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"U.S. soldiers are frequently a scapegoat for the anti-war movement"

If the Bush administration's motives for invading Iraq can be considered immoral, this does not make the average U.S. soldier immoral. Critics of the invasion of Iraq should concentrate their accusations on that of actual administration policy, not at the soldiers in Iraq who themselves are often fighting for noble reasons. Criticizing them does nothing to further the cause of the anti-war movement and certainly does not help to inform the American populace of the Bush administration's actual motives.
By Ash Pulcifer
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States)

(YellowTimes.org) - All too often, Americans fail to distinguish the difference between the motives of the federal government and that of individual members in the armed forces. They incorrectly project their distaste for administration officials onto those individuals in the military who are often fighting for noble values.

Many members of the U.S. armed forces joined the military in order to protect their ideals and the ideals of their countrymen. In a sacrificial gesture, many are willing to offer their bodies to protect and secure the lives of others. Yet despite their generosity, much of American society falsely attributes to them the amoral decisions made by officials in the federal government.

Vietnam is the most potent example. In the early days of the Vietnam War, when U.S. Marines landed in Danang on March 8, 1965, they went on the notion that they were fighting to protect the southern Vietnamese from communists in the northern half of the country. These soldiers were told that the Vietnamese people below the 17th parallel needed the help of the United States to protect their freedoms.

Yet later, as classified documents were leaked to the media in what became known as the Pentagon Papers, the lies put forth by successive U.S. administrations regarding their Vietnam policy were exposed. It became known that during the early 1950s, at the time of the Eisenhower administration, the CIA found that if fair and free elections were held as scheduled by the Geneva Accords in 1956, well over a majority of the Vietnamese people, in both the north and the south, would have voted for Ho Chi Minh.

Because the Eisenhower administration considered this outcome unacceptable for U.S. interests, the United States decided to subvert the Geneva Accords and instead tried to prop up an independent capitalist state below the 17th parallel. In order to support their involvement, successive U.S. administrations successfully convinced the American people that the Vietnamese in the south of the country needed to be "saved" from the "godless communists," led by Ho Chi Minh, in the north. Little did Americans know that, at least in the '50s and much of the '60s, a majority of the Vietnamese population did not want to be "saved." And it was for these fallacious reasons that Americans initially supported the Vietnam War; more importantly, it was for these fallacious reasons that many U.S. soldiers gave their lives.

Yet the true motives of U.S. involvement do not alter the true motives of the individual soldier, which was often very honorable. But at the time, and even more so today, many Americans assumed that nearly all U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were corrupt, immoral individuals who cared nothing for freedom and democracy and were instead bloodthirsty baby killers. The actions of William Calley and his men at My Lai, and other atrocities committed by American forces in Vietnam, helped to solidify this opinion.

Today, the same sentiment has resurfaced, this time emanating from the anti-war movement. There is the common insinuation and even outspoken accusation that U.S. soldiers in Iraq are murderous individuals who care nothing for everyday Iraqis. Just like in Vietnam, much of America has failed to note the distinction between the motives of the individual soldier and the motives of the federal government.

If the Bush administration's motives for invading Iraq can be considered immoral, this does not make the average U.S. soldier immoral. Critics of the invasion of Iraq should concentrate their accusations on that of actual administration policy, not at the soldiers in Iraq who themselves are often fighting for noble reasons. Criticizing them does nothing to further the cause of the anti-war movement and certainly does not help to inform the American populace of the Bush administration's actual motives.

[Ash Pulcifer is a U.S. based analyst of international conflicts and is also a human rights activist. While he does not justify or accept the killing of civilians in warfare, he attempts to understand why groups or governments resort to such means in order to achieve their strategic objectives.]

Ash Pulcifer encourages your comments:  apulcifer@YellowTimes.org

homepage: homepage: http://www.YellowtTimes.org

Oh Please 22.Apr.2003 10:06


Can our god damn country please get over this fixation with "supporting" the troops? They choose to be in the military, and, as a recent Portland Mercury article pointed out, most of them support our actions in Iraq. Perhaps most damningly of all, the military is overwhelmingly Republican and overwhelmingly pro-bUsh. So, even if they may personally be against the war, they still heap their loyalty on our pResident and they still believe that removing Saddam Hussein has liberated the Iraqis.

