Can You Support the Troops on Veterans Day Without Condoning Imperialism?

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and I have mixed feelings about how it was (or was not) observed. On one hand, you have a large group of Americans who automatically “support the troops” on Veterans Day (often without any real substance to their appreciation) because not to do so is considered unpatriotic, and, to these people, supporting the troops and supporting foreign wars and the current administration go hand in hand. You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers— “Support the Troops and Our President.” Many Americans feel like you are not truly supporting the troops if you don’t also unequivocally support the international military apparatus we use to patrol the world for “our safety.” This sentiment rings false to me, and I think it deadens true patriotism—which is a love for what’s right for your country even when your country isn’t doing what’s right.

And then on the other (left) hand, there are a number of people (like this guy) who make no bones about their hatred for our militaristic interventionism and unwittingly lump the troops into the same category with America’s international policy makers—as if the troops on the ground were actually part of the decision process. This also rings false to me. It is likely that these same malcontents would argue with police officers about unjust laws. The officers and the troops are there to enforce policies and laws that are handed down to them. They are trained to do as they are told, and most of them do that well and honorably. If there is a problem, it lies with the legislators and decision brokers, most of whom want a free ride on the general good will the public affords to soldiers and police. Hating on soldiers and police officers is not just ungrateful and mean-spirited, it is also stupid.

Just so no one gets me wrong, though they will anyway, I want to say up front that I really do appreciate the fact that soldiers put their lives on the line. If it were strictly confined to thanking the members of the military for their service, Veterans Day would be an unadulterated joy to me. I appreciate the culture of discipline and self-sacrifice that pervades the military. I have many friends in the military, and I could not do what they do. I am a weak person without the will or the wherewithall to make a living as a soldier. I wish honestly that I had been allowed to celebrate Veterans Day in 1783 or 1945. That would have been an unmixed happiness for me.

All that said, I hate what our military is currently being used to accomplish in the world, so observing Veterans Day is a strangely ambivalent exercise for me. I don’t criticize the soldiers for our foreign policy, but I don’t condone our foreign policy for the sake of our soldiers either. I want them home in almost every case, and I want America to stop being an international military presence. Is it necessarily the case that criticizing the use of our troops in foreign lands is the same as criticizing the troops themselves? I don’t think so, though many people on the left and the right can’t seem to understand this distinction.

And does this mean I am isolationistic? Or that I have an “extremist” foreign policy? No. I am a non-interventionist. Which means I think countries should abide by the Golden Rule. No matter your international leverage or military might, you should do unto other countries as you would have them do unto you. Don’t want to be invaded? Don’t want foreign drones killing people within your borders without trial or due process? Don’t want military force used to change your system of government? Well then don’t do that to other countries. Instead, use diplomacy and international trade agreements to make your opinions clear, trusting that ultimately it is in God’s hands what a distinct and sovereign foreign government decides to do within its borders. Unless you are literally being attacked, your military need never see active service. Keep them trained, and prepare them well for domestic defense, but don’t spill a drop of their blood for any other purpose than the safety of the citizens and country they are sworn to protect.

I know many of us think there are extenuating circumstances to our foreign military activities. Many people think that foreign wars are necessary to stamp out terrorism. So foreign wars, in their minds, are actually for our domestic safety. I just don’t buy this argument. It would obviously take many more words to prove that this is not the case. These things are always more complicated than it seems on the surface. But the bottom line is that it would warm my heart if I believed that our country were erring on the side of caution and justice in these matters.

But we have our “killingest” president ever, and our recently exposed international dragnet indicates to me that our international policy is antagonistic by default. We are no longer an international bastion of freedom and peace. We have become (rightly or wrongly as the case may be) the international bogeyman—a coercive hegemonic bully. And we have neither the financial capacity or international goodwill to continue doing this forever. In fact, our time may be far more limited than anyone realizes.

If we really wanted to support the troops on Veterans Day (or any other day), we would stop wasting their precious lives on unjust wars and international interventionism. And we would more loudly and actively combat the tyrannical policies that put our men at arms fruitlessly and needlessly in harm’s way.