It has become commonplace for politicians to talk of “supporting our troops.” My own church even prays each week for “those in the armed forces and uniformed services,” presumably our own. Additionally, people have been encouraged to say “thank you for your service” when encountering someone in uniform. (This was said to me for the first time the other day while I was claiming a 10% month-of-November discount at a local restaurant. I protested that I had only been an Army bandsman.)
It isn’t really clear what “support” means or whether ordinary civilians have concrete ways of effecting it. Most of us are not sending care packages of cookies to soldiers or performing for the troops with the USO, though some people do provide monetary support to organizations that help wounded veterans.
I don’t know exactly when we began talking so much about supporting our troops. During World War II, when our troops were truly defending our nation to the death, we supported the war effort by buying bonds, displaying stars in our windows for the fallen, and going without so our troops could have what they needed to fight. Supporting our troops was not so much a slogan as a way of life.
I suspect that the Vietnam War had much to do with the popularity of expressing explicit support for our troops, as the conventional wisdom asserts that we showed disdain for soldiers as pot smokers and baby killers during that war. An unpopular war, somewhat unfairly, made our fighters unpopular as well.
Speaking of supporting our troops focuses attention on those who fight because they are ordered to do so and diverts attention from the policies that cause those orders to be delivered. It also assuages any guilt we may feel resulting from the fact that few us actually serve in the military. All this serves the purposes of politicians.
President Trump seems to have a love-hate relationship with our military, calling it inadequate and its leaders incompetent in one minute and confidently threatening to use it to destroy other nations in the next. In the end, though, the military, to our president, is a major tool of foreign power to back up his own bluster and intimidation. Trump wants billions of dollars more for the military, while his secretary of state, the inexperienced Rex Tillerson, asks less for the State Department, which he is rapidly depleting of its diplomatic resources.
Neither Trump nor Tillerson seems to understand or appreciate diplomacy. This administration seems to have disdain for diplomacy unless it is carried out by its principals. After all, it has the military as backup for any diplomatic failures.
Americans are growing tired of our ever-expanding wars, however, and wondering if our troops are truly engaged in protecting our nation. Why, for example, are we in Afghanistan, where we are in the middle of an apparently unwinnable civil war? What does it mean to support our troops in Afghanistan?
At a time when the world seems increasingly dangerous, why does our government have so little regard for negotiation? Why, for example, does our president insult and attempt to bully Kim Jong-un and effectively refuse to talk with North Korea? Saying that we won’t negotiate with North Korea until that nation does what we want from it gives Kim little incentive to come to the bargaining table.
We should certainly appreciate the sacrifices and made by our troops, but using our military is always a sign that diplomacy has somehow failed. As we watch this administration slowly destroy our diplomatic capabilities, we are more likely to call upon our troops in desperation.
Trump sold himself as a consummate negotiator. In fact, he is a consummate con man and bully whose fatal flaw is his susceptibility to flattery. Trump needs a more realistic evaluation of his negotiating skills, along with a willingness to avail himself of what expertise may be left in the State Department.
Given current circumstances, we should be talking less about supporting our troops and more about supporting, enhancing, and appreciating our diplomatic corps. The Web should contain more graphics like the following: