Sunday, December 14, 2003

“T.F. Green Airport (Warwick, RI) Welcomes Our Troops” What It Means To Truly Support The Soldiers In Iraq Part 1

“T.F. Green Airport (Warwick, RI) Welcomes Our Troops” What It Means To Truly Support The Soldiers In Iraq Part 1

Somebody’s got to know right from wrong, don’t you think? So what happens to them, that generic (yet so possessive) category “our troops” that they can so easily acquiesce to such wrong? I mean Iraq and the misapprehension that their work has been an act of liberation instead of a rearrangement of the people’s existing oppression.

I had a youth group once. Back in Cincinnati, between seven to ten kids from four or five families. All but two were boys. One got pregnant – one of the girls – the rest joined the marines or the army. We were sponsored by a mostly white, local Presbyterian Church. We had a little income-generating project – a printing cooperative. Some of them were smart and some of them weren’t. They were pretty normal kids. They lived in subsidized, recently rehabbed housing in the Mt. Auburn neighborhood. We would play pool (I won most of the time) and basketball (I lost most of the time). I can’t remember what we talked about.

Our sponsors paid me to be an “urban youth minister” but I didn’t talk much about Jesus or redemption. One of their mom’s smoked lots of weed but I didn’t lecture about drugs. I wanted them to stay out of trouble, go to college, but I was no more adept at helping them into school than my parents were in helping me. I wanted them to stay out of jail, yet the only choice that seemed viable to them was as confining as any prison, at least to me. I can’t conjure their names right now but I can see their doe like eyes (the boys especially had the prettiest dark brown eyes) and scrawny adolescent frames and I still smile at the silly, mildly mindless behavior that characterizes one stage of male adolescence. The girls were, of course, more clearly focused and desperate for freedom. While there were fights and gang activity, the violence we most feared in the early eighties, at least in Cincinnati, was from the cops (how little has changed).

I don’t think any of them wanted to go to war. I thought we had seen enough of death; we all were relatively young and black in the city, in a city that frequently killed African-Americans for no good reason.
So the members of my youth group aged and graduated from high school and enlisted. Today they would be in their late thirties or maybe forty years old so unless they became career military or joined the reserves they probably aren’t in Afghanistan or Iraq. Still I think of them and I look at the teenagers I work with now and I worry. I worry that they are being taught to kill and taught that killing in the name of our government’s goals is a good and honorable thing. I worry that they have been sent or could be sent to do to another country what some conquering army did (in the case of immigrant and refugee kids I work with now) to their parents’ countries. But here’s the big problem for me. I don’t support them in this dangerous and unnecessary war. I don’t want them to think that I -- as a citizen, as a woman who works with women, as a person who in some way has worked with and supported young folks through difficult times toward the promise of safe and honorable adulthoods -- support their involvement in this horrible activity.

In the face of the September 11 attack most US citizens had no meaningful outlet for a response. As a nation, those of us who were born here had not, for the most part witnessed mass violence at the scale of that event. We had not, as civilians, experienced the violence of war. The majority of us know nothing of hours and days of bombs falling, homes being destroyed, those we love missing, injured, raped, maimed, dead. And from that place of desperate need to respond and dangerous ignorance we say we support our troops. We say, in ways that are criminal in their lack of reflection and critical analysis, that invading a country because a man who was not elected president misrepresented and continues to misrepresent the reasons for that invasion is ok and we should support other US citizens in acting out that man’s unlawful and certainly immoral intentions.

Our leaders, and sometimes we, make solemn and shallow pronouncements about our brave troops, our courageous troops, our troops liberating the Iraqi people. And we become directly complicit in that man’s lie. I know the young men and women in Iraq need to feel like they are brave and that we support them and that the Iraqis are grateful. I know, for the most part, the lowest level troops aren’t responsible for the lack of power, order, income and safety most Iraqis experience in the zones controlled by US troops. Their superiors, the officers, the Defense Dept., the frightening-ly inept Donald Rumsfeld have created those situations. But as long as those lowest level troops think we think they are doing something good, this grave injustice will not be rectified. We know from Vietnam that when veterans and active duty soldiers begin to question the actions they have performed in our name (perhaps only then) will the majority of US citizens in any vocal way demand a stop to this adventure in oil imperialism. I fear it is only the soldiers who can perform this ultimate act of patriotism. Their fellow citizens are too fat and sated on media propaganda and consumerist indulgence to recognize the current effect or future cost of our greed.

Next big post will be what it really means to support our troops.

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