In short, they are wrong.

Being against the war, I didn't want them to go over there and die in the first place, but yet I am told that I don't support them. If I'm not being "supportive" in wanting to save their lives, then they can fuck off.

My message to the troops would be this - go die in Iraq (and next Syria and Iran) if you really think it will make the world a better place. But don't expect the support of a nation that doesn't agree with you.

keep perspective 22.Apr.2003 12:00

republic of cascadia citizen

yes, i too can diferentiate between the elite regime members who order the killing and the individual pawns who carry out the deeds of their masters. but does that excuse either party? nope. if the enlisted military were forced to be there because of a draft, that is an entirely different story, but THEY CHOSE TO BE THERE. yes, they are predominantly poor and people of color...why do you think the elite would choose anyone else to be their cannon fodder? but that is part of a much larger race and class issue that needs to be fought separately. so, from my perspective i make NO DISTINCTION between those who order the killing and those who carry it out. there are many noble causes to fight for in this global justice uprising...time for the enlisted military to get a different job.

stop this misanthropic b.s.! 22.Apr.2003 12:31

have a fuckin heart for your fellow oppressed

Does anyone seriously entertain notions that our troops, in general, "choose" to enlist in the military? The reasons for enlisting are as diverse as the men and women in the military, but economic incentives are the elephant in the room that previous respondents seem to be ignoring. The military has long been viewed as a 'safe' (sorry) bet out of a desperate financial or familial situation. Only when it's too late do they realize they've gotten a bum deal. (See * below.)

Military forces throughout history have been comprised disproportionately by the poor and by oppressed minorities ... and these disempowered people aren't necessarily always those who you'd immediately think. Blacks were disproportionately represented in Vietnam, but in the current conflict in Iraq, those on the front lines are predominantly (95%) white, particularly poor, rural white males. See:


If recruits sign on because of patriotic feeling, selflessly serving one's country and all that bullshit, how come the Peace Corps isn't overwhelmed with volunteers? Answer: because not only do you not get paid, you have to pay your way out of your own pocket or raise money on your own. Why isn't AmeriCorps burgeoning? Answer: because you get paid anything from jack shit to starvation wages.

Hello people ... recruits enlist for economic reasons. True, troops are paid shit ... but there is the impression that college will be paid for, or that you'll receive marketable skills in return for a term of service. This is the lie of the ruling class chickenhawks who actually run the military but wouldn't have a clue as to what a tank looks like from the inside.


*Joining the Military is Hazardous to Your Education

The Montgomery GI Bill -- Plenty of Promises, Little Education Money

We've all seen the advertisements, "Join the Army and earn up to $40,000 for college." The ads seem to say that if you join the military college is all but paid for. But only 35% of recruits receive any education benefits from the military. Most that do get money receive far less than $40,000.

To find out why it's so hard to obtain the education benefits the military advertises, read on.

Read the Fine Print

Advertisements that offer money for college if you join the military are advertising two programs, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army or Navy College Fund. Almost all enlistees join the Montgomery GI Bill on entering the military. Far fewer enlistees qualify for the higher benefit Army/Navy College Fund and they must also participate in the Montgomery GI Bill.

In order to receive any education benefit there are several conditions that must be met. First, you must contribute $100 per month for the first twelve months of your tour. Those payments must be made for all twelve months and can't be canceled once they're begun. There is no refund of that $1200, ever. Additionally, you must receive an honorable discharge, something that 20% of all veterans don't get.

The maximum benefit you can qualify for under the Montgomery GI Bill is $15,575. To earn a larger benefit, like the $40,000 the military is so fond of advertising, you must qualify for the Army/Navy College Fund. To do this you must score in the top half of the military entry tests and be willing to enter a designated job specialty. These designated Military Occupational Specialties are the most unpopular in the military. The military has a hard time filling them because they have no skills that are transferable to the civilian job market.

