Public Comment

Commentary: Why I Don’t Support the Troops

By Kenneth Thiesen
Tuesday March 11, 2008

In the recent political battle around the Marine recruiting station in Berkeley there has been much confusion around the concept or slogan of “supporting the troops,” but opposing the unjust wars of the Bush regime. Many who oppose the Bush regime wars also say they “support the troops.” Let me say it straight out—I do not support the troops and neither should you. It is objectively impossible to support the troops of the imperialist military forces of the U.S. and at the same time oppose the wars in which they fight. 

The United States has over 700 military bases or sites located in over 130 foreign countries. The hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in these countries are not there to preserve or foster freedom and democracy as the Bush regime would like to claim, but to maintain U.S. imperialist domination of the world. The United States now spends more on its military than all the other nations of the world combined. 

If you “support the troops” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other more than 100 countries in which they are located, you also objectively support U.S. hegemony in the world. I believe that the vast majority of people who say they support the troops do not wish to support U.S. imperialism, but that is what they are really doing by putting forth the slogan of “support the troops.” 

We need to oppose the recruitment of men and women into the military. We need to support resisters within the military who have realized what they are doing and now choose to resist the role of the U.S. military. This includes people such as Lt. Ehren Watada who refused to deploy to Iraq. Watada stated, “Never did I imagine my president would lie to go to war, condone torture, spy on Americans…” He was the first officer to refuse to go to Iraq and he was court-martialed. Another resister is Camilo Mejia. In 2004 Sergeant Mejia was sentenced to one year in prison when he was court-martialed for refusing to assist the military in Iraq. Mejia said, “I am only a regular person that got tired of being afraid to follow his own conscience. For far too long I allowed others to direct my actions even when I knew that they were wrong....” 

We need to expose that those in the U.S. military are trained to be part of a “killing machine.” While not every member of the military is an individual murderer, they are all part of a system that commits war crimes, including aggressive wars, massacres, rape, and other crimes against humanity, all in the service of U.S. imperialism. The bottom line is that even if these people are relatives or friends, you can not support the troops without also supporting the objective role that these troops play in the imperialist system.  

United States troops are acting as destructive and murderous forces of invasion and occupation. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan see this on a daily basis. Hundreds of thousands have died as a direct result of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Millions are either internal or external refugees. Tens of thousands have been detained in prisons, with thousands of these tortured and scores murdered. Haditha, Iraq where 24 Iraqis were massacred is just the best known of the massacres. Women and children are routinely described as “collateral damage” by military spokespersons when they are murdered in military operations. 

“Support for the troops” has become political cover to support the wars. In Congress, many of those who claim they oppose the wars, use “support of the troops” to vote for hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the wars. These politicians are political opportunists, but there are also people who genuinely oppose the war, but who also say “I support the troops.” 

But to decide whether U.S. troops deserve support you must analyze what they actually do in countries occupied by the U.S. The wars these troops are engaged in have the goal of maintaining and extending U.S. hegemony throughout the world. They are unjust, illegal, and immoral wars. Can you support the troops in these wars? Why is this any different from a German in World War II saying, “I oppose the wars launched by Hitler, but I support the troops of the German army which are making these wars possible.” When the Marines in Haditha massacred Iraqis, including women and children, would it have been correct to say I supported the Marines who killed those people, but not the massacre? This would be ridiculous, but no more so than supporting the troops engaged in the war that made the Haditha massacre possible in the first place. 

In 1933 Marine Major General Smedley Butler clarified the role of the U.S. military. He stated, “War is just a racket…It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses…I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps…In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism...” 

Like Butler, Watada, and Mejia, those in the military today must take responsibility for what the military does. Just like the German soldiers of World War 2 could not hide behind the “I was just following orders” excuse, military personnel today also can not hide behind it. Those of us who oppose the unjust wars of the Bush regime must struggle with those in the military and those that support them to expose what role the troops objectively play. Supporting the troops engaged in making war against other nations and people on behalf of U.S. imperialism is not acceptable. 


Oakland resident Kenneth J. Theisen is an organizer with the World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime!