Beliefs matter more than catch phrases

My friend Alli takes a good, consistent, and conservative position on the new Joel Stein column. Good for her, and the others who can stomach actual free speech. I've been saying I don't support the troops for a long time - and if I get a chance to explain, most people find that they can disagree with my position instead of condemning it (though it usually takes a lot of explaining to pierce the kneejerk reactions).

We should be striving for consistency in our beliefs, because otherwise we can't be principled. Besides, it's easier to understand each others' positions. There's no reason Joe Democrat should feel compelled to adopt Kerry's or Hillary's tortured wierd blend of pro-state patriotism and socially acceptable dissent. Stand the fuck up for what you believe in - and if you haven't given any thought to what you actually believe in your heart, well, why don't we start there? What would you say if I said I opposed crime - but supported the criminals? Or what if I said I oppose the income tax even though I appreciate the hard work of the IRS in collecting my hard earned pay? You would say that I don't make sense. Yet Democrats thought they could win an election by saying this same thing. That's why nobody takes them seriously - a lot of antiwar Americans can't stomach doublespeeak, and have come to believe that at least Bush is straight talking (though nobody's sure if he actually understands what he's saying). Being against a war means something - it has a particular context that has to be understood and appreciated. It means that you're against using war as a means in a particular (or every) case. If you believe that, then how can you support the institution designed to execute these means? Being against the troops doesn't mean you want them to be hurt, or that you don't sympathize with them. Rather, it means that you don't identitfy with the interests they claim to be advancing. You don't believe they're fighting for the good of America, just like you don't believe Bush or Kerry or Gore is doing the right thing for America.

One blogger claims that if you don't support the troops you should be scorning them:

Here's why this honesty shouldn't be so refreshing (bracing is more like it): If you believe, like Stein does, that the troops are morally culpable for the civilian deaths incurred in this unjust war, then you shouldn't only withhold your support for them, you should heap shame and scorn upon them.

But since when did that ever accomplish anything? Lord knows the mistreatment of returning veterans from Vietnam didn't solve the problem of war for all time. Because even though the troops are responsible for their actions, there's more to it, and that something else needs to be understood and addressed.

The crux of the problem here isn't the troops - it's a system that uses them. While the troops' actions cannot be divorced from the ethics of the matter, we can still consider a more nuanced picture than simply calling them all war criminals. There's a system at work that creates the conditions for this criminality, and I have a hard time holding people responsible for taking part in the only system they've ever known. Changes in this deep-seated system rarely occur at the behest of obnoxiousness and petty rejection. If you want to change the system, you have to educate people - and people don't usually listen to insults directed at them or their positions.

UPDATE: Wil joins me in my call for worldwide jihad against the Great Satan. Or whatever we're saying.

UPDATE: Rough Ol' Boy questions whether the phrase "support the troops" even has any meaning. I agree (and have said so before) but at this point I think it's all really moot. If you can find a war supporter with the patience to parse words, then by all means don't concede the issue. But when support for the troops means wanting to put them in harm's way, I'm quite content to stop arguing semantics with the loons.

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Written on Thursday, January 26, 2006