More Obstacles

Even after you've been honorably discharged, you're still a long way from getting that money. Even though you've earned your tuition benefit you probably won't get it all. The military has still more requirements for you to fulfill before you get all of your money. Of course, you must be attending an accredited school. The military's payment plan is based on a four year college schedule: they'll pay you equal portions of your money over 36 months (the equivalent of four academic years of nine months each). This schedule is not flexible! If you, like 56% of veterans using the Montgomery GI Bill, attend a two year school or vocational school you can not receive larger payments over a shorter period of time. That means a two year college graduate will receive only half of the money they have earned!

Even though you earned that money, the Montgomery GI Bill doesn't let you decide how to use it in the way that's best for you. But your argument will fall on deaf ears. The military advertises large amounts of education money but the program is designed so the money is hard to get and harder to use. The inflexibility of the Montgomery GI Bill shows that the military wants to use it to recruit you, not to send you to college.

It Isn't Enough

Even if you qualify for and receive the full $40,000, it isn't worth as much as you might think. While World War II GI Bill participants were able to attend 90% of all schools (public, private, two-year and four-year) with their tuition grant, $40,000 will cover just over one year at some private schools today.

Even state universities cost an average of about $9,000 per year. Your benefits probably won't increase while you're in the military (benefits have been raised twice since the program was begun in 1985). But the cost of education will continue to rise at a rate of 5-10% per year. By the time you finish your tour, your education benefit will be worth a quarter less than when you signed up. If you don't go to school right after the military, which many people don't, your benefit will become worth less and less.

You need to ask yourself in a serious and realistic way, do you intend to go to college? If yes, you need to have a plan. That plan may include joining the military, but you can see that will work for only a few people. If your plans for going to college seem to be more dream than reality, you need to take a long look at what is really possible. If you're hoping that the military can make an unplanned dream come true, it's not going to happen. Don't forget, you're risking your own money in the Montgomery GI Bill as well.

Education in the Military?

Recruiters also like to talk about educational opportunities while you're in the military. According to recruiters, not only will you learn skill in your job specialty but you also have the chance to take college courses on-base or close by. In theory, this may be true. But when the military commissioned a study to see what soldiers thought of military recruiting, an overwhelming number responded that they thought military advertisements' promises of education were "lies...false" or "not the truth to me." Rather than working with the helicopters you see in slick advertisements, they found themselves "buffin' floors and pickin' up cigarette butts."
Your decision about whether to join the military, with or without the Montgomery GI Bill, is not an easy one. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as weighing the pros and cons of this or that benefit. Other jobs may be hard to come by, but they don't demand what the military demands. You give up your freedom when you join the military, entering a different world with different laws, where others can control your life 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Military Mission

Above all else, the military is an institution with one overriding purpose: to prepare for and fight wars. You literally sign your life over to the military. For some who joined the military before the Gulf War, they didn't fully realize this until they were faced with an actual war in Saudi Arabia against Iraq. Don't make the same mistake they made. If you're going to join the military be prepared to fight a war, even a war you may not agree with. It could be a war we lose, like Vietnam. Or, it could be a war we win, like in Kuwait. Either way, people are killed and you might be the one who kills them. As much as the war in Iraq has been celebrated, you can find US veterans who can't forget some of the awful things they saw there. Is that the kind of risk you want to take to finance your college education?

Be A Smart Consumer

The Montgomery GI Bill was not created to send you, or anyone else, to school. It was designed to recruit soldiers. It may be all the same to you, as long as you end up with money for college. But why the program was created affects its design and how well it is funded. The Montgomery GI Bill is designed to attract you with a large sounding amount of money with lots of strings attached. The maximum benefit of $40,000 quickly dwindles to $14,375 or $6588 for an alarming number of recruits. Many don't find that out until after they've joined! By then it's much too late...

Nobody else can make decisions about what is best for you, not the recruiter and not us. But your decisions should be based on more than slick ads and a recruiter's sales pitch. The military promises but often it does not deliver.


The above information is excerpted, with updated figures, from a 1991 thesis on the Montgomery GI Bill written by Alex Doty.

almost forgot 22.Apr.2003 12:47

have a fuckin heart for your fellow oppressed

It is true that many in the military know exactly what they are doing, and have no regrets about causing wanton loss of life. This is barbaric behavior that chills me to the utmost, and is utterly alien to any concept of freedom, liberty or democracy.

