Over at Salon, yet another leftist professor has written one of those semi-regular screeds against the (to him) omnipresent cultural demand that we “support the troops.” I would follow the normal blog convention and block-quote, then comment, but it’s all so tired and lame that I can sum it up as “jingoism, corporatism, blah, blah, blah.” If you’ve attended college virtually anywhere in the last 30 years, you’ve heard it all before.
The post did, however, cause me to think just a bit on what Americans are honoring when they “support the troops” — either by giving to Wounded Warriors, thanking a soldier, putting a ribbon on their car, or applauding an honored veteran at a football game – in other words, doing all the little things that drive a certain class of liberal professors absolutely nuts. Certainly they’re not necessarily honoring or supporting the war itself. The troops themselves don’t always support the wars they’re fighting. When I deployed, I had good friends (including, yes, at least one lefty prof.) who absolutely deluged me with good will, moral support, and care packages. And I served with many men who thought the Iraq War was misguided from the start. I have boundless respect for such men — men whose sense of duty is tough for many civilians to comprehend.
So, no, a person who “supports the troops” is not necessarily supporting the war, or foreign intervention generally, or any political party. Rather, they’re supporting something far more culturally vital than any given conflict: the voluntary decision of a young American to lay down his or her life for this nation. Administrations come and go (as do conflicts), but our civilization will not long survive unless a certain number of men and women make that choice, and it’s a choice worth honoring.
This is hardly a novel thought. Indeed, it may even pass for something approaching common sense even in our polarized times. But it was not too long ago that elements of the Left — in their zeal not just to protest the Vietnam War but to reject much of American society — crossed a dangerous cultural line in their rejection of the very profession of arms, in their expressed hatred for the men who served. The modern movement to “support our troops” was and is a necessary corrective and works like a cultural vaccine against the virus of national self-loathing or mindless selfishness.
When a young boy sees a soldier in uniform — and sees that soldier honored — a small fire often ignites in their heart (I know it did in mine), and traditions of service are passed from one generation to the next, through gestures of gratitude large and small. It’s one thing our culture still does well.
This post first appeared on National Review.