Why I Refuse To “Support Our Troops”

20130812_HomelessVeteranI remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. Like many other people who are old enough to remember that day, I can tell you where I was and what I was doing on that crisp September morning when the world as we knew it changed forever. At the time I worked at a gym, and within a few days the manager announced that he would be holding a weightlifting competition to raise money for the Red Cross. The gym was quickly decorated with dozens of plastic US flags (all made in China) and flyers were handed out around town and tucked under the wiper blades on many a vehicle’s windshield.

On the day of the event, I got there early as I was participating while also working at the same time. I was genuinely excited about doing something to help in the relief efforts, as were many other people. After all, we were only a couple hours from the Pentagon and many of us, myself included, were in that gym watching live when the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center.

As the event wore on, I could tell that the Red Cross fundraising was the least of the manager’s concerns. In fact, it became quite obvious that he was using the event to sell gym memberships to the public and using their good intentions to facilitate his sales. I was still young but even as the rubble was still smouldering, it dawned on me that people would be sold products, services and political campaigns wrapped in the flag more than ever before.

Not long after that, we invaded Afghanistan. Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with it initially despite all the chest-thumping and Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American” on repeat. (On a side note, if you ever want me to confess all of my darkest secrets, making me listen to that song on repeat is a good way to do it.)


Then we were sold the Iraq War. I remember the first Gulf War well, despite being in elementary school at the time. In the months leading up the annihilation of the Iraqi forces in Kuwait, we were prepared for it via the news and told how it was a “just war.” I even collected the cards that Topps made with the different pieces of military weaponry that we would use against the Iraqi army. Opposition to that conflict was seemingly non-existent, or at least it was in rural Virginia.

In 2003, I lived in Savannah, Georgia which is less than an hour from the home of the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart. By this time I had completely cut ties with my conservative roots and it was quite obvious to me that we were invading the wrong country and for the wrong reasons. But this was the era of “freedom fries” and chants of “USA! USA! USA!” as the campaign of shock and awe reduced parts of Iraq to rubble.

Then the soldiers started coming home. As much as I opposed the war, I supported the troops because they didn’t choose the mission to overthrow a dictator who, while a horrible human being, had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. I watched returning soldiers dealing with the invisible wounds of war drink themselves into unconsciousness at the bar night after night. One Army MP, who was a personal friend and coworker, committed suicide by hanging himself in his mother’s closet on Thanksgiving Day in 2005.

Yet, if you were to express any opposition to what was becoming an increasingly unpopular war, you’d be labeled unpatriotic and asked why you didn’t “support the troops” – as if you weren’t a real American if you didn’t believe in an unquestioning, blind acceptance of the War On Terror.

These days, everything is “support the troops.” It has become a punctuation mark on nearly every advertising campaign and seemingly every sporting event. “Support The Troops” and “God Bless America,” you can hear those phrases repeated at anything from a car lot commercial to an NFL or even our local minor league hockey games. But what do the troops get beyond a brief moment of recognition? Honestly, they don’t get jack shit other than a minute of applause and that’s really about it. Why? Because it’s easy to stand for a few moments and chant “USA! USA! USA!” and put a yellow ribbon sticker on your vehicle than it is to try to understand the horrors of combat and the lasting traumas our troops have to endure.

It costs companies next to nothing to claim to support the military. There’s no patent on these patriotic phrases and it’s a cheap, if not free, way for businesses to portray themselves as being caring and socially responsible. Even the companies who state that a portion of their proceeds will go to legitimate charities like the Wounded Warrior Project don’t always disclose how much they’re actually giving. Is it 1% of profits from the sale of their product or is it 10% or just a flat sum every quarter?  We don’t know and most of us don’t ask because we’ve satisfied that urge to do something that gives us that feeling that we’ve helped someone without really making any kind of sacrifice of our own.

To summarize, we’ve been fed a false idea of patriotism since 9/11. Currently, we have an increasing number of active members of the military on food stamps and nearly a million veterans currently use the program as well to put food on the table. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, around 12% of the current homeless population are veterans and a disproportionate number of them are African-American or Hispanic. In addition to that, another 1.4 million veterans are also considered to be in danger of becoming homeless.


Yet, we don’t see commercials with abandoned veterans living under an overpass or with addictions to alcohol or drugs, because it doesn’t sell and it isn’t “sexy.” It wasn’t even until very recently that PTSD was acknowledged and that’s what took my friend’s life and destroyed countless others. As a nation, we don’t do enough to actually take care of our veterans and instead settle for well-intentioned but nearly useless tokens of gratitude. Instead of making sure no veteran, or anyone for that matter, has to sleep on a park bench or goes without the help so many desperately need, we allow ourselves to think that a “like” on Facebook or a moment of applause at a sporting event somehow repays millions of men and women for defending our way of life.

