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Charles Cutter

Judging Our Soldiers
By Charles Cutter (
Jul 21, 2005 - 9:35:00 PM

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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 children.

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 America.

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