However, "republic of cascadia citizen" says that we should make no distinction between those who order war and those who carry it out. I wonder if she would maintain this argument if she considered than many front line troops are 18, 19, and 20 years old. Too young to drink a beer legally, yet we give them guns and our blessings to kill others. We do everything short of absolutely forcing our fighter pilots to take methamphetamines to operate at 120% efficiency. These recruits have entered a hierarchical, authortative, oppressive institution where they must conform for their very survival. Military deaths during boot camps and trainings are not uncommon ... and you can bet that none of these resulted from some insecure drill sergeant being overly nice to the victims.

These are young adults, adolescents and teenagers! Isn't 18 a time for making mistakes and trying things out? Some of these kids are making a mistake in Iraq they will regret for the rest of their lives ...

Let's stop pointing fingers at each other, which is playing right into the ruling class' tactics of divide and conquer, turning us against each other, and face our enemies squarely: the ruling class and all the oppressive, hierarchical, authoritarian, capitalist, egomaniacal bullshit it represents.

Instead, let's dig into ourselves and find some compassion for these slaves of the emperor, and try to find ways to get them to rejoin their people. Same goes for cops and law enforcement officers ... let's try to find ways to combat the overwhelming economic incentives for these folks to enter these terrorist organizations in the first place.

I kind of doubt they care 22.Apr.2003 17:01


Let's just think about this:

You've enlisted in the military for whatever reason, and you're being ordered to go into combat. Presumably you considered that this possibility existed when you decided to enlist, so you probably don't view it as some kind of injustice, and it's not like you're going to get out of it somehow anyway. You also probably aren't spending a lot your time while in combat pondering over the arguments for or against the actions you've been ordered to take, because you're somewhat busy actually taking those actions. Does it really make much difference to you whether the people spending their time arguing against those actions are taking special care to indicate that you personally are not being criticized? I sort of doubt it.

The idea of attacks on poor, helpless widdle soldiers' feelings is a right-wing red herring that was created in the wake of protests against the U.S. involvement in Vietnam largely to deflect resentment by veterans of that war (many of whom, unlike this last one, were conscripts) against the persons in the military and government reponsible for their experiences onto a caricature of the antiwar movement (which in fact made every effort to reach out to soldiers and veterans, and in which veterans themselves played a significant leadership role) as ungrateful and insensitive. This effort led to the rise of such urban legends as airport crowds spitting on returning veterans, (very good article on this subject at  http://www.rlg.org/annmtg/lembcke99.html) and has been recycled as a complaint against most of the antiwar movements in the U.S. since then as the myths have been repeated frequently enough that they have attained the status of truism, even to the point where antiwar activists are now treating this idea of 'unsupportive' protesters as a fact.

I have friends who have enlisted in the military. I don't consider them to be bad people, even if I do question their judgement, but I also don't see the point in running around constantly declaring my "Support for the Troops", which has really become a sort of knee-jerk declaration on both sides of the issue that no longer represents (if it ever did) any kind of actual, meaningful sentiment. The fact is that most of 'the troops' who are sent into combat in any given situation will have found a way to justify their own actions to themselves, simply because it is virtually impossible for a person to engage in such an undertaking without doing this; once they have this justification in their minds, they are naturally going to be skeptical about someone criticizing the endeavor in which they are involved. Military psychology also functions on the basis of an organic conception of a common purpose and identity and thus criticism of a war is going to be perceived as an attack on this identity; I think you'll find that the idea of a distinction between criticism of a war and criticism of those fighting it is foreign to most military personnel, who don't consider the two to be different, and effective opposiion to a militaristic foreign policy is necessarily going to provoke some displeasure from persons who feel they are being criticized. While I suspect that many who urge the antiwar movement to "Support the Troops" do so out of a fear of confrontation and perhaps a dearth of confidence in their own positions, the effect of spending energy and time on these exhortations is merely to take the bait of the right wing, sow confusion in our own ranks, and interfere with the presentation of a clear agenda to the general public.