They’re everywhere - bumper stickers urging us to "Support Our Troops!" Even
those who oppose the Iraq war are quick to point out that they nonetheless honor
our men and women in uniform. The belief that we are obligated to blindly
support our military personnel has permeated our society. It’s yet another trap
set by the conservative movement - lay out an inviolable mantra, then charge
those who would challenge it as being unpatriotic, anti-American, etc.
But let’s take a moment to go beyond this bumper-sticker mentality. Is it
unreasonable to suggest that before we support the troops, we should first
determine whether or not they’re worthy of our support? Having
acknowledged that the Iraq war was waged in violation of international law, and
that the Bush administration built their case for war on lies and deception, we
then have to assess the culpability of the soldiers themselves. They are,
clearly, the fuel that keeps the conflict going.
In this country, a person can join the military (with parental consent) at
the age of seventeen; at eighteen, of course, consent is no longer needed. As a
result, it’s tempting for us to write off their brutalizing transgressions
because of their youth, and blame instead those who sent them into an immoral
conflict. But that may be letting them off the hook too easily.
On February 15 of this year, a jury in South Carolina found Christopher
Pittman guilty of premeditated murder for the shotgun slaying of his
grandparents. Pittman had a history of psychiatric problems, including a suicide
attempt, and was on the antidepressant medication Zoloft at the time of the
crime - a drug suspected of causing violent mood-swings, particularly in
Which is important, since Christopher Pittman was only twelve years old when
he committed the murders. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to thirty years
in prison. (It is probably only a coincidence that this occurred in South
Carolina - the state responsible for executing the youngest individual in this
country in the last hundred years. On June 16, 1944, George Stinney Jr. was
electrocuted for murder at the age of fourteen.)
The conservatives forces will, no doubt, be quick to take offense - outraged
that one would compare convicted murderers with those who have proudly enlisted
in the U.S. military. After all, don’t those who sacrifice to protect our
country deserve our respect, not our condemnation?
The answer is - not necessarily.
Obviously, Americans in general have no problem with holding children morally
- and legally - accountable for their actions. A number of states will prosecute
pre-teens as adults for violent crimes. We’re willing to assign accountability
to those who are legitimately children-even to the point of adult-level
punitive measures. Why, then, should we extend a moral blank check to young
adults just because they wear a uniform?
If our soldiers are fighting in an immoral and illegal war, shouldn’t they be
held responsible for their actions?
To suggest that our troops do not deserve our support may be widely perceived
as grossly unpatriotic. But consider this: Any enlistee, at this point, has to
assume they’ll be seeing duty in Iraq, and are therefore signing on as a party
to an illegal war. In there anything more un-American than what the Bush
administration has done?
They’ve made it impossible for an individual to honorably sign up to defend