Monday, September 19, 2005

Notes on 'patriotism' and 'supporting our troops'

Yesterday I saw my first 'Support our Troops' ribbon in the UK. I saw many on cars and billboards when I was in a very red state of the US a few months ago. When someone advertises a slogan on their property or about their person in such as way as everyone can see it they are clearly trying to send out a public message. They are presumably making a statement about their beliefs and their associated identity.

'Support our Troops' is an imperative. Do it. Now. It's not a question or a suggestion, it is a command. There are two reasons I can think of why and individual would wish others to follow a command: 1) they believe it is a command that all should follow, and 2) they believe others are nonetheless not following it.

In the States I was aware of the accusation directed at those who questioned the morals of attacking Afghanistan and Iraq: traitor. Hates America, hates the troops, hates freedom... we've all heard this kind of invective. Sentiments against the wars have to be prefaced 'I support the troops, but...' The erroneous claim that criticising the motives and actions of a government is equal to despising people dying for that government (or the ideals it supposedly represents), is being used to silence opposition. Someone suggested to me on a message board that my voicing of my opinions about the war was treasonous. I cannot express fully how much I abhor such intimidation.

'Supporting' is to do with loyalty, and 'Support the Troops' seems to be synonymous with 'support the government's actions' in this mindset. This introduces the question of who the troops are. 'The troops' are a group of people who for various reasons have chosen a particular path in life. How much choice each individual had in their decision no doubt varies, according not just to personal taste but also to economic status. The troops are not a homogenous lump. They are individuals with individual motives who have made a particular moral decision, which they are now risking their lives for.

In the UK tabloids I have often seen the troops referred to as 'Our boys'. This has always irritated me beyond belief. They are not children. They are adult men and women. They are not out on some fun adventure with a single aim. They don't belong to 'us' or to anyone. They are autonomous human beings. I will not claim ownership of them, nor deny them moral agency. Supporting someone surely means recognising who that person is, and the difficulties and details of their particular situation. One cannot support those one refuses to understand, and who one prefers to simplify and treat as one-dimensional beings.

I wish the same things for the troops that I wish for all people. I hope that they come home safely from their work. I hope that they are able to make a positive imapct on the world through their energies and efforts. I hope they are true to their consciences and stand up for the things they believe in. The reason I opposed these pointless wars was simple: I did not want innocent people to die. And to my mind, this includes those sent to fight the wars of the rich.

Those opposed to the carnage have been called 'unpatriotic', and have thus forced critics of the wars and the British and US governments to defend their 'patriotism'. I, personally, do not like the word 'patriot'. It comes from the Ancient Greek for 'father' pater and for their reference to their home as a fatherland, and their social structure as a patriarchy. I'm a feminist, and cannot use a term that suggests loyalty to patriarchy. When my country behaves in a moral way, I applaud. When my country behaves in an immoral way, I condemn. There are things I like about the UK, and things I dislike about the UK. But I cannot hold my country above all others, and cannot put my country's 'good' above the good of humanity.

The one loyalty I have, and the one I hope will always override all other considerations, is my loyalty to my conscience. It is the only guide I have. Betraying my conscience would mean lying about myself and all the things I hope to stand for. I cannot sacrifice that for anything.

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