Support Our Troops -- It Depends
A Veteran's Commentary
By Kim Scipes
The idiot has done it: with the encouragement of his closest advisors,
George W. Bush has invaded Iraq.
I have many mixed emotions about what's going on. I totally
condemn Bush and all his top-level civilian and military leaders/advisors.
I consider them war criminals -- each and every one of them -- and want
them tried and, if convicted, hung by the neck until dead. The only
place I support the death penalty is against state-supported terrorism:
and this case certainly meets that test. In other words, impeachment of
Bush and his administration is not enough -- it is only a beginning point.
I feel nothing but contempt and revulsion at every elected official --
both Democrat and Republican -- who has supported this war and/or has
refused to do everything in his or her power to stop it. To be honest, I'm
more pissed at the Democrats than Republicans, if that can be believed.
The Republicans chose Bush as their leader and have been true to his
policies. The Democrats have overwhelmingly refused to fight Bush, lying
over and playing dead. Their intensifying attacks on Bush's domestic
policies are not sufficient. The reality is that both established
political parties support the U.S. Empire: the Republicans want to
maintain if not expand the empire and are willing to do at the cost of
everything else; the Democrats want to maintain if not expand the empire,
but want to throw a few "bones" to the masses to keep them pacified and to
stop some of the most vicious fools put forth by the Republicans. Empire
itself is the problem. I will never support the Democratic Party as whole
as long as it supports empire, and will consider supporting only those
individual Democrats who challenge and/or refuse to support the empire.
The contempt I feel for the commercial mass media is almost at the same
level. The mass media have propagated the lie that Saddam Hussein is an
exception, that he's one of a kind. Saddam is terrible, and I want him
removed from power by democratic Iraqis. Anyone who might suggest that
myself or any other person in the anti-war movement supports Hussein is a
liar, unless a person specifically takes that position on their own. I
consider Saddam, too, a war criminal, and another one who has initiated
state-supported terrorism against the population of Iraq.
That being said, the media have propagated a lie that Saddam is an
exception -- again, he is not. Saddam Hussein is typical of the tyrants
the U.S. has consistently supported around the world. Think of all the
dictators that the U.S. has supported: Pinochet, Marcos, Mobutu, a whole
line of butchers in Guatemala, Somoza, South African apartheid leaders,
Suharto, etc., etc. The list goes on and on. While the U.S. line has
changed in the last 15 years whereby it's gotten somewhat more
sophisticated -- see William Robinson's excellent book, Promoting
Polyarchy: Globalization, U.S. Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge
University Press, 1996) -- it still does not cover up the fact that the
U.S. has consistently and continually supported some of the most evil
people in the world and has supplied, trained, and helped them dominate
their peoples across the "third world" -- and that specifically has
included the use of torture, which continues today.
Saddam Hussein was helped into power by the acquiescence if not the
actual support of the U.S. government. He continued to gain U.S.
government support throughout the 1970s and 1980s. U.S. corporations sold
him arms, chemicals, biological agents, and probably nuclear
production-related equipment, and all with the explicit support of
the U.S. government (during both Republican and Democratic
administrations). While there is debate about whether it was Iraq or Iran
who gassed the Iraqi population in the late 1980s, if Saddam did it
-- and that is even questioned by people who have more access to relevant
material than I -- then he did it as an ally of and with the acquiescence
of the U.S. government under George HW Bush. The U.S. government only
turned against Saddam when he invaded Kuwait, but vague and unclear
statements by the U.S. ambassador suggested that an invasion might be
tolerated by his U.S. mentors, which apparently led to his decision to
invade. But the vehemence that the U.S. government has displayed against
Saddam -- far in excess of the actual situation -- is simply this: the
U.S. is pissed that their dog slipped his leash and acted against the
wishes of his "masters." And they're further pissed because he didn't
meekly crawl back into his doghouse and beg forgiveness and pledge
continued fealty after the end of the Gulf War, so he's got to be even
further punished. And the U.S. is willing -- despite pious press
statements to the contrary -- to kill thousands if not hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi civilians to kill Saddam.
Any talk of "democracy" or of "liberating Iraq" is a blatant and
hypocritical lie. That the U.S. is doing it with military power, gross
overwhelming military power, makes it even more sickening.
Unfortunately, despite extensive work by pro-peace and popular
democratic people and organizations, the U.S. public to a large part still
believes the lie that the U.S. is a benevolent country, only doing its
best in the maelstrom of an evil world. The heartening thing has been the
massive explosion of anti-war forces and actions around the U.S. to try to
stop Bush from launching this war.
I think two things have come out of that: (1) Almost everyone in the
country who is in any position of leadership in the moral and/or
educational fields of our society -- along with artists of all stripes --
seems to oppose Bush's invasion. The opposition is, of course, much
broader than this, but the importance is that those who are so important
to our understanding of the world and the U.S. role within it seem
overwhelmingly against the invasion. As people come to question the war,
they will find a ready pool of pro-peace leaders who will help explain the
situation in the clearest possible terms. This is good. And (2), although
a long way from being "solid" in people's minds, the connection between
war overseas (i.e., empire) and increasing social cutbacks and misery in
this country, among Americans, is being made to a greater and greater
extent among the general population. People are really beginning to
understand that money spent for war cannot be spent for schools, health
care, Medicare, etc. And we need to encourage and help people to make this
connection: the U.S. cannot do both, so which one do you want?