And if this shallow, commercial farce is what “supporting our troops” is all about, I don’t want any part of that.

Comments

Facebook comments

  • Pipercat

    Platitudes.

  • I think it’s a human quality to take the easy way out. It’s easier to wear a flag pin or put a bumper sticker on your car to say you support something than to actually have to go out, roll up your sleeves and do the “dirty work” so to speak. People want to see the hero, not the homeless person who tries to numb the effects of their PTSD because being numb is a better alternative than nightmares or panic attacks. I firmly believe that this country has a moral obligation to take care of the servicemen and women after the fighting is done. If our government can send people into combat, they have a moral obligation to take care of these people physically and mentally. No active member of our military or their family should be on food stamps.

    IMHO, the best way to support the troops is to get down in the trenches. Volunteer at the VA or at a homeless shelter. Volunteer with your local NAMI. Then advocate on their behalf until you have no voice left and then keep advocating for them.

  • Flibberdy Gibbet

    I support people, not armies, and will never stand in support of the invasion of Iraq.

  • mike

    As a vet I can say “Support the troops” has been a meaningless exercise for the troops and vets. Other than drumming up support for political and profitable purposes.
    The same jerks that talk it up will put you down when nobody is around to witness. I’ve even been threatened by a cop for being a disabled vet….really!
    The average person can easily find the places a veteran needs, and help the ones new to your town. Show them around so they can get themselves started in civilian life. They will appreciate it more than a bumper sticker.

  • Melania Gulley

    He is right ” Support The troops” is a feel good slogan fed to us daily
    by politicians and businesses when most either don’t or do it to get a
    vote or more customers. A like on FB, A dollar donated to a Charity
    group like Wounded Warriors is meaning less when most of our wounded
    men and women are on food stamps, many are homeless and most are not
    getting adequate medical care or even emotional support. It is a bitter
    pill to call ourselves the greatest nation in the world when we allow
    these brave men and women to be nothing more than cannon fodder and
    talking points for politicians to get into office. Wake up America!!!

  • Kim Moran Ramsay

    Mr. Schewitz, I totally agree with you in regard to everyone jumping on the “support our troops” bandwagon. These companies/politicians make me sick.

    This country should be ashamed of the lack of financial support for our veterans. These people have risked their lives not only to protect our liberties, but also the safety of people all over the world. Agree with a certain war or not, our veterans do not choose their destination, they just do their duty.

    Many of our veterans go into service right out of high school with no employment skills. When they come home, they still have no marketable job skills for the the civilian workforce, hence the homelessness and hunger.

    For the veterans that come home with PTSD, or other afflictions/injuries caused by war, there is a laughable amount of services available to them. At least in civilian life, most people are offered the protection of Workers Compensation for injuries at the workplace. not some miserly disability payment our veterans are forced to try to live off of.

    I personally would like to see every company and politician that states they “support our troops” to pay into a fund for using that slogan – put their money where their mouth is. This fund could be used for the sole purpose of job training, housing, healthcare (both physical and emotional) and living expenses for these men and women who bravely put their lives on the line. Our veterans deserve to live a civilian life with dignity and self-respect, not lying hungry in gutters and doorways with no employment opportunities, no available mental/physical health facilities (how long is the waiting list for the VA hospitals?), etc.

    Honestly, when our veterans come home, if they don’t have any emotional disorders, many will get them just from coming home – CHSD (Coming Home Stress Disorder).

    This absolutely breaks my heart to see the way our veterans are treated.

  • Eddie Krebbs

    On a slight tangent to one thing you said, I also would wonder how come those adding “God Bless America” don’t seem to realize how blatantly anti-Christian that practice is. Remember the Gospel condemnation of those who repeat vain phrases. The phrase is used as some sort of magic talisman which will force God into supporting us (see black magic).

  • james

    As a current active duty military member Im a little taken back by all of this complaining. There isnt a justifiable act or ” eye for eye” that this nation could have done to “settle the score” for the terriost acts of 9/11.
    Please Manny with all of your experience in politics and your military background please educate me on how this should’ve been handled?
    you dont agree with the invasion of Iraq? so you agree that there couldve been a better way? please enlighten me?
    Also support the Troops is a meaningless term?
    I guess God bless America is aswell?
    Im sure that this article that you wrote helps you sleep better, but you probably couldve done just as much buy purchasing a wounded warrior Tshirt off line. Gotta love America!!!! One person does the work and 5 people stand around watching and complaining. Sure go volunteer at a Veterians hospital but how many of you bums will actually leave your home and go wipe some paraplegics ass for absolutley no gain, just the satifaction of serving your country.
    Support the Troops!!
    God bless America!!
    Glad to hear your complaints on a blog very heroic of you to stand up for your countrys troops.

    • Pipercat

      The article is not about the troops, it’s about the exploitation thereof.

    • BackSeatJesus

      Didn’t really understand the article, did you James?

    • tina rowling

      heaven forbid someone be actually concerned about the well-being of our military rather than just sticking a yellow ribbon on their car and waving a flag around.
      i guess reading comprehension isn’t a necessary skill for enlistment.

    • Melania Gulley

      Somehow I am not 1005 sure you are even military. If so. why no profile and how can you be so blatantly oblivious to the way you and your fellow members of the military are treated as nothing more than talking points and bodies to fight for whatever cause someone else says is just and right. You may be military and if so I thank you for your service but I am pretty sure you can’t see the forest for the trees

  • Christine

    You have touched on one of my pet peeves in the first paragraph. Every cause these days features props and trinkets made in China. Millions of cheap American flags stuck in the ground and left to rot. Millions of magnetic support ribbons that ruin the paint on peoples cars. Millions of plastic water bottles, key fobs, fleece blankets, T shirts, hats, etc. for every cause from veterans to breast cancer to animals. All made in China. All cheap. All thrown away. Support people and the environment by donating to legitimate charities and forgo the swag. It’s better for everyone.

  • My son will soon have 12 years in, and 5 deployments under his belt. He has lost Brothers in battles on and off the field. I will always support them, but will never give money to anyone waving the ” We Support the Troops” flag. What can we do, to turn the tables on this great injustice?

  • Joseph Davis

    I will support our troops. However, I will not support an unjust and needless war.

  • jim schmerse

    I am a Vietnam vet, and will support our troops in any way I can.. I will not give to the wounded warrior project because only about 1% if that goes to the vets. I give by being a volunteer for the V.A. and drive a van for the vets to get to doctors appointments at the V.A. hospital so I know that my support goes to the people who have earned it, my fellow vets. If you want to support our vets check with your county V.A. office on information to help.

  • Michael Siever

    Jingoism ≠ patriotism.

  • Nicole AndChris

    why it was so disgusting that the teaparty goes to memorial park in “support of the veterans” at the same time voting to cut veterans benefits!

  • Jennifer

    Support Our Troops seems to be synonymous with Support War. I care about our troops and that means I don’t want them sent in harm’s way because of some president’s chest-thumping.

  • Hrtdoc

    As a doctor it amazes and disturbs me that I have patients who travel 40 miles or more to see me because no one closer will take TriCare insurance because it pays poorly. True, it’s lousy reimbursement for my time – but these people or their family member made a sacrifice I never did. I feel like it’s the least I can do.

    On a different note – check out Project Mobility – the money they take in all goes to help the disabled, including wounded vets.

  • Matthew Reece

    We need to replace the coercively funded government monopoly known as the US military with private defense agencies that are funded voluntarily and are answerable to their customers, not to politicians. Politicians will never play nice, so it is time to take away their most destructive toys.

  • Steve Vargo

    As a veteran, the whole “Support The Troops” thing leaves me cold, and for the reason Manny stated. It’s a cheap feel-good ploy.

  • Buster

    “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” -Ernest Hemingway

  • J.W

    Cool story bro. It’s apparent that much like many people with your mindset you have no idea what you are talking about and regurgitate main stream thoughts that you are aligned with. Tell you what, go down to the local recruiters office, sign up and spend 4 years doing something more than blasting half assed liberal rhetoric. Then, when you get out, assuming what ever unit you get assigned to doesn’t eat you alive, dirty up some clothes and spend a week on the streets with some veterans. Then, assuming you survive that and you still have something to say. Have some original thoughts and get back to me.

  • LBD

    I used to think that it was a good thing to say “support our troops”. Then my husband became one. He chose to do his “patriotic duty” and he has never been the same since. Addiction, depression, anxiety years later. He is on medication and will be for the rest of his life because of what the military did to him. Now I feel nothing but disgust for the military. I can’t help but hate what it did to my family.