Jason Heppler has blogged on Joel Stein's infamous piece, "Warriors and Wusses," in the LATimes., which opened with the words "I do not support our troops." I think this Stein deserves some credit. He has the backbone to say what he really thinks, and denounce pieties he does not feel. I suspect he is right that some of the critics of the war are "wusses," who only mouth support for the troops because they are afraid of what people will think about them if they are more honest.
I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.
On the other hand, I think this position does a disservice to those on the left (or right!) who oppose the war but nonetheless admire the bravery and patriotism of American soldiers. The yellow ribbon was devised precisely to allow the expression of the latter sentiment apart from any position on this war or any other. This make sense if you believe, as I do, that soldiers as such are not responsible for policy. Nor does that responsibility ultimately lie with the President or Congress; it lies with all of us who vote and participate in politics at any level. Joel Stein rejects that idea.
Blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. . . . [W]hen you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.
The logical extension of the morality Stein advocates would then be that the U.S. would have no military. But there is something worse. It strikes at the very idea of civilian control over the military. An army that exercised its morality by refusing to fight when called upon might just as well exercise it by removing insufficiently moral presidents and Congresses from office. When Bill Clinton was elected a student of mine, fresh from military service, said he did not think that the army would willingly serve such a man. I confess I was a bit sharp in my reply. The President is captain of the Republic, I said, and the armed forces of the Republic will do what they are told.
Of course there are limits to what orders a soldier should obey. If he is called upon to commit and atrocity, he should refuse. But short of that, policy is not his responsibility. From Private First Class to the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is the soldiers responsibility to carry out policy made by civilians. For that reason, if we don't like the policy, blame the policy makers not the soldiers.
There is another Stein, Ben, who has a different take on how to view our fighting men and women.
The most heroic, ethically courageous, morally resolute men and women in the world today are the Americans, British, and other forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are fighting the most evil men and women currently on the world scene. The American Army soldier, Marine, Navy sailor, Air Force warrior, and Coast Guardsman fighting in Ramadi or Mosul is fighting men and women who kill children and old people for sport. The men and women of the United States military are fighting the remnants of a regime so evil that it pioneered the use of torture against children -- just for the amusement of Saddam and his family. The men and women whom Joel despises rid the world of a dictator so twisted and murderous that he openly admired Stalin and Hitler and sought to match their level of atrocities. The men and women who wear the uniform fought, bled, and died to rid the world of the most dangerous man on the planet in the most flammable place on the planet. They died to save a slave people from the genocidal control of a mad killer who thought nothing of gassing his own people, of wiping out entire regions, of setting up special rape rooms to allow his henchmen and his sons to rape women at will, who amused himself by pouring gasoline down the throats of totally innocent people and setting them on fire.
I like Stein 2 a lot better than Stein 1. But I will confess one thing. It is just easier to admire our soldiers, sailors, and airmen if you have some sympathy for the policy they are serving. Its also easier to admire them if you think that there is honor in fighting for one's country.