But within all of the complexity, lies, and distortion, we are seeing
Americans cry "support the troops." What about this????
What I'm going to say is my own personal opinion as a U.S. military
veteran -- I do not claim it represents all veterans or even any other
veteran, although I suspect it will resonate with a substantial number of
veterans, especially those who fought and/or served in Viet Nam. But
unless someone specifically states they agree with me, please do not
assume they support my position.
First, some background. At the age of 17, in 1969, I volunteered for
active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. Although I didn't go into the
Marines to fight in Viet Nam, I bought into the Marine Corps "program"
(i.e., brainwashing) and, after finishing my training as an Avionics
Technician and learning my trade, in 1971, I volunteered to go to Viet Nam
as a door gunner in helicopters. Miraculously, I was never sent -- and I
didn't have any clout like Bush, who used his daddy to hide in the
reserves, the chickenshit. Eventually, I earned a meritorious promotion to
Being later detailed to work in a Human Relations Program, as a white
male, I learned about racial oppression and what it meant to people of
color throughout our society, both in the military and society. Our
program was basically intended to cover the lifer's (career Marines) asses
in case a race riot erupted on our base, but the two African-American
Marines and I worked to make it a real program, and fought both
institutional and personal racism, along with military oppression of young
Marines in general. (Some quick background: racial oppression was so
present in the Marine Corps that by 1971, there had been a race riot at
every major Marine base in the world, except at the base where I
was stationed, the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona: in part
because of our team's efforts, there never was a race riot at Yuma.) For
my part in this work, I was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant
Somewhere in this period, the Pentagon Papers were released by Daniel
Ellsburg. For those who don't know, the Pentagon Papers were a top secret
U.S. government-commissioned study of the origins and development of the
U.S. war in Viet Nam, which was never supposed to be seen by the U.S.
public. Ellsburg, himself a colonel in the Marine Corps and who has served
at the top levels of U.S. military, decided this study had to get into the
"air" of public exposure. At great personal risk and with help, he
delivered it to reporters. It was later published by the New York Times
and the Washington Post, and in book form. What the Pentagon Papers showed
was that the U.S. government had lied to the people of the United States
at each and every turn: everything we had been told, from A to Z, was a
lie. Among other things, the U.S. government had invaded Viet Nam to prop
up a puppet government that the U.S. had established: it was never any
fight to defend a democratic government, but was an incredibly brutal
effort to maintain a puppet government in power, at the direct expense of
millions of Vietnamese lives, as well as ultimately 58,000 American lives
and hundreds of thousands of wounded U.S. service folks.
As a young Marine trying to understand what was going on in Viet Nam, I
avidly read the Pentagon Papers when they came out. I then knew I would go
to Canada before Viet Nam. Fortunately, I was never put to the test, and
eventually got out with an honorable discharge.
I say all of this not to brag, but to help people know where I'm coming
Regarding the war, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I support our
troops: bring them home. I don't want a single man or woman to be killed,
wounded, or traumatized. (Traumatization is a big thing: after 30-plus
years since the end of Viet Nam, and meeting hundreds if not thousands of
U.S. veterans, I have never met a single one who saw any significant level
of combat who is completely "back" to where they were before going to Viet
Nam -- or the Gulf. And approximately 1/3 of all people living on the
streets today across this country are Viet Nam veterans.)
But I don't want U.S. troops to kill, wound or traumatize Iraqis, and
especially not civilians. When U.S. troops attack civilians -- especially
in any case except in specific self-defense -- I do not support
them. I do not support such behavior, and in fact, condemn it.
Needless to say, I also condemn any torture -- no matter what the
"justification" -- and/or rape, or terrorization. I specifically condemn
any bombing and/or launching missiles that target or even have the serious
likelihood of hitting the civilian populace -- I know the supposed
accuracy of U.S. military weapons isn't nearly as accurate as is claimed.
So, in short, while I support our troops, it is not unconditional
support: I want them brought home immediately, but my support does not
extend to all of their actions, and it almost never is in support of any
attack on civilians.
To give a blank check, unconditional support, is to me just another way
of supporting Bush's invasion under the guise of concern for U.S. troops.
I don't buy it. Maybe others do -- but I don't.
So, yes -- I support our troops. But this support is determined by the
situation: it is not unconditional.
And the best way to support our troops, in my opinion, is to mobilize
across this country to such an extent that Bush and the political elite's
interests are seriously threatened. As one living in Chicago, I want to
quote that great American, Al Capone: Big Al was once said to say, "A kind
word and a gun will get your further than a kind word alone." The gun, in
this case, is a metaphor, not real: but it is a intensified, expanded,
militant, and determined anti-war movement that challenges not only the
U.S. invasion of Iraq, but the very existence of the Empire as well.
Kim Scipes, USMC, 1969-1973; Honorable Discharge, Rank of Sergeant.
Currently, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology University of Illinois at Chicago.
Other servicemen weigh in on the same issue:
An open letter
from the troops you support