that these folks put their lives on the line so that we and others can enjoy our various freedoms, sure, they should be supported.  Not sure they need to be recognized on July 4th, when we already have Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.  Anyhow, supporting the troops makes a great deal of sense, especially if we feel guilty about the tempo of operations over the past fifteen years--troops constantly being sent off to wars that are often not well planned.

But supporting the troops does not mean that they should be either venerated as demi-gods or immune from criticism.  While much of the responsibility for the mixed outcomes of the recent wars is in the hands of the civilians, the armed forces do share some blame.  In Afghanistan, the leaders of the effort decided not to follow the President's orders to do population centric counterinsurgency.  Likewise, the Marines thought it would be best to have unified Marine units rather than dis-aggregating and then cooperating with Canadians and others.  Both of these ran against what was best for the mission.  Yes, bureaucratic politics is alive and well in the modern military, and it can lead to bad outcomes.  Indeed, there is much criticism of the modern officers by .... other modern officers.  But how much have the senior leaders been held accountable for mistakes? 

The key is this: the folks in the military have chosen a particularly difficult occupation, and are deserving of respect.  Deserving of worship?  Not in this or any democracy